The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the NHL's best stories this season, a good group of players in a great hockey city that deserves a winner. But somewhat lost amid the positive vibes around the franchise is the continuing saga of star winger Evander Kane – and that saga took a sharp turn Tuesday night when coach Paul Maurice made Kane a healthy scratch in his hometown of Vancouver.
The reason why Kane was scratched wasn't clear, but he had talked to reporters earlier in the day as if he would be in the lineup against the Canucks – and because Winnipeg didn't have any extra forwards dressed, star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (who recently said publicly he didn't want to move back to forward) had to take his spot in the wake of Maurice's decision.
And that type of unexpected, humiliating development doesn't bode well for Kane's future as a Jet.
Now, it just may turn out that this was another momentary blip on the radar in Kane's development, and Maurice was right to challenge him for a serious transgression that may or may not have taken place during a game. And indeed, Kane's name has popped up in trade rumors for years with nothing ultimately coming of them. He's in his sixth season as an NHLer, but he won't turn 24 until August. You give up on him at your peril.
That said, all the unrealized upside in the world doesn't mean anything if the coach feels he has to send this type of very public, very personal message. This kind of incident can stick in a player's craw for a long time. Kane can't go anywhere (he's locked in at a cap hit of $5.25 million through the summer of 2018), but players tend not to forget things like this. And Winnipeg isn't a talented enough team yet where they can allow Kane to float on the fringes of the group and avoid a detrimental effect on his teammates. If they can't reach him for a full buy-in of the team concept, it's best for both parties to go their separate ways.
Besides, doesn't everyone always say a team shouldn't make a trade from a point of weakness? Granted, the Jets are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but they're currently in a wild card position and they may not get any "stronger" than that. If they were to put Kane on the trade block, he'd instantly become one of the top players available at the March 2 trade deadline and could bring a wealth of assets in return.
On one level, you have to admire Maurice for having the stones to make this move. Maybe it wins the coach more respect among the other Jets players, the team grows closer, and Kane figures out how to coexist peacefully with everyone once and for all. But this could just as easily blow up in the face of the coach and the organization. This could be the beginning of the end for Kane in Winnipeg.
You don't put a proud athlete in the press box, in front of family and friends, and expect things can remain the same.