Evander Kane (Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets made Evander Kane a healthy scratch against the Maple Leafs Saturday, stoking speculation his days with the club may be numbered. Will Kane remain a Jet through the off-season?
Fun fact: Evander Kane’s parents named him after former boxer Evander 'The Real Deal' Holyfield, who ruled as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in the early ‘90s.
Two decades later, the hockey player who bears his name still has plenty of question marks surrounding him – a fact made obvious when the Jets made Kane a healthy scratch against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
The Jets have been disappointed with the 22-year-old Kane’s production this year, which has dropped precipitously at a point when it should be on the rise. Kane had a career-high 30 goals and 57 points in 2011-12, but it’s been all downhill since. He had 17 goals and 33 points in last year’s lockout-shortened 48-game season, and this year his numbers are similar – albeit in 12 more games. He has 17 goals and 39 points over 60 contests in 2013-14.
Jets coach Paul Maurice promised to ice his best lineup against the Maple Leafs. Then, he scratched Kane. Apparently, the coach thinks his team is better without Kane.
Which leads us to the much-disputed Kane’s future. Will he stay in Winnipeg?
It’s been a rocky marriage between Kane and the Jets since the franchise arrived in Winnipeg. He’s drawn plenty of criticism for his off-ice activities, and his moneyphone tweet during the last lockout hasn’t help his public image – nor have the recent assault allegations against him. In a city where they bleed Jet fuel, a young guy like Kane simply can’t hide.
That’s got some questioning whether he is the same 'Real Deal' as his namesake, and more suggesting it’s time to put him on the next train out of town.
On the one hand, Kane is an asset already locked up long-term. He will earn $6 million a year until 2017-18, at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million over the length of the remaining four years on his deal. He’ll be just shy of his 27th birthday when that deal expires, and surely there are general managers out there who think they can turn him around.
So should the Jets really give up on Kane and sell when he’s at his lowest? This is still a big, skilled 22-year-old and a former fourth overall pick from the 2009 draft. And while the spotlight has not been kind to him in Winnipeg, there’s still plenty of time for him to mature as a player and a person.
Maybe he’d mature faster in a non-traditional hockey market like Florida or Nashville, where the spotlight isn’t nearly as bright. But if he does get shipped out this summer, there’s a good chance he’ll come back to burn the Jets when he blossoms playing for someone else.
And don’t forget, Winnipeg has trouble attracting free agent talent. If they’re going to be successful, they’ll have to develop A-level players from within.
Kane still has a good chance to be an A-level player, but Winnipeg won’t get one of those back in any trade.
There are no easy answers with Kane, but whatever GM Kevin Cheveldayoff decides this summer, it’ll be tough for him to get a real deal in return.