Published On: Sat, Jan 13th, 2018

The Buffalo Sabres’ problem with shopping Evander Kane

Here’s the problem with Evander Kane.

When he was drafted, he was viewed as a prototypical power forward. A new era Cam Neely.

That was 2009. And that’s the problem. It’s not 2009 anymore. Kane brought the skill set to the NHL, and then the NHL changed around him.

Power forwards, players who can hit and fight and bang bodies and create havoc, well, they’re just not in vogue right now. Maybe they never will be again, at least not to the same extent they were. The game has changed that dramatically in less than a decade. The “intangibles” that used to enhance the value of such players, particularly the intimidation factor and the ability to “wear down” the opposition, aren’t weighted as heavily any more.

It’s all about speed and skill. It’s players like Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine that have the most value. Big men with the skills of little men. Or little men like Nikita Kucherov, Clayton Keller, Mitch Marner, Johnny Gaudreau and Nik Ehlers. Connor McDavid is a little bigger than some of those guys, but he sure wouldn’t be anyone’s definition of a power forward. He’s a cheetah on skates.

Kane would have had enormous value in the old Chuck Norris Division. Even the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, a team that led the league in penalties and won the Stanley Cup, would have placed enormous value on his skill set.

But it’s different now. Strength, bulk and fighting skills — with fighting all but eliminated — aren’t as important as they once were. Size is much less of an advantage than it once was in the NHL, particularly with new prohibitions on using the stick to the hands.

True power forwards, if the Neely mold is the guide, are rare.

Alex Ovechkin, of course, but that’s a different universe. Josh Anderson, Matthew Tkachuk and Jamie Benn are of the general type. Edmonton has Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic, but foot speed issues are problematic on both accounts.

There just aren’t many out there. And the ones that are on rosters better be able to keep up.

Kane can certainly be a good player in the league. He’s fast. He can score when he’s healthy. He’s got 16 goals this season for a horrible Buffalo squad, 11 at even-strength.

So he can play. It just seems he can’t be a core player, a franchise player, as he was forecast to be when he was drafted. When it comes to the NHL trade deadline, he then can’t be priced as a franchise player.

With the 26-year-old winger and his expiring contract almost certain to be moved as a rental by the Sabres before next month’s deadline, it’s unlikely he will fetch as much as some, particularly traditionalists who embrace the concept of a power forward, would imagine.

A first round pick? Maybe, but not in the top 10. A top prospect? Perhaps, but no more. a package something like Pittsburgh gave up for Phil Kessel (basically prospect Kasperi Kapanen, a late first rounder and a third rounder)? That sounds about right, although it doesn’t take into account the enormous cap savings the Maple Leafs got out of that deal, which is really what they were after.

Kessel was more effective for the Penguins than for the Leafs. Some might suggest a new team might find the same with Kane.

Still, it seems unlikely that anyone would give the Sabres what they gave up for Kane in 2015, which basically stands now as Tyler Myers (21 minutes a game), Joel Armia (11 goals) and top prospect Jack Roslovic (taken with the first rounder deal in the deal) for Kane and Zach Bogosian.

Some teams, given Kane’s baggage, history of scrapes with the law and troubles with teammates, wouldn’t touch him in a deal. The latest controversy came Wednesday when he had a rather unpleasant exchange with teammate Justin Falk during practice. An upset Falk could be heard yelling things like “selfish” after the two were separated.

Beyond that, this year’s Buffalo team is one messed up group, and Kane should and will have to bear his share of responsibility for that. Even if you like what he’s done in Buffalo, the team sure hasn’t improved with him as part of the roster. He’s also never played a playoff game.

Then again, there’s always a team, or a coach, thinking they have the secret to unlocking the talents of an underachieving player. Just like every year there’s a playoff-bound team that thinks Thomas Vanek can be the one extra piece they need.

At his best, Kane can be a top six forward on most NHL clubs. He had 28 goals in 70 games last year to go with this season’s production. Interestingly, there’s little or no evidence he can help anyone’s power play, often an element teams headed for the Stanley Cup tournament are interested in.

Last year, the Sabres had the best power play in the NHL under Dan Bylsma, and Kane contributed three power-play goals. This year, Buffalo has the worst power play in the league under Phil Housley, and Kane has two power-play goals even though he’s on track to get more power-play time this season.

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He’s a minus-player, as are many Sabres, although his zone starts suggest Housley likes to protect him by starting him mostly in the offensive zone. His 9.1 per cent shooting percentage suggests he’s been a tad unlucky this season, although it’s not too out of line with his career numbers.

He’s 12th among NHL left wingers points per game but fifth in ice time. He’s tied for 9th in goals among all left wingers and tied for 22nd in power-play points.

Good left wingers can be hard to come by, but this year, players like Max Pacioretty and Mike Hoffman are likely to be available at the deadline. Both are having less productive seasons than Kane.

So it’s an intriguing question as to what teams might give up for Kane. The smart ones will evaluate him and offer a price based on what he does, rather than what he was projected to be able to do before the NHL changed on him.

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The Buffalo Sabres’ problem with shopping Evander Kane