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Time for Evander Kane to save himself

Given a chance for a fresh start in Buffalo, Sabres winger Evander Kane is again defending himself, this time from allegations that threaten his future.

It seems pretty clear how the next headline involving Evander Kane should read: Troubled Buffalo Sabres star seeks help.

He badly needs it.

Kane is a marvelously talented player. A highly gifted athlete and an industrious trainer, the speedy winger has the potential to be an All-Star, year in, year out. But that potential has been derailed of late by a series of off-ice misadventures that have escalated from immature hijinks to allegedly criminal behavior. And it's gotten to the point where his future with the Sabres, and maybe even the NHL, is in question.

Let's be clear: Kane has been proven guilty of nothing more to this point than bad judgment. Everything else, as his lawyer Paul Cambria, Jr. points out, boils down to unsubstantiated accusations.

“People can accuse other people of a lot of things for a lot of different motives,” Cambria, Jr. told the Buffalo News. “We’ve seen that. We saw that with other prominent sports figures. And people make accusations about other people and courtrooms are where you find out what’s true and what’s fiction.”

In short, Kane deserves the chance to defend himself legally before he's tried and convicted by the public. But it says something about the man and his character that he IS repeatedly ending up in a position where defending himself is a part of the equation.

During his six years with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise, Kane developed a reputation as a rebellious malcontent who drew the wrath of teammate Dustin Byfuglien for wearing a track suit to a team meeting instead of the sport coat required by coach Paul Maurice. Kane's Feb. 2015 blockbuster trade to the Sabres, who paid handsomely, was the opportunity for a fresh start. But the narrative has grown darker.

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Last Febuary, Kane was benched for missing practice, but that episode was small potatoes. The latest incident sees the 25-year-old facing a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleges that he assaulted her late last year. The suit stems from an alleged incident that occurred in a Buffalo hotel room on Dec. 27, which resulted in a sex offense investigation. The district attorney decided the evidence did not support the filing of criminal charges, but the plaintiff, Rachel Kuechle, decided to move forward with civil action, alleging the attack resulted in “bodily injury including lacerations, extensive bleeding requiring multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, and serious emotional trauma.” It's hard to reconcile that horrifying description with a decision not to file charges, but Kuechle deserves her day in court every bit as much as Kane.

According to the Buffalo News, Kane intends to countersue, and this case may eventually fade away. But this isn't the only legal battle he's waging.

Kane also faces six charges, including one of misdemeanor trespassing and four of non-criminal harassment, related to an incident in a downtown Buffalo bar in late-June. He pleaded not guilty to those charges on Monday.

According to the Buffalo News, a bouncer at a city bar says he got into an altercation with Kane while attempting to remove him from the building. Kane allegedly pushed the bouncer and threatened his life before finally being escorted from the premises.

It gets worse. Three women there that evening allege that Kane made physical contact with them. One claims he grabbed her by the wrist. Another, by the hair. A third, around the neck.

All of these accusations remain to be proven, and it is entirely possible that the case will be dropped before ever coming to trial, especially as Cambria suggests video from the club shows the claims to be "extremely exaggerated." But the fact that complaints were filed by so many different people in one place in one night suggests this is more than a he said/she said scenario. And that it appears to show a possible pattern of misbehavior and even violence against women is very, very troubling ... and, if true, it cannot be tolerated.

Perhaps because nothing has been proven, the Sabres have shown remarkable patience with Kane, although that may be running out. “I’m not pleased to see the headline,” head coach Dan Bylsma said after the bar incident. And the recurrence of Kane's name in trade rumors hints at GM Tim Murray's growing frustration with the player.

It may already be too late for Kane in Buffalo, which would be a shame. With his skills, he could be an important part of a team that is poised to be one of the league's best over the next decade. But if an opportunity like that means anything to him, he needs to make a commitment to himself, and to his teammates, to get back on the right track. And he needs to do it soon.