EDMONTON — Evander Kane is a power forward with exquisite finish, he can skate, shoot, or knock you on your backside — gloves on or gloves off. Your choice.
Then the game ends, and the rest begins. A career spread equally over the sports pages, the police blotter and on the Page 6 gossip columns, Kane blows up the stereotype that is the typical Canadian hockey player the way Milan Lucic blows up a goalie.
Today, he is well ahead of schedule to set a new National Hockey League record for goals in a playoff run, with 12 goals in just 11 games. Only 10 men throughout history have scored at that pace, and they have names like Esposito and Lemieux, Messier and Lafleur, Hull and Sakic.
The playoff record is 19 goals, shared by Jari Kurri and Reggie Leach, rare air indeed for Kane, a player who didn’t even have a team to play for at Christmas.
“I knew I was going to be back in the NHL,” said Kane. “I was very confident in that. It was just a matter of when, and when I got that opportunity, taking full advantage of it.”
Oh, he is taking full advantage, manning the right wing of late, next to the best player in the NHL in Connor McDavid, and often the second best in Leon Draisaitl.
Kane can give his coach 30 goals and 40 headaches a season. Between bankruptcy, custody hearings, contract hearings and settlements, he has spent a lot of time in court.
But then he breezes back into the picture and picks right up where he left off as the most dangerous scorer of the 2022 playoffs, with two hat tricks and a dozen goals.
Is Kane an enigma? Did Mike Smith blow one in Game 4?
With free agency looming in July, Oilers fans and Kane’s creditors are neck and neck as the biggest fans of his playoff success. But can you name a better mid-season pick-up in the entire league this year than Kane?
You can’t do it, a transaction that popped up out of the Hollandaise sauce at a Detroit breakfast with Oilers GM Ken Holland and agent Dan Millstein on Nov. 10, 2021.
“Dan said to me, ‘I’m getting a new client.’ And I said, ‘Who’s that?’” relayed Holland, who has a long relationship with the former agent to Detroit great Pavel Datsyuk. “He said it was Evander Kane. ‘It looks like they’re headed to a divorce.’”
“They” were Kane and the San Jose Sharks, a team that had acquired Kane in eerily similar circumstances to what Holland was considering.
The Sharks brought Kane in at the 2018 trade deadline on an expiring contract, a test run of sorts after Kane had worn out his welcome in Buffalo — after wearing out his welcome in Winnipeg before that. Of course, Kane crushed it in San Jose, and Sharks GM Doug Wilson bit, signing Kane to a seven-year, $49-million deal.
Kane would produce in San Jose the way he always has, even leading the team in scoring last season. Alas, the Sharks players voted him off the island, and the Sharks terminated his contract amid a tornado of litigation and accusations, a contract dispute that has yet to be formally settled.
But here in late May, cashing in the way Kane did during that honeymoon period in San Jose, he is delivering in spades on Holland’s gamble.
“He has that swagger about him, right?” said Draisaitl. “So, that’s something that he brings to our group. He’s been nothing but great for us — on and off the ice. And yeah, he scores big goals. We are very, very lucky to have him.”
Kane does not appear at the post-game podium in sweats and a ball cap, like most players. The media waits, and he shows up dressed in a stylish suit, his handsome profile and friendly demeanour making him the near-perfect shot for the TV cameras.
He is debonair, intelligent and well-spoken, a player for whom the press is happy to wait. But there have always been troubles, and over a career of broken rules he has also made a habit of being late for practices and team meetings.
Not in Edmonton, to our knowledge, but Kane’s insistence on marching to his own beat is a registered trademark, as much a part of who he is as Draisaitl’s one-timer form.
Holland knew about it, and went there anyhow.
“I always go to the Guide and Record Book,” the GM began. “There are analytics and all these other things, but you see 30 goals, 30 goals, 30 goals, 30 goals. … You’re getting a legit 30-goal scorer.
“I talked to lots of people, and I had people in my organization talk to as many people as we could about Evander. I thought it was a no-brainer from a hockey standpoint. Then the other side, obviously, is the background. The character check.”
Once the NHL exonerated Kane in its investigation of his alleged crossing of the Canadian border with COVID at Christmas, Holland signed him.
Was he taking a big chance?
“I didn’t think so,” the GM said. “You’ve got a guy on a one-year deal at $2 million. What can you get for $2 million? We did some checking, felt comfortable with the character check. It was a half-year deal, and we were reeling at the time.”
Welcome to pro sports, where the number of second chances a player gets arrive in direct proportion to how many goals he scores, or home runs he hits. Edmonton needed what Kane is — a genuine power forward with attitude — and Kane came with no acquisition cost.
If there was some trepidation among the fan base back in January, today, a common argument on Twitter is not whether Holland should re-sign Kane, but who should be moved out to free up the necessary salary cap space.
The disagreements are over where Kane has been a better fit — on the ice? Or off it?
Can Holland sign him?
He holds out his hands, palms up.
“I can sign anybody. But someone’s gotta go. If you love everybody, somebody’s not stayin’,” the GM said. “Can you keep him? I can keep anybody. But I can’t keep ‘em all.”
Kane fits with McDavid like sharp cheddar fits with a nice red wine. It’s a fit here in Edmonton, the way Anderson fit with Messier, or Huddy fit next to Coffey.
But who goes? And what if a long-term deal brings out the other Kane? The Buffalo/San Jose Kane?
We said, back on Jan. 29 when the Oilers signed him, that the mistake wasn’t bringing Kane in for a half-season run. The mistake would come when free agency opens on July 13.
Now, like everyone else, Kane has seduced us.
He’s a hell of a player.
But hasn’t that always been the issue?