The Evander Kane controversy took another turn Monday, when the NHL announced it had suspended the San Jose Sharks winger for 21 games – more than a quarter of the regular season – for “an established violation of, and lack of compliance with the NHL/NHLPA COVID-19 Protocols”.
The league dismissed other allegations – namely, that Kane was responsible for domestic violence against his now-estranged wife, Deanna.
So, although he was cleared on the more serious allegations, Kane was found guilty of a serious-enough errant action, and he was removed from game eligibility until the end of November. As I wrote about for THN.com in August, Kane has many non-fans in NHL circles, including some of his own teammates on the Sharks. They believe he thinks he’s bigger than the team, and the chip constantly on his shoulder has had a negative effect on the team concept in San Jose.
Well, now he’s been revealed as someone who took the league’s COVID-19 protocols far too lightly, and put his teammates, coaches and fans at risk. This is not the way you rehabilitate a busted-up image. This is not how you curry favor with your fellow NHLers, or fans of the sport. This is how you paint yourself into a corner, and have no other options but to accept the NHL’s punishment, and hope there’s a team out there willing to give you yet another chance.
Who will that team be? The Sharks are on the hook for the four seasons Kane has left on a contract – for this season, and three more years after it – that carries a $7 million per season salary cap hit. The team released a brief statement in which it said it was “extremely disappointed for the health and safety protocols put in place by the NHL and NHLPA”. That doesn’t sound as if Sharks GM Doug Wilson and the rest of the organization will roll out the welcome mat and happily take Kane back in when his suspension ends, does it?
The Sharks may no longer want anything to do with Kane, but finding a taker for him could well be a difficult task. He now has an earned reputation of being a selfish player with a big-ticket contract, and any suitor for him may ask the Sharks to eat some of his contract to get a trade deal done. It’s true Kane was San Jose’s leading goal-scorer in the truncated 2020-21 season, but his presence in the dressing room may be too toxic for Wilson’s liking.
And for this, Kane has no one to blame but himself. Nobody forced him to evade the league’s COVID protocols. Nobody forced him to spray, “the negative energy he brings into the room” (as one NHL agent told THN.com in August). He is the one who needs to make a 180-degree shift in his attitude and the way he relates to his teammates. He is the guy who can’t point a finger against his imagined enemies in the hockey world. He is the only one who can salvage what remains of his NHL career.
If Kane remains stubborn, inflexible and determined to continue his pro career in the manner in which he’s always played it, there may be no NHL team prepared to take him on. He can make decent money in a European League, but the payday will in no way be similar to his NHL paydays. It’s possible that Kane has already played his way out of hockey’s best league, and that would be a terrible conclusion to his 12-year career. But he has inflicted these character-based wounds on himself. No one other than him has played himself out of three NHL markets, and now may have played himself out of his fourth market. Wilson is a kind and forgiving man, but he might have no choice other than to cut Kane loose, for the sake of his young, rebuilding, fragile Sharks team. And if you’ve lost the support of a stand-up guy like Wilson, there may not be another organization ready to take a chance on you.
Anybody and everybody deserves a second chance, and that includes Kane. However, when you look at his career trajectory, you could argue he has already been given multiple second chances – every time he changed teams was a new chance; and every time he’s been in the Sharks’ dressing room and made it a less-enjoyable atmosphere, he’s done so with a second chance. At some point, the teams in the league, and the league itself, is finished doling out second chances. And we could be at that point right now.
We’ll see what happens to Kane after his suspension is complete and he’s permitted to play again (that would be when the Sharks travel to play New Jersey on Nov. 30). He’s already hurt his team’s already-slim chances of making the playoffs, and you really have to wonder if he’ll ever again play in a San Jose uniform.
That’s his fault. Not yours. Not mine. Not the media. His fault. Here’s hoping he matures (at the old age of 30), and learns how to treat everyone around him with more respect. Then, and only then, will the rehabilitation of Mr. Evander Kane be complete.