Evander Kane’s time as a Winnipeg Jet has been tumultuous. He’s had minor errors in judgment blow up into something much more through the social media echo chamber, he’s been consumed by more than his share of rumors about wanting out of Winnipeg, skipping out on restaurant bills - which NHL security investigated - and he had been scratched by ex-coach Claude Noel a couple times over the past couple of years, including once this past November when Kane had an injury from which he said he had recovered.
The reality of the seriousness of these run-ins has always been obscured. Has Kane always had the intention of leaving Winnipeg, even when he signed a six-year extension as an RFA? How many of these instances have blown up because Kane actually misbehaved as a professional representative of Winnipeg? How many have flared because of a disconnect between how Average Joe Fan believes a 22-year-old, brash, talented, multi-millionaire athlete should act and how that 22-year-old, brash, talented, multi-millionaire athlete thinks he should step in line with that belief?
How much of any of this has had to do with race?
Kane has been “on his way out of Winnipeg” for two years, or nearly half of his NHL career, but neither he nor the team has never admitted to wanting to go in opposite directions. This time, however, it seems the mood is entirely different.
Last week it was reported Kane was being sued by a man in British Columbia over an alleged assault in Kane’s home city of Vancouver last summer and this past Saturday the 22-year-old was made a healthy scratch by coach Paul Maurice for the first time.
When the coach described his reasons for sitting a guy who is supposed to be his best player, Maurice said to the Winnipeg Sun: “The player’s individual play, other players’ play - somebody else takes their job for that night... adherence to all policies of the hockey club. This situation with Evander Kane has been addressed three times. He’s not the only one. I have dealt with it directly and clearly with the team and player.”
Today, Kane was surrounded by a media scrum after the morning skate in advance of Monday’s game against Minnesota, in which Kane is expected to play. Would he add any insight, express any feelings or accept his coach’s punishment and face the media music head on?
No. It was just very, very…uncomfortable.
There are three games left in another playoff-less season for the Jets and one that has been a nightmare for a player who scored 30 goals as a 20-year-old NHLer, but has only notched 34 goals in 108 games since. Where do team and player go from here?
For the very first time in this long-running drama, Kane’s career with the Jets really does seem to be coming to an end – and for much more legitimate reasons than holding a stack of bills up to his ear in Las Vegas. Kane’s off-ice issues, though still mostly unproven rumors we haven’t heard about in full, continue to mount. More importantly to the Jets and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who is faced with the difficult decision on whether or not to trade Kane, is that he’s now been scratched by two different coaches, had a miserable season of decline and the Jets need to make something change this summer. The team is still too much like the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that was crushed by its own ineptitude. Kane would surely bring back a homerun return of depth and talent.
If he really is moved this time, Kane should be traded for purely hockey reasons and the decision to do so should not be muddied or hurried by anyone’s definition of how mature an individual he is. Just last summer Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, was traded from Boston to Dallas for off-ice reasons and today Seguin is third in NHL scoring with 82 points in 76 games. And a few years before that, the Bruins traded Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for similar reasons – today Kessel is just two points behind Seguin and fourth in the NHL scoring race.
As irreparable as the Evander Kane-Winnipeg marriage seems to be today, Kane’s career as an explosive NHL star is far from a lost cause. Looking back on this season in a few years we’re more likely to see it as an anomaly of a perennial 30-goal scorer than the start of a decline.
And that’s why the Jets have to tread carefully this summer.
Other teams are going to smell blood in the water and see an emerging young and explosive talent available for below value. They shouldn’t be able to pry Kane out of Winnipeg for less than a perfect return, but right now there is no telling how Jets management has measured the situation.
If it is now – really, finally, for sure – inevitable that Kane is on his way out of a Jets uniform, Winnipeg should be doing it for the right, hockey-related, team-improving reasons.
Because if they rush to give up on the 22-year-old for the wrong reasons of character and maturity, rather than continuing to coach him, they could end up with a meager return for a superstar talent and a team that still can’t get into the playoffs.