Evander Kane’s NHL career is currently in limbo, pending the results of the league’s investigation, which makes no promises about his defense. What happens next is the big question.
The first thing you should know about Evander Kane is that he is a very good hockey player.
You don’t sign contracts totaling $80.8 million if you’re just building a reputation backed up by one or two good years of performances at the NHL level. That person knows how to play the game.
The second thing you should know about Kane, however, is that he has studied the NHL well — he currently plays for the San Jose Sharks, the third organization he has been with in his 12-year NHL career — and for good reason.
The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres have decided to cut ties with him despite his obvious scoring ability. He is not considered a true core player for the Sharks, despite currently earning $7 million per season this season and three years thereafter. And that’s because his personality is known for annoying his teammates and team officials to the point where it becomes more of a detriment than his skills are a positive factor.
All of this analysis of Kane has surfaced in recent weeks after his estranged wife, Anna, posted a series of disturbing messages on Instagram alleging that her husband had gambled, both in the ones he participated in and in other NHL games, and had “ditched” several Sharks games.
Kane immediately denied the allegations via his Twitter account, writing, “I have NEVER gambled or bet on hockey, NEVER gambled or bet on Sharks games, NEVER gambled or bet on any of my games and NEVER dropped hockey games… The facts are that I personally had my best season of my career last year and was the most consistent throughout the season, I am proud of that. I love hockey and would never do any of the things that have been claimed… I look forward to cooperating fully with the league’s investigation, to having my name cleared, and I look forward to the upcoming season.”
Despite his denial, Kane’s reputation, and his own, has suffered greatly in the wake of his wife’s allegations. The NHL announced almost immediately that it was taking Anna Kane’s allegations very seriously and would launch an investigation into Kane, which ideally should be over before league training camps begin in late September.
But TheHockeyNews.com spoke with two NHL agents who believe Kane and the Sharks will have a very hard time clearing his name, let alone accepting him back on a team whose members dislike him greatly.
“He plays with a chip on his shoulder, but that carries over into the locker room and into the outside world,” one agent told THN.com, who said on terms that his name would not be used when talking about Kane. “He never does himself any favors when he lets his ego run the day, and he does that most of the day.”
“One of my clients on Sharks just hates him, hates the negative energy he brings to the room,” another agent, also on condition of anonymity, told THN.com. “Only Kane can change that, but he may have gone too far (with the current allegations). Some guys think they’re bigger than the team, and I suppose that helps Kane in personal matters, but it doesn’t play into the team structure at all.”
A phone call to Kane’s agent seeking comment had not been answered at the time this column was published.
But regardless of Kane’s defense, if the NHL determines that he did indeed bid on games, the punishment should be swift and severe. No professional league needs a player desperate enough to bet on their games, and at a time when betting on professional sports is flourishing across North America, there is no doubt that a player with a gambling problem would undermine the very essence of the league’s product.
Nevertheless, even in Kane’s early years — before he declared bankruptcy this past January, when he claimed to have lost $1.5 million betting on sports “in casinos and through a bookie” — the 30-year-old player was highly sensitive to comments about his play and behavior. When I criticized Kane during the league’s last lockout in 2012-13 for holding a big wad of American bills to his ear like it was a phone, he blocked me on Twitter.
And that’s fine – everyone is free to dispose of their social media as they see fit – but it was the only thing I wrote about him at all, so he had to see it. And that meant he had to see the rationale behind the criticism — namely, that holding onto huge sums of money, even as a “joke,” as he claimed, was harming the NHL Players Association’s PR optics as a group that was being destroyed by aggressive league tactics and a deliberate goal to take more player income from hockey. Kane’s reluctance to even discuss the issue spoke volumes about his sensitivity. It was easy to see why some people found him difficult to work with.
And now, nearly a decade after that PR fiasco, Kane finds himself in a much more difficult situation. If there is evidence that he gambled in the NHL, he may have played his last game in the NHL. Even if he is cleared of all charges, there will be a residue on him that could very well make him radioactive not only in San Jose, but in the entire league.
What club would want to take on Kane and the rest of his contract, knowing full well that he is, at the very least, a proven, constant challenge to the team’s “chemistry”? It’s hard to imagine that there will be a line of people wanting Kane at the door of Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, and if there is no official reason to terminate Kane’s contract, the only option available to Wilson would be a buyout, which would hurt San Jose severely in terms of salary, or a withholding money alternative, which, again, would make it difficult for the Sharks to try to rebuild.
Thus, Kane is now in limbo, awaiting the results of the league’s investigation, which makes no promises about his protection. It’s the NHLPA’s responsibility, but it would be incredibly difficult for the players’ union to justify fighting for its member, who has heaps of evidence to illustrate his terrible judgment. If he were banned from the NHL, Kane could continue his career in the Russian Continental League or one of the Scandinavian professional leagues, but his NHL career would be over forever.
As a result, that chip on Kane’s shoulder may exist and even grow. But one would hope, for the sake of a young man, that he realized that there is no one more important than the game and added some humility and warmth to his life. If he hasn’t, his hockey life and his life outside the game will be subjected to even more upheaval and criticism.
And it doesn’t matter who he blocks on social media or who he opposes in his daily professional dealings. He will become an outcast, and no amount of scoring will ever change that.