Cap comparables: Can Sharks’ Evander Kane live up to lofty expectations?

Watch as Evander Kane gets in all alone and scores to tie the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.

The San Jose Sharks locked up pending unrestricted free agent Evander Kane to a long-term contract Thursday, a clear indication management was thrilled at what the winger brought to the team after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres ahead of the 2018 trade deadline.

Kane’s deal, which was first reported by Sportsnet’s Irfaan Gaffar earlier this week, is worth $49 million over seven years, making him one of only 10 wingers currently slated to make $7 million or more in 2018-19. When all of a sudden you find yourself in a similar salary cap range as elite snipers like Vladimir Tarasenko and Phil Kessel, pressure to produce increases significantly.

“Evander has established himself as one of hockey’s true power forwards and an impact player,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a press release. “We think his abilities mesh perfectly with our group of skilled, young players and veteran leaders.”

Kane, who turns 27 in August, joins defencemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic plus goalie Martin Jones as the only Sharks players currently signed beyond the 2019-20 campaign.

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Evander Kane on seven years a Shark, his reputation and playoff hockey
May 24 2018

Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are entering the final year of their contracts, so it will be interesting to see what Wilson does with those star players. Pavelski and Couture both have $6-million cap hits and, in theory, should make just as much or more money than Kane on their next deals based on their track records.

Pending UFAs Jannik Hansen, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward’s cap hits are coming off the books this summer, and if Joe Thornton does re-sign with San Jose he’ll likely receive significant a pay cut from the $8 million he earned this past season. Wilson also has pending restricted free agents Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney to take care of this year.

While it would be unfair to dub this a bad deal right off the bat, it is the type of contract that has the potential to put a team in a significant bind from a salary cap management perspective if Kane can’t maintain the type of production we saw from him when he went to San Jose.

All you have to do is look back to when the Canucks signed Loui Eriksson and the Oilers signed Milan Lucic to six- and seven-year deals, respectively, in free agency with both getting $6-million cap hits. Those players had earned the lucrative, long-term deals they received based on their performance just like Kane, but less than two years removed from the ink drying it looks like both teams overpaid for players whose production (and foot speed) has decreased in each of the past two seasons.

Who knows if Kane will face similar struggles but, on paper at least, it appears this will be a difficult deal to live up to.

Now, make no mistake, Kane looked every bit like a $7-million player in a Sharks uniform, registering nine goals and 14 points in 17 regular-season games before adding four goals and an assist in nine playoff contests. The team ended up going 16-9-1 with him in the lineup.

“We want him back. He’s fit in well,” Couture said earlier this month. “You don’t listen to what people said about him before. Just getting to know him over these past few months, he’s a great teammate, he cares, he wants to win. He was fun to play with.”

When you consider Kane is now making more than young stars Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, David Pastrnak, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nino Niederreiter and Jaden Schwartz — all of whom signed long-term deals within the past two years — it raises expectations significantly.

Add to that the fact Kane is injury prone and various off-ice issues have been a perceived distraction with his previous teams and it opens the door for people to be skeptical about this deal.

Not only is $7 million annually a high cost, literally, but re-signing Kane means the Sharks also have to give their 2019 first-round pick to the Sabres — a condition of the February trade.

He has averaged 0.46 goals per game with the Sharks, but is that sustainable? The Sharks are banking on it.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, his first with the Sabres, Kane is tied for 12th in goals among left wingers with 77 and ranks 30th in points with 132 in 213 games played.

During that stretch his 0.36 goals per game is tied with Max Pacioretty and Artemi Panarin. Excellent company but, as ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski pointed out on Twitter, New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider might actually be the best comparison for Kane.

Their numbers are startlingly similar with Kreider having played one fewer game and registering one more point than Kane since 2015. Both play with a physical edge but Kreider is the more well-rounded two-way player. Kreider, 27, currently has a $4.625-million cap hit and maybe when he’s a UFA in 2020 he’ll get a similar raise to the one Kane just got, but is Kreider also viewed as a $7-million player? Anecdotally, the answer is no.

With all that in mind, here are some wingers with similar contracts to the one Kane signed:

— Jakub Voracek, eight years, $66 million, $8.25-million cap hit (signed at age 25)
— Vladimir Tarasenko, eight years, $60 million, $7.5-million cap hit (signed at age 23)
— Bobby Ryan, seven years, $50.75 million, $7.25-million cap hit (signed at age 28)
— Johnny Gaudreau, six years, $40.5 million, $6.75-million cap hit (signed at age 23)
— Alexander Radulov, five years, $31.25 million, $6.25-million cap hit (signed at age 30)
— Brad Marchand, eight years, $49 million, $6.125-million cap hit (signed at age 29)
— Milan Lucic, seven years, $42 million, $6-million cap hit (signed at age 28)
— Kyle Okposo, seven years, $42 million, $6-million cap hit (signed at age 28)
— Loui Eriksson, six years, $36 million, $6-million cap hit (signed at age 30)
— Brandon Saad, six years, $36 million, $6-million cap hit (signed at age 22)
— Filip Forsberg, six years, $36 million, $6-million cap hit (signed at age 21)
— T.J. Oshie, eight years, $46 million, $5.75-million cap hit (signed at age 30)
— Cam Atkinson, seven years, $41.125 million, $5.875-million cap hit (signed at age 29)
— Jaden Schwartz, five years, $26.75 million, $5.35-million cap hit (signed at age 24)
— Nino Niederreiter, five years, $26.25 million, $5.25-million cap hit (signed at age 24)

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