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Jets Wrestling With Evander Enigma

By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck

The Winnipeg Jets have a problem on their hands. One of their best players on the ice is arguably one of their worst off it and what to do about Evander is going to lead to some tough decisions going forward.

The man in question is, of course, Evander Kane, a 22-year-old former 30-goal scorer in the National Hockey League – and make no mistake, scoring 30 in the NHL these days is not a small feat, especially for someone as young as Kane.

His on-ice capabilities offer little to argue against and the advanced stats would suggest that Kane is one of the top five-on-five players in the league. Sure, he has been in a bit of a funk lately, scoring just three times since the appointment of Paul Maurice as head coach, but his potential is through the roof, even after a down year.

Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9). JEFF MILLER PHOTO

Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9). JEFF MILLER PHOTO

Kane, a former Vancouver Giant, has never been one to shy away from the spotlight. The problem for Kane, and the Winnipeg Jets for that matter, is that often that spotlight has come on the heels of a less than desirable incident.

Jet fans will be familiar with some of Kane’s indiscretions. There was the “money phone” incident, there was the “late return following the lockout” incident, then there was “healthy scratch” incident, there was the “walked out on unpaid restaurant bills” incident and now the “civil suit and most recent healthy scratch” incidents.

There are others as well, including the “we don’t know how he got concussed” incident and the “unpaid traffic tickets” incident, but for the ones that stand out, those are the ones that are more significant. A lot of them were alleged and, to this day, still are. However, they are important factors to note, especially in the ones that hold criminal implications.

This is a horse that has been beaten to a pulp before. Kane gets a lot of attention in the media, and sometimes for good reason. He is young, cocky and rich and good at what he does. His missteps in a Canadian NHL market are always going to be magnified, something he’ll admit.

The bigger issue here is what to do with him? Fans seem to be split on that notion. There is a group that would like to see him traded. There is little doubt that if a deal is handled properly, the return for Kane could be exceptional. Still, the Jets are under no pressure to trade Kane, who is locked in for the foreseeable future at a price tag that will not be that big in the grand scheme of things providing the cap increases. The Jets can sit on Kane and wait for the right deal.

Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9) drives the net. SHAWN COATES PHOTO

Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9) drives the net. SHAWN COATES PHOTO

The flip side of the coin, of course, is keeping him in Winnipeg. Regardless of his off-ice concerns, what he brings to the lineup on a nightly basis has not been undermined by the bumps in his personal life. Again, if you are into advanced statistics, Kane’s contribution on the ice is bang on for his price point and position.

There is no doubting Kane’s potential. The former fourth overall pick (2009) demonstrated how good he can be in the Jets first season when he recorded 30 goals and 57 points. Those are his best numbers over a full season. The Jets have to be happy with where Kane is today, even in a down year.

What they can’t be pleased with are the distractions off the ice. Kane has claimed in the past he wants to be a leader on this team. Problem is, guilty or not of some of his transgressions, he hasn’t done much to take a leadership role by the horns.

The Jets would undoubtedly like to see Kane without the allegations attached to him, big or small. Hopefully Kane feels the same way. Is it Kane’s fault he is caught up in some of this? Sure. Does it come with the territory? Probably.

Fact of the matter is this: Kane needs to pay extra special attention to his off-ice life. Unfounded complaints against him will prove to be just that, unfounded. However, any ounce of truth will hurt in the same way.

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Kane is a good player. Some would say great. To be an elite player he needs to become more professional. He needs to play hard on the ice and play nice off it. There is a reason why a young man of a similar age, Steven Stamkos, is a team captain, while Kane’s jersey still only has the four letters of his last name on it.

Maturity as a hockey player must come quickly in order to succeed in the NHL. Kane has had enough time in the NHL to be a kid. It is now time for him to break out of that shell and become the man and the player the Jets brass always thought he could be — both on and off the ice.

It’s not unthinkable that the Jets will field offers for Kane in the offseason. He’s not untouchable. The question is one of pros and cons. If the cons in any deal outweigh the pros then perhaps the Jets will hold on to their prized possession. If not, maybe it’s time to shake things up.

Like Kane said this past week, “time will tell.”

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