The Buffalo Sabres are going nowhere fast and Evander Kane doesn’t figure to be part of their future.
He’s no longer flanking Jack Eichel — well, depending on the day with Phil Housley — and Kane’s cooled off from his scorching-hot start to the season. Still, he’s scored 16 goals and added 20 assists for 36 points through 54 games — on pace for 24 goals and 55 points over 82 games, which would come close to his career highs of 30 goals and 57 points with Winnipeg back in 2011-12.
The Vancouver product, who turns 27 in August, is believed to have even more upside in the right situation — perhaps flirting with 40 goals some day — but his Buffalo stint has run its course as a pending unrestricted free agent and no contract extension talks to speak of.
Jason Botterill is trying to maximize the return for Kane — initially seeking similar to what Joe Sakic fetched for Matt Duchene — but with the Feb. 26 trade deadline now nearing, Kane will most likely be moved strictly as a rental rather than a sign-and-trade deal.
That probably rules out his hometown Canucks — for now — as well as other teams outside the playoff race like the Edmonton Oilers, who may have had interest if they were in a position to be buyers.
The good news for the Sabres is that there will be no shortage of contenders looking for a scoring winger who plays a power game. That said, Kane hasn’t been helping his stock as of late, currently marred in a 10-game point drought dating back to Jan. 11 with just one goal, on Jan. 4, since the calendar flipped to 2018. In fact, Kane only has two points over 16 games in the new year.
Regardless, providing he stays healthy, Kane should have some of the same suitors as Rick Nash — for whom San Jose, Dallas and Boston were suggested — with 10 or more teams expected to be in the mix on both of them.
Nash may be seen as a safer bet since Kane has no playoff experience through eight NHL seasons and has been red-flagged for character issues, but Kane is seven years younger and a physical specimen who doesn’t have as many hard miles on his body and may be able to find another gear for the postseason.
Both should be hot commodities for their goal-scoring ability and the fact there is no long-term commitment on either of them.
That lengthy list could also include the other California teams, Los Angeles and Anaheim, along with Nashville and any or all of Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Minnesota, even Carolina and Chicago as dark horses.
It’s easy to envision Kane ending up in that Central Division arm’s race, where he’d have added motivation to haunt his former team in Winnipeg. However, here are three potential suitors that separated themselves from the pack.
1) Calgary Flames
The Flames are all-in on this season and desperately need to make the playoffs, with Brad Treliving trading away their first- and second-round picks in this year’s draft for Travis Hamonic.
That off-season move made Calgary an obvious buyer and now the Flames are in the market for a scoring winger since Jaromir Jagr didn’t work out for them. Treliving may target Kane as the deadline’s top prize even though he plays the opposite side as a left winger.
— Jessica Chanel (@chan_sifu) January 23, 2018
Kane could be the type of linemate to really spark Sam Bennett, which would make the Flames that much more dangerous in becoming nine deep up front.
Calgary is said to be dangling a goaltender as bait — be it prospect Jon Gillies or current backup David Rittich — but that probably doesn’t appeal to Buffalo, with Linus Ullmark and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen on the way.
The Sabres would presumably prefer a defence prospect like Rasmus Andersson, Adam Fox or Oliver Kylington, assuming 2017 first-rounder Juuso Valimaki is off limits. Then again, Botterill and Housley may get their choice of those four since Calgary has next-to-no draft picks to offer — no first- or second-rounder in 2018 and no second- or third-rounder in 2019.
Would Treliving rather trade his 2019 first-rounder than Valimaki, Andersson or Fox? Kylington doesn’t have as much value as the other three and wouldn’t get a deal done alone or as the centrepiece. Decisions, decisions, but Kane won’t come cheap.
2) St. Louis Blues
Unable to replace the injured Robby Fabbri internally, Doug Armstrong and the Blues are hard up for another scoring winger.
The hope was that Dmitrij Jaskin or Magnus Paajarvi could step up to fill that void, but that hasn’t happened and the latter was lost on waivers. Jaskin seems like a sure bet to be packaged for an upgrade, but it will take at least a couple more pieces to land Kane.
Like Calgary, St. Louis doesn’t have its first-round pick in 2018 — traded to Philadelphia for Brayden Schenn — but the Blues do own the rest of their picks for this year’s draft and all seven of them for 2019 and 2020.
Armstrong has plenty of other trade chips and would be capable of putting together a nice package for the Sabres.
Evander Kane would look damn good in a Blues uniform.
— RYAN (@RyanOnTheRight) February 4, 2018
If Buffalo wants defence, there’s Jordan Schmaltz or Jake Walman — possibly even Vince Dunn, though he’s established himself as an NHLer and St. Louis won’t want to subtract two pieces from its current roster.
Likewise, Ivan Barbashev and Tage Thompson are budding forwards of possible interest, but Armstrong may be more willing to part with them as a substitute for Jaskin if the Sabres so desire.
Jordan Kyrou may be untouchable after his performance for Canada at the World Juniors, but Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Sammy Blais and Tanner Kaspick could conceivably come up in negotiations for Kane if Buffalo covets those forward prospects over the aforementioned defencemen.
The Blues have drafted well in recent years, so there could be lots to Botterill’s liking and Kane could be bound for St. Louis if Armstrong and Mike Yeo see him as the missing link.
3) Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella would either love Kane or hate him, but the fiery coach should enjoy Kane’s playing style even if their personalities clash at times.
Buffalo is looking to the future, but Jarmo Kekalainen might be able to swing a hockey deal here.
Columbus could offer Boone Jenner, a similar winger who is still under team control as a restricted free agent following this season, and/or Ryan Murray, the oft-injured underachieving defenceman who could certainly use a change of scenery.
If they start talking a swap of NHLers, Buffalo might even ask about the availability of Oliver Bjorkstand, pushing the notion that Kane is more so Tortorella’s type of player and a better fit for Columbus’ system.
Botterill is said to want a first-round pick, which Columbus can offer in 2018, and at least one top prospect such as Sonny Milano or Vitaly Abramov as forwards, Gabriel Carlsson or Andrew Peeke as defencemen.
However, Terry Pegula is probably getting a bit impatient with the Sabres’ rebuilding efforts — even though this is the first season for the Botterill-Housley regime — and Eichel is outspokenly tired of all the losing, so maybe a hockey deal makes more sense. It could be hard to say no to Jenner, Murray or Bjorkstrand, with a little added sweetener if need be.
Well, what do you think — which team is going to acquire Kane? Calgary, St. Louis, Columbus or somebody else?
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.