Risky business: Sabres gamble on Evander Kane in blockbuster trade with Jets
Before the Buffalo Sabres acquired Evander Kane in a major trade Wednesday, general manager Tim Murray discussed it with owner Terry Pegula. He said he answered Pegula’s questions honestly, that it wasn’t “all unicorns and rainbows and jujubes.”
The Sabres would be getting a 6-foot-2, 198-pound left winger with so much talent that he was drafted fourth overall in 2009 and scored 30 goals in 2011-12 at age 20. But they also would be getting a guy whose production had declined and whose role had lessened, a guy who had clashed with coaches and teammates, a guy who had, to be frank, quit on his team.
Kane reportedly broke dress code for a meeting last week and a teammate threw his track suit in the shower to send a message. Either he didn’t show up for a game afterward or was told not to. He elected to have surgery on a torn labrum and end his season when he could have kept playing hurt, with the Jets trying to make the playoffs for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011.
What does it say about Pegula that he took a chance on Kane?
“If the sentiment in the room is that Evander has character issues, then he took a chance on a guy with character issues,” Murray said in a press conference. “I believe it’s more than that. I believe it runs a little deeper and there are different things involved.”
“I made a trade for him,” he added, “so I’m not worried about his character.”
Murray took a risk here, both by acquiring Kane and saying that afterward. But he took a calculated risk with his eyes wide open. He could look brilliant in the end. Kane has to seize this chance to become the player he can be.
“It’s a clean slate,” said Sabres captain Brian Gionta. “Nobody knows the situation that’s happened in the past. Coming in, he’s going to be accepted and brought into the room. … He’ll be treated like everybody else.”
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said this was not a “knee-jerk reaction.” He said there was an “abundance of caution” before the trade went through. There are reasons to believe him: One, he had never made a true NHL-player-for-NHL-player trade in three-and-a-half years on the job. Two, he might have been better off waiting until the summer when more teams could bid.
But he also was under pressure to win now with the Jets holding a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and he called Murray, knowing Murray had expressed interest in Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian in the past. Other teams were interested, too. It seems even in a position of weakness he was able to create a bidding war and get some value.
“My hat goes off to Tim,” Cheveldayoff said. “He was extremely aggressive in presenting things and trying to find a way to make it work. … Both teams had strong motivations to make it happen.”
The Jets traded Kane, Bogosian and goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf in exchange for winger Drew Stafford, defenseman Tyler Myers, two prospects and a first-round pick.
In the short term, the Jets gained depth on the wing, which they needed even before Kane shut it down. That allows Dustin Byfuglien to move back to defense, where he’s much more effective and valuable. That helps the playoff push.
The Sabres created a hole on the wing because Kane can’t play the rest of the season. That increases the odds they will remain last in the NHL standings, which would guarantee a top-two pick in the draft lottery and Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
In the long term, though, this is all about youth, talent and development. Stafford is on an expiring contract. The main pieces of this deal are guys with tons of potential who haven’t reached it yet.
Bogosian was drafted third overall in 2008, and he’s 24. Myers was drafted 12th overall that year, and he’s 25. Both have been disappointments, but defensemen can take a long time to develop. Does a change help them? Can Bogosian find a way to use all his tools? Can Myers regain the form he had when he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2009-10?
The Jets, already rich in prospects, added Joel Armia, the 16th overall pick in 2011, and Brendan Lemieux, the 31st overall pick in 2014. What do they become? What about the first-rounder?
And, of course, the key: What about Kane?
The Sabres could afford what they gave up because they had been stockpiling assets. (The first-round pick was one of three they held for this year’s draft, and it will be the lowest one.) As Murray said, this should speed up their rebuild – as long as Kane responds well, whether he got a bad rap or needs to grow up or both.
“Players have warts,” Murray said. “The best players have warts. I can tell you the best of the very best players had warts, but I can’t talk about them.”
When next season starts, Kane will be 24. He will be healthy. He will be on a new team, in a new city, with a new role. He might even be on the wing with McDavid or Eichel.
“I’m confident that he wanted a change of scenery, in his mind probably wanted a more important role,” Murray said. “And I think we’ve certainly given him the change of scenery today. I think we can give him a more important role. He can be an important guy here. He’s going to be a big part of any success that we have, I believe.”
Murray raved about what he saw from Kane on the ice – how he played hard, how he played in traffic, how he scored around the net, how he finished checks, even how he fought, not that he wants him fighting often.
“That’s his character on the ice,” Murray said. “I’ve heard some hearsay and stuff like that and the little bit that happened in Winnipeg, but I see a guy on the ice that plays like that, I have to assume that he is at least somewhat like that off the ice. I’m excited to have a player like that come in here.”
Murray put himself on the line for Kane. It’s up to Kane to return the favor.
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