Wednesday February 4th, 2015

Off The Draw

The angle coming out of the Jets’ 3–2 OT loss to the Canucks should have been about a Winnipeg team that found a way to earn a much-needed point after having lost four consecutive games.

Instead, the story was about Evander Kane. Again.

The veteran winger was made a healthy scratch just before game time by coach Paul Maurice. With no apparent injury and no pressing concerns about Kane’s play, the assumption is that the benching was for disciplinary reasons.

Without knowing all the details, we’re left to speculate. But taken at face value, the decision to bench Kane seems to put his future with the Jets in jeopardy.

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This, after all, wasn’t just any old scratch—given Kane’s checkered past, though, it would have been news even if it was. It happened in Vancouver, his hometown, where he played junior hockey. It can be assumed that friends and family were in the building. A coach doesn’t embarrass a player by making him a healthy scratch without an excellent reason.

And Maurice made the call knowing that it could also hurt his team. It was a critical game for the Jets against a team that’s chasing them in the standings. And since they were carrying just 12 forwards, the decision required blueliner Dustin Byfuglien to move up front—where he’s said he doesn’t want to play—and the insertion of Adam Pardy into the lineup for the first time in nearly a month. All of that, in the view of Maurice, was preferable to letting Kane play.

So this was more than just a coach trying to send a message. This feels like a “Come to Jesus” moment for Kane, and maybe a pivotal point in his tenure with the organization.

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The relationship between player and team hasn’t always gone smoothly in the past. Kane’s time in Winnipeg has been marked by trade rumors and controversies, but the team has shown great patience while waiting for his maturity to catch up to his talent.

Will this be just another bump in the road? Possibly. Despite his troubled history, Kane has been a model citizen this season, a valuable asset at even strength and on the penalty kill. On a team that’s still a bit shy of talent, he’s one of the few Jets that other teams have to fear.

Maybe Kane, duly chastised, will be back in the lineup on Friday with all forgiven. Or maybe Maurice has had enough and the team has decided that it’s time to cash in a depreciating asset. If Winnipeg decides to put Kane on the trading block, he’d become the top player available ahead of the March 2 deadline. The return for the Jets would be significant.

Dealing Kane would also send a message to the rest of the players. This is Maurice’s team. Buy in or pack your bags.

With Winnipeg traveling today we’re not expecting to get any updates from the team until Thursday. Should be an interesting 24 hours.

What to watch tonight

Penguins at Oilers (8 p.m. EST; SN, ROOT)

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Sidney Crosby is making his annual visit to Edmonton. Evgeni Malkin is making his return to the lineup. And yet the center of attention when the Oilers play host to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night will be the return of David Perron.

The former Edmonton winger has settled nicely into his role on the Penguins’ top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, scoring six goals in the 12 games since his Jan. 2 trade. But he’s pointless in his last three, two of them losses, for a Pittsburgh team that is inexplicably struggling to generate offense. The Pens have been shut out twice in those three games while being outscored 9–2.

Maybe the return of Malkin will help. The big center had three goals and seven assists in the eight games before he suffered a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup for the last five games. He’s expected to skate on a new-look line alongside Patric Hornqvist and another former Oilers player, Mark ArcobelloEdmonton, meanwhile, will be looking to keep a good thing going. The Oilers have won four of their last six games, earning the extra point in three of those via the shootout.

Rest of the schedule: Bruins at Rangers (8 p.m. EST; NBCSN, TVA); Sharks at Flames (10 p.m. EST; SN, SN1, CSN-CA)

What you missed

• A young fan of the Blues did her best to distract Lightning coach Jon Cooper during the game on Tuesday night. Looks like she may have helped her team’s cause (highlights).

• The skidding Islanders brought out their infamous Fishsticks crest for their pregame skate last night, and then went out and continued to play like the benighted teams that wore them from 1995 to ’97 (highlights).

• While filling in for the injured Pekka Rinne, Predators goalie Carter Hutton made a contribution to the saves-of-the-year list.

• The NHL’s expansion to Las Vegas moved forward, with ticket drive targets set in order to determine interest in the sport in Sin City.

• ESPN, which takes its share of heat for giving the NHL short shrift, will reportedly broadcast the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

The numbers game

• On Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, Brian Elliott became the first St. Louis goalie since Darrell May on Nov. 3, 1985, to be credited with an assist on an overtime goal.

• ​With 364 career points, John Tavares ranks behind only Hall of Famers Mike Bossy (600), Bryan Trottier (540), Denis Potvin (411) and Pat LaFontaine (395) for the best offensive output by a player in his first 400 games with the Islanders.

​• At 23-0-6 in one-goal games, the Ducks are the only team that has yet to be defeated by one goal in regulation time this season.

Hot links

Red Army: Spirited documentary about Soviet hockey goes deep

Canadiens enforcer Brandon Prust explains why fighting is important to the game in an amazing first-person piece.

• Red Army director Gabe Polsky is working the promotional trail hard these days. Here’s a solid interview previewing his love-letter to Soviet-era hockey.

• Here’s one we haven't heard yet: If Las Vegas gets an NHL franchise, it might go with something other than Las Vegas for its name.

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