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What latest investigation into Evander Kane means for Sharks

San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane (9) during the third period against the Arizona Coyotes at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

By now, you’ve heard the reports about the NHL investigation into San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane. Front Office Sports first reported that the NHL is investigating whether Kane used a fake vaccination card. Multiple sources have confirmed these reports.

The NHL has not confirmed that these are the allegations it is investigating. Still, we know that it is investigating Kane for “...allegations of inappropriate behavior potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of Club members.”

There is no word on how long this investigation will take, but as we all know, there’s no rushing the league in matters like these.

The question for Sharks fans is, what does all of this mean for Kane and the Sharks?

Will Kane play in the season opener?

The first question that comes to mind is will Kane be in the lineup when the Sharks start regular season play on Oct. 16?

Curtis Pashelka asked head coach Bob Boughner that very question on Sunday and received basically what amounted to a shoulder shrug:

Kane and the Sharks have agreed that Kane would stay away from the team presumably until the investigation by the NHL concludes. The Opening Night roster was released yesterday, and Kane’s name is notably missing.

However, the roster can be altered once the season starts. Even though Kane isn’t included on the initial 23-man roster, he can be added later.

How much trouble can this mean for Kane?

Let’s preface this by saying that Elliotte Friedman noted in his most recent 32 Thoughts blog, “I don’t know where this is going to go, but when I was working on it, I wasn’t under the impression that this particular transgression (should it be proven true) could jeopardize Kane’s contract.”

In other words, whatever Kane’s indiscretion is, it may not be as bad as what Front Office Sports is reporting.

That said, if the NHL finds out that Kane did submit a fake vaccination card, he could end up answering to the FBI. In March, the FBI issued a warning about counterfeit vaccination cards. The agency says, “...the unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal (such as HHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) is a crime, and may be punishable under Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017, and other applicable laws.”

A person caught violating Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017 can serve up to five years in prison, plus a fine.

At the very least, it’s a felony.

Can the Sharks face sanctions if the NHL finds Kane used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card?

If the league’s investigation finds Kane violated the NHL and NHLPA’s agreed upon COVID Protocols, it’s going to be very important to know who reported it. If someone other than the Sharks reported the violation, it could mean trouble for the team.

The NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol released on Sept. 2, 2021, states, “Established violations of, and/or lack of compliance with, the COVID-19 Protocol will result in significant Club and individual sanctions, including potential forfeiture of games, fines and reimbursements of expenses, loss of draft choices, and/or ineligibility for participation in training activities.”

If this investigation finds Kane broke COVID-19 Protocol and the Sharks knew about it, San Jose could be fined, forced to forfeit games, or even lose draft picks.

Can the league ban Kane if it determines he used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card?

If the league’s investigation finds that Kane used a fake vaccination card, there’s no telling what will happen next. This is uncharted territory for the league, and to date, it’s uncharted territory for any of the major sports in America.

That’s bad news for Kane because it means that anything, including a lifelong ban, is on the table.

Kane has not done himself any favors. The league just finished investigating him for allegations that he bet on NHL games. Even though the NHL investigation found “no evidence to support those allegations,” the investigation still had to be made, and it could not have come at a worse time. This year will be the NHL’s first year involved with sports betting, and the investigation into Kane could not have done much to inspire consumer confidence.

In other words, don’t expect leniency from the league when it comes to any violations by Kane.

Can the Sharks terminate Kane’s contract if he used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card?

Odds are, even if the league does find Kane used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, it won’t kick him out entirely.

That means the next move will have to be made by the Sharks. If the league finds no wrongdoing, Kane can report to the team, and the season can move forward as planned.

However, if the league determines Kane submitted a fake vaccination card, it possibly opens the door for the Sharks to terminate his contract. After all, using a phony vaccination card is a felony.

A felony is a breach of contract, as we found out in the case of Mike Richards and the Los Angeles Kings in 2015. Richards was caught in possession of a controlled substance while trying to cross the US-Canada border. The Kings terminated his contract soon after “for a material breach of his Standard Player’s Contract.”

If Kane has breached his contract, then it is grounds for contract termination.

In the case of the Kings, Richards’ remaining contract did not count against the team’s salary cap. However, the Kings still had to pay Richards a portion of his remaining salary.

Will the return of Kane help or hurt the Sharks?

This is possibly the most challenging question facing the Sharks.

On the one hand, Kane is still an elite player. He scored 49 points (22 goals, 27 assists) in the COVID shortened season. That was close to a point-per-game scoring pace. More importantly for the Sharks, he’s a power forward that has the potential to change a game when he’s playing. San Jose doesn’t have a lot of those.

On the other hand, all reports indicate that the current feeling and chemistry within the Sharks locker room, sans Kane, is higher than it’s been in the past few years. In fact, Boughner told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic, “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but it’s the best vibe I’ve seen in the last couple years here.”

Take that as you will.