If you were to list off the most impactful trade deadline pickups this season, Winnipeg adding Paul Stastny would probably top the list. If that’s true, San Jose’s acquisition of Evander Kane for Daniel O’Regan and a couple of conditional draft picks would be a close second.
After Kane arrived in San Jose, the team went 16-9-1 down the stretch and moved up the standings into a second-place finish in the Pacific Division. The club picked him up as a rental in an effort to find more scoring as Joe Thornton had been out of the lineup since late-January and he quickly found chemistry with centre Joe Pavelski — Kane had 19 points in 26 games wearing the teal, and Pavelski had 18 points in 17 games after getting put on a line with him.
Kane, a 26-year-old pending UFA, was such a good fit on and off the ice, the Sharks want him to sign on and stay with the team for the long term.
“We want him back. He’s fit in well,” said Logan Couture, who can begin negotiating a contract extension on July 1, one year before he becomes UFA eligible. “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.”
Added head coach Pete DeBoer: “I liked the idea of him through my small experience with him, and when you’re around a guy for two, three months and in the trenches with him, both in good times and in tough times, you get to learn more about people and he is exactly what I thought he was — which is great.”
The fourth-overall pick of the 2009 draft behind John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, Kane had a couple of unceremonious exits from his previous two NHL stops in Winnipeg and Buffalo. He scored 30 goals in his breakout third NHL season and it seemed like that was going to be the launching pad for him to reach his career potential. But not only has Kane not reached 30 goals since, it took him four years to score 20 goals again. In San Jose, he scored nine goals in 17 regular season games, a 40-plus-goal pace, and that’s given renewed hope he can still become a regular 30-goal man.
Still, it’s far from a lock that Kane will stay in San Jose. It’s his first crack at unrestricted free agency and, coming off a six-year, $31.5-million deal, he could sign the biggest contract of his career this summer. He said he would take the time to consider his situation and options and discussed his priorities, which the Sharks could be an ideal fit for.
“Common sense tells you, there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle,” Kane told reporters at Tuesday’s locker clean out. “Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.”
The Sharks are projected to have somewhere around $20 million in cap space this summer with Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney the biggest RFAs to re-up. Thornton is also a pending UFA and made it clear he’d like to stay in San Jose, but given a pay cut and reduced role appear necessary, there’s a chance he and his $8-million cap hit up and leave. Given the enormous amount of cap space at their disposal, the Sharks figure to be big players for Tavares, who could be the most notable free agent to test the open market in the salary cap era.
San Jose had one of the best power-play units this season, but struggled to score at even strength out of the gate, something it improved as the year unfolded. As the Sharks continue transitioning to a younger leadership group and support cast behind that, Kane would be a valuable asset to keep and ensure scoring keeps coming from the top six.
His cap hit may come in at $6 million, matching Couture and Pavelski and if the Sharks sign him they have to send a 2019 first-rounder to Buffalo instead of a second-rounder. Given his history of underwhelming production and off-ice issues, there is some risk to inking Kane, though he impressed everyone in San Jose’s organization during this trial run, including the man who will make the decision on how hard to try to keep Kane around.
“He’s difference-maker,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “He had a clean slate. He wants to be a great player, we did our research, he came in here and he’s judged by his actions and his experiences here. He played through a couple of injuries. I think he fit in very well with this group, not only as a player but as a person.”