Evander Kane has had an up and down year and a half with the Buffalo Sabres. On the ice, he’s played well for the most part. The issues are his off-ice antics that got him into hot water this past summer. Heading into the season, Kane’s name has been swirling around in the rumor mill.
After fracturing his ribs on opening night and going scoreless in his first 11 games back from the injury, the trade value for the 25-year old dropped significantly. Concern also began to arise that Kane may never become the player that many hoped when he was acquired by the Sabres. It was becoming a matter of not if, but when the club would move on from the former first round pick.
Now, fast forward to present day and the narrative has changed. Kane has scored 14 goals in 27 games and is one of the hottest forwards in the league — on pace for 23 goals and 40 points in 71 games this season. That would be an improvement over his first season with the team in which he scored 20 goals and 35 points in 65 games. Kane has impressively scored 13 of his 14 goals at even strength. Entering play Thursday night that would rank him tied for eighth in even strength goals. In the 104 games, the Vancouver native has worn a Sabres sweater he’s scoring at a 27-goals per 82-game pace.
Kane has found his consistency and is starting to look comfortable playing within Dan Bylsma’s system. His rare combination of speed, size and scoring ability is giving opposing defenseman fits in trying to contain the former fourth overall pick. Kane brings the intensity on a nightly basis and you never have to question his effort, which is a good trait that you would hope rubs off on some of his teammates.
Part of the Future or Sell High?
In light of his recent play and the NHL trade deadline being just a month away, the debate on Kane has returned. Should the Sabres consider him in their long-term plans or look to sell high?
He has one more year left on his current contract after this season, which makes the conversation even more interesting. If the Sabres don’t plan to extend him then the prudent move would be to move him before next season. In most cases, you’ll get a bigger return trading a player in the summer than as a rental at the trade deadline.
Although it may not be popular among a segment of the fanbase, the smart thing to do may very well be to keep Kane as part of the future moving forward. He has two important attributes that they can’t afford to be without, as it’s not very prevalent throughout the remainder of the roster — speed and physical play.
The speed aspect is the more pivotal trait of the two. The team isn’t blessed with an abundance of high-end quickness besides a hand full of players. In today’s NHL, the game is evolving towards a speed game that eats slower teams up.
The Sabres also don’t have a top-six winger who has proven he can score 20 goals on an annual basis to replace Kane if he is dealt. If anything the team could use another top-six forward to round out the top of the forward ranks, not trade away one of their best. Kane also plays a style of game that would seem to translate well in the postseason — he’s never played in a playoff series in his NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
The goal is for the Sabres to get back into the playoffs and end a drought that goes back to 2011. The aforementioned speed, size and determination is exactly the type of play you’ll see in the playoffs. Once you have a player with that make-up you should look to hold onto that piece. Contenders are always searching for that type of player to help boost a long playoff run every season when the trade deadline rolls around.
Now, I’m not saying the Sabres should be completely shut off to the idea of trading Kane. Of course, if the right deal comes along and you can approve the club in another area then you have to consider the offer. I don’t believe that it would be wise, though, for the Sabres to go out and actively seek a trade to get him off the roster when he is producing on the ice. The organization would have to do their due diligence in taking Kane at his word that he’s matured and become a better teammate, so he can be part of the future moving forward without the distracting off-ice issues.