Jake’s Takes: Dealing Kane offers plenty of upside

Sabres forward Evander Kane may soon be on the move.

By Jake Dehlinger

The Buffalo Sabres must trade Evander Kane.

I said it. It might not be what you want to hear, but I’ll offer some perspective.

Too many fans believe that he should be re-signed. In reality, we need to look at the team as a whole. There is no denying that Kane is essentially 25 percent of the team’s offense this season. Unfortunately for us Sabres fans, this is a problem. Too many variables play into why the Sabres must deal Kane before the deadline. Ultimately, it is up to general manager Jason Botterill with what he wants to do. Realistically, I think we will see Kane gone from a Buffalo uniform.

Goal scoring is at an absolute premium in the NHL. If you can finish off of playmakers, teams want you. Teams who are looking to make deep postseason runs are definitely going to take a run at players like that.

Enter Evander Kane.

Kane’s stat line currently reads 12 goals and 23 points through 25 games played. That is incredible. He has scored the most even-strength goals dating way back in December of last season, outpacing Toronto’s Auston Matthews. On his current clip, he is on track to break his previous career-high of goals scored during a season. In a contract year, that is something that every player dreams of. Kane is going to get paid one way or another for his hard work so far and carrying the scoring load for the offensively-inept Sabres. This is something that does not play well into the Sabres hands. Kane has been producing alongside Jack Eichel for the most part and that is great. That being said, everything else goes against the Sabres.

Too many factors play into why Kane has to be moved. As previously stated, he’s scoring at a scorching rate during a contract year, his value is at an all-time high for him, and the amount of money he will want will probably be too steep for the Sabres. The first thing to address is his potential contract. Many teams are taking a flyer on trading for Kane before the deadline this year since he will command big money when the season is over. Having only cracked 30 goals once and potentially doing it for the second time this year, it is a big risk to give the man a large, long-term contract as he begins to enter and pass his prime. If he is getting paid big money early on, it may not be a big deal. But if his production dips as he ages and he is still making lots of money while the consistency disappears, that becomes a hefty contract to move.

Next, we move onto where the Sabres are as a team. They are downright awful. At the time of writing, Jack Eichel had been demoted to the third line away from Kane, and the Sabres continue to only put up one goal a game, many times thanks to Kane or Ryan O’Reilly. They can certainly overcome this early deficit, but they are going to have to go on an absolute tear. The season is slipping through their fingers and it’s not even December. With this season already in jeopardy, for what reason would Kane want to stay? They are losing. The team can’t string together more than two wins. Things look bleak. Would Kane take a pay cut to be here? We have to be realistic in this scenario.

With the defense being horribly injured and no one showing any real progression from last season, this team is not even close to what many of us envisioned heading into the season. Being perfectly blunt and honest here, I don’t see this team touching the playoffs for at least a minimum of two more years. If we happen to clear a lot of dead weight (and I am looking at you Moulson, Girgensons, Larsson, etc.) and we are able to have the guys in Rochester come up and put in some real work, then maybe next year. But this team has been set way back due to former general manager Tim Murray trying to speed up a rebuild that was only half way finished.

When looking at everything I have mentioned, the recurring theme seems to be that the Sabres need to look towards the future. Again. And that isn’t something anyone in this playoff-starved town wants to hear.  In the pen we have players like Alexander Nylander and Brendan Guhle. These guys will be exciting and will help bring some much-needed creativity to the team. But they should not be sent to the NHL this season or maybe even the next. They need to thrive in Rochester and learn how to win before it can translate to the NHL. That philosophy is already paying off dividends, as the Americans are second place in the North Division and winning more hockey games than they have in quite some time. Something the current Sabres team does not know how to do is win. Don’t break up the future of this team so that they can try to instill some life into an already horrid start for the Sabres. Their current success in Rochester will lead to greater potential success in Buffalo.

Something telling was how the Sabres played against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. As the best team in the league, the Lightning were fast, quick, and creative. On the flipside for the Sabres, you could see just how downright awful they were. They were slow, showed no creativity, and were flat-out boring. The only players with any sort of jam to their game were Kane, Eichel, O’Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen, Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Okposo, and even Sam Reinhart. That’s less than half the team. Then I look at the rest of the roster and think to myself, “Why are these guys not playing with any intensity?” This brings up the next point about what to do with Kane.

As I said, he must be traded. Reports are coming in now from reputable hockey sources like Pierre LeBrun that the Sabres have made it known that although they have not made a final decision on trading Kane, that they would be willing to pay some of his salary in order to facilitate a trade. This is the correct move and I am glad that Botterill is going out there and making it known that he has a truly valuable asset and that he is willing to eat some cash for a contender in order to get a deal done. This plays into Botterill’s hand well, as he will be able to demand more in terms of prospects, players, and picks from teams who want Kane. Let the bidding war begin.

The only way I can see Kane remaining in Buffalo is if he truly believes in “the process” and takes a pay cut to be here. But does that really sound like something he would want to do? He likes Buffalo but does a discount really seem like something that he would do? Heck no. The dude wants to get paid. I just don’t see why he would want to continue to be here. There is no way that Kane would want to ride out the rest of the season here and miss out on a playoff push with a team who could desperately use him.

The worst thing that could happen is if the team doesn’t trade him and loses him in free agency to another team who overpays him. Frankly, the Sabres cannot afford to overpay anyone at the moment. The Okposo deal is looking horrible and they have a lot of money tied up in Eichel and O’Reilly. They need to start being smart as they have more young guys coming up who will need contracts. It is time to sell Kane while his value is high and bring in a haul of players, prospects, and picks. He is going to give the Sabres so much more through a trade than if he stays here.

Botterill needs to make the unpopular decision to trade away Kane. Casual fans of the team will exclaim that we are stuck in perpetual mediocrity because we are unable to retain our good players. These fans to be realistic and realize that hockey is also a business and that Kane wants what we cannot give him at the current time.

At one point in time – 2004 as a matter of fact – the Chicago Blackhawks were named the worst franchise in sports by ESPN. The team faced several of the same problems that our Sabres do now: Draft picks that did not work out as planned, bad contracts, and good young players who still kept losing. Now take a look at what they accomplished since that time: A Frank J. Selke Trophy winner in Jonathan Toews, a Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy winner in Patrick Kane, a two-time James Norris Trophy-winning defenseman in Duncan Keith, three Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Kane, Keith, and Toews, two Calder Trophy honorees in Kane (who edged out his fellow rookie teammate Toews) and Artemi Panarin, two separate William M. Jennings trophies for goaltenders Corey Crawford (twice) and Ray Emery, a Presidents’ Trophy, nine consecutive playoff appearances, and three Stanley Cups.

The Sabres are in a tough position and there is no doubt that the Evander Kane trade will be met with much scrutiny. Previous deals and moves by Murray have certainly clouded the team’s immediate future. Botterill has the tough decision to make but I have no doubt that he will make the right one and that it will pay off for the Sabres in the long run. In an era of “trust the process”, that is really all we as Sabres fans can do as the new coach and GM try to right the wrongs of previous regimes.

Editor's Note: Site editor Matt Birt is a former Buffalo Sabres employee and possibly a future one as well.

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