By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Evander Kane has been floating in limbo for several months. On Monday, he finally found a landing point – 2,684 miles away.
The Buffalo Sabres finally moved the talented if enigmatic left winger less than an hour before the trading deadline. He went to the San Jose Sharks for a couple of conditional draft choices and former Boston University player and Jack Eichel teammate Dan O’Regan. A second-round pick in 2019 will become a first-rounder if Kane re-signs with San Jose or if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup. It was a realistic if not overwhelming return for a player of his caliber.
Kane first came to Buffalo in a massive deal with the Winnipeg Jets just over three years ago. He and Zach Bogosian arrived for a package of talent that included Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first-round draft choice. It was an interesting deal by the rebuilding Sabres, giving up some of their young assets for a couple of young veterans who they hoped could take some of the pressure of the other kids on the roster as they moved forward.
Admittedly, there was a risk at the time. Kane did have some off-ice incidents in his past when the deal was completed. That made him on the radioactive side for some NHL teams. But he was 23 years old at the time, good-sized, and the owner of a scoring touch (30 goals in 2011-12), so the Sabres obviously thought he was worth the gamble.
A SCORING THREAT
Upon arrival, Kane was generally part of the team’s top offensive lines. He went 20-15=35 in 2015-16, and 28-15=43 in 2015-16. In between, Kane had a couple of more incidents away from the rink that didn’t help his reputation.
Entering training camp last fall, Kane was the subject of speculation as he was a year away from free agency. Would the Sabres want him around? How much would he cost? Did GM Jason Botterill, who didn’t acquire Kane in the first place, have any loyalty to him? The conversation seemed to change once Eichel signed his multi-million dollar extension right at the start of the season. If Kane was going to stay past July 1, 2018, or even past February 26, 2018, the Sabres would have to do some work on salary cap issues, etc. to extend his stay.
They didn’t show any inclination to do that. In fact, Kane said they never even made a contract offer during the course of the season. So the season went on, week by week, and we all waited to see how the drama would conclude. It was a strange for all concerned.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. “He played hard. It had to be a difficult situation. But he handled himself well.”
FAST START, AND THEN LITTLE
At first, Kane played like someone who wanted to make a good impression on his current and/or potential new employers. He was the team’s top goal scorer in the first half of the season, and someone who could be a long-term fit with a playmaker like, say, Jack Eichel. But when the calendar flipped, Kane’s offense disappeared. He had one goal between Jan. 1 and Feb. 9.
The forward woke up a little in recent days, scoring four goals in seven games before he was scratched in two games over the weekend. But NHL management types have long memories, and a couple of people of that description whispered that any deal for Kane would be a big gamble, even on a short-term basis. It takes a long time for radioactivity to disappear.
Kane exits Buffalo with 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points in 61 games. His stay has to be considered a failed gamble for the Sabres. Buffalo had hopes that he could be a good-sized part of the rise from the ashes of the tank when he came here in 2015. Now he’s off to San Jose, where he’ll play in his first-ever playoff game this spring. And the Sabres will go home in mid-April, still rebuilding and left hoping that this latest package will help them get to hockey’s Promised Land … someday.
THE TEAM’S VIEWPOINT
Botterill took questions from the media once the deadline had passed. He said the offer from San Jose was the one solid proposal from other teams.
“It was a difficult market for rentals,” he said. ” The younger players got a good reward, players with term got a good reward. But it was a scenario that we had a lot of conversations out there. There was a lot of interest.”
Were Kane’s personal issues part of the conversations with other teams? Yes.
“I think in a situation when you’re looking to acquire a player, a lot of things go into it,” he said. “They talked to us on a personal level about Evander. They talked about the scenario here in Buffalo. The bottom line is that the market dictates what you’ll be able to get out there.”
Botterill added he worked on other trades – both players leaving Buffalo and coming here – but couldn’t work anything out – for now.
“There are things we’re not happy about,” he said. “There are things we have to go about to change that. … One of the biggest things we have to worry about right now is our home record. It’s unacceptable. … I understand where we are from a skill level right now, and that’s on management. But from a compete standpoint and preparation, we have to get better as an organization.
“There a lot of blame to go around – coaching staff, management, players. We have to be better in certain situation. The bottom line is that what we have done is not working, so we had to make adjustments.”