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The Road Ahead for Evander Kane

Evander Kane's NHL career currently exists in limbo, awaiting the results of a league investigation that is making no promises about protecting him. What happens next is the big question.
Evander Kane

The first thing you should know about Evander Kane is he is a very good hockey player. 

You don’t sign contracts worth a grand total of $80.8-million if you’re just getting by on the reputation burnished by one or two good years of competing at the NHL level. The man can play the game.

However, the second thing you should know about Kane is that he is a well-travelled NHLer – currently playing for the San Jose Sharks, the third organization that’s employed him in his 12-year NHL career – for good reason. 

The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, and the Buffalo Sabres both decided to cut ties with him, despite his clear ability to score goals. He is not seen as a true core player of the Sharks, despite currently earning $7 million per season for this coming season and the three years after that. And that’s because his personality is known for rubbing teammates and team officials the wrong way, to the point it becomes more of a detriment than his skills are a positive.

All of this analysis of Kane has bubbled to the surface in recent weeks, after his estranged wife, Anna, posted a number of disturbing items on Instagram, alleging her husband gambled on games, both in which he was participating, and in other NHL games, and “threw” a number of Sharks games. 

Kane immediately denied the allegations via his Twitter account, writing, “I have NEVER gambled/bet on Hockey, NEVER gambled/bet on a Sharks game, NEVER gambled/bet on any of my games and NEVER thrown a hockey game…The facts are I personally had my best season of my career last year and was the most consistent I’ve been throughout any season, I’m proud of that. I love the game of Hockey and would never do any of what was alleged…I look forward to cooperating fully with the league’s investigation, having my name cleared and looking forward to this upcoming season.”

Despite his denials, Kane and his reputation have taken a huge hit following his wife’s accusations. The NHL almost instantly announced it took Anna Kane’s allegations very seriously and would be commencing an investigation of Kane that would ideally end before league training camps begin in late September. 

But TheHockeyNews.com spoke to two NHL agents who believe Kane and the Sharks will have great difficulties cleaning up his name, to say nothing of welcoming him back to a team that has members who greatly dislike him.

“He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but that carries into the dressing room and the outside world,” one agent, who, speaking on the condition his name not be used, told THN.com in reference to Kane. “He never does any favors to himself when he lets his ego rule the day, and he does that most days.”

“One of my clients on the Sharks just hates him, hates the negative energy he brings into the room,” another agent, also claiming anonymity, told THN.com. “Only (Kane) can change that, but he may have gone too far (with the current allegations). Some guys think that they’re bigger than the team, and I guess that helps drive (Kane) on a personal basis, but in the team construct, it doesn’t play well at all.”

A phone call to Kane’s agent requesting comment was not returned at the time this column was posted. 

But regardless of what Kane’s defense is, if the NHL finds that he did indeed bet on games, the punishment should and will be swift and severe. No professional league wants a player desperate enough to bet on their games, and at a time when betting on pro sports is blossoming across North America, there’s no doubt a player with a gambling problem would undermine the very essence of the league’s product.

That said, even in Kane’s early days – before he declared bankruptcy this past January, when he claimed he’d lost $1.5 million betting on sports “at casinos and via bookie” – the 30-year-old has been ultra-sensitive regarding comments on his play and behavior. When I criticized Kane during the last league lockout in 2012-13 for holding up a large stack of American bills to his ear as if it were a phone, he blocked me on Twitter. 

And that’s fine – everyone is free to curate their social media in any way they choose – but it was the only thing I’d written on him at all, so he had to have seen it And that meant he had to have seen the rationale for the criticism – namely, that holding up huge sums of money, even as the “joke” he claimed it to be, was damaging to the NHL Players’ Association’s public relations optics as a group that was being decimated by the league’s aggressive tactics and targeted goal of taking more of the players’ hockey-related revenue. Kane’s unwillingness to even discuss the issue spoke volumes about his sensitivity. It was easy to see could see why some people would find him difficult to work with.

And now, nearly a full decade after that public relations debacle, Kane finds himself in a much more dire situation. If there is evidence he gambled on NHL games, he may have played his last NHL game. Even if he is cleared of all allegations, there will be a residual stench on him that may well make him radioactive, not just in San Jose, but around the league. 

Which club would want to take on Kane and the rest of his contract, knowing full well he is, at the very least, a proven, consistent challenge to a team’s chemistry? It’s tough to imagine there will be a lineup at the door of Sharks GM Doug Wilson for Kane’s services, and if there aren’t any official grounds to terminate Kane’s contract, the only option available to Wilson would be a buyout that would cause San Jose serious salary-cap pain, or a retained-money alternative that, again, would hamstring the Sharks as they try and rebuild.

So Kane currently exists in limbo, awaiting the results of a league investigation that is making no promises about protecting him. That’s the NHLPA’s responsibility, but it would be incredibly challenging for the players’ union to justify fighting for a member who has a pile of evidence illustrating his awful judgment. If he were banned from the NHL, Kane would be free to pursue his career in Russia’s Kontinental League or in one of the Scandinavian pro leagues, but his NHL days would be over for good.

As a result, that chip on Kane’s shoulder may still exist – and may even grow. But one would hope that, for the sake of the young man, he has learned nobody is bigger than the game, and added some degree of humility and warmth to his life. If he hasn’t, his hockey life, and his life away from the game, are only going to suffer more tumult and criticism.

And it doesn’t matter who he blocks on social media, or who he turns against in his day-to-day professional dealings. He will become a pariah, and no amount of goals scored ever will change that.

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