Sunday afternoon two teams that are currently outside the playoff picture will meet in Winnipeg for one of the most anticipated games this season.
When the Sabres and Jets clash it will be more than just a meeting between two teams trying to claw their way back into contention. Instead, the focus will be largely on the shoulders of one player, and the entertainment may come from 15,000 rabid fans.
Sunday will mark the first time Evander Kane has played in Winnipeg since the blockbuster deal that sent him to Buffalo before last years trade deadline.
On paper, without all the side stories, this is not the most exciting game. Both teams come in under .500 and at or near the bottom of the standings. The Sabres are in the middle of a rebuild, while Winnipeg is in the midst of a very disappointing and under-whelming season.
It is unlikely either team will make the playoffs and it appears right now to be a game between two lottery teams. All this is not to say that this won’t be a good game. There is some great talent on both teams including the number two pick in last year’s draft, Jack Eichel, and a three-time All-Star Dustin Byfuglien. Both teams have high offensive ability and there is a chance fans will see some big numbers on the score board.
Evander Kane: The Main Story
Kane came to Winnipeg with the rest of the Atlanta franchise in 2011. From day one, Kane was the most polarizing figure on the team. While his clear skill on the ice was a draw to fans, his brash personality rubbed some people the wrong way. That being said his number 9 jersey was one of the most common in the crowd, and fans loved his style of game. In your face, rough and tough, with a large potential for offense sprinkled in.
Over the years more and more controversy surrounded Kane, that story has been told enough, his exploits have been well reported on. If you want to read the entire history between Kane and the Jets check out Kristina Rutherford’s article here. It is sufficient to say, it appeared Kane quit on his team, and probably more importantly his team quit on him.
This forced GM Kevin Chevaldayoff’s hand and he pulled the trigger on a massive trade. The Jets received big defenseman Tyler Myers, veteran forward Drew Stafford, and some prospects. Headed the other way, Zach Bogosian, and Evander Kane. Kane immediately became public enemy number one in the Manitoba capital. Jets fans had to wait to unleash their wrath however.
Kane did not play the rest of the year due to injury. Meanwhile Jets fans were ecstatic with their return, Myers and Stafford were major players for the Jets in their stretch run and march into the playoffs. For many, Zach Bogosian is the forgotten piece to this trade. An innocent causality in some team drama, Bogosian has been good for Buffalo playing a lot of minutes, he will likely get a warm return.
A Rabid Fan base
Kane burned any remaining bridges with comments over the off-season. From the team not having his back, to asking for a trade every summer he was here, and more frustrating for Jets fans, the allegations of racism in the city. Whether he was right or wrong, you can’t argue that he felt that way, but he definitely has angered a city that is already willing to pounce on players.
Ask Ryan Kesler who heard it from the crowd during last year’s playoff match up. Or Alex Ovechkin being taunted by “Crosby’s better” chants, Ryan Miller being serenaded by “Silver Medal” at the MTS Centre. Jets fans have been ruthless in the past and this may be their gold medal game.
When season tickets were split this year, the Sabres visit was the first priority. The crowd will be crazy, the track suit’s will be worn, and it will be a spectacle to tune in for. Get your popcorn ready hockey fans, this’ll be a good one.
Born and raised Winnipeg sports fan and contributor with The Hockey Writers.