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Breaking down Sharks’ options for Evander Kane’s future

Can the Sharks trade Evander Kane? Or is reassignment to the AHL a better option?

Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates during warmups against the Arizona Coyotes at SAP Center on May 8, 2021 in San Jose, California. Photo by Brandon Magnus/NHLI via Getty Images

Now that Evander Kane has been suspended 21 games (without pay) for an “established violation” of the league’s COVID-19 Protocol, the Sharks are on a deadline to evaluate their options for approaching Kane and his possible return to the organization. They have until Nov. 30 to make a decision about what he’ll do next and will spend that time weighing several options.

Can the Sharks trade Kane?

Trading Kane is the most preferable option, but it isn’t the easiest. Kane has had a reputation around the league for being a polarizing figure in the locker room before he ever stepped foot on Sharks ice, and the upside to his game comes loaded with injuries and penalties, making it difficult to justify taking on both his hefty contract and behavior.

Kane still has four years left on his seven-year, $22 million contract, and the Sharks would most likely have to retain some of his salary if a team were willing to take Kane off their hands.

But, despite the uncertainty around Kane’s trade value and what the Sharks might have to give up in return, a trade is still their best option.

First, despite their early season success, the Sharks are in a quasi-rebuild, which means that early draft picks are essential. Trading for prospects is an easy justification to have for trading Kane, and the Sharks definitely have some prospects of their own on the Barracuda that could be good trade pieces.

The other reason is that while a buy-out or contract termination is the simple way out, it nets the Sharks nothing in return for a player they’ve invested a lot of time, money and resources into. He’s not cheap, and despite his scoring, he still cost the team a first-round pick, fourth-round pick and prospect Danny O’Regan to acquire. It would be nice for the Sharks to get a good return on him, if for no other reason than the sunk cost of acquiring him in the first place.

Even with his reputation, there are some teams who might be on the radar for an Evander Kane trade.

The Montreal Canadiens are bearing the brunt of absences of some of their top players, including Carey Price, Shea Weber, Paul Byron and Philip Danault — plus they’re no strangers to taking on problematic players (Logan Mailloux, anyone?). In the preseason, the team posted a win rate of just 33 percent, and they’ve lost all four regular season games they’ve played so far. They’re in a clear downward spiral, and could benefit from a physical goal-scorer like Kane.

I’d say the Buffalo Sabres for Jack Eichel, but to be honest, Eichel has his own set of problems and Kane wasn’t exactly loved in Buffalo either, meaning they might take him on just to buy him out, or retain salary for another trade. That being said, the Sharks are a good landing spot for Eichel, since he won’t be game-ready for a few months at least, and San Jose has a good thing going with their current roster. Plus, the Sharks are always on the lookout for top-end talent to round out their offense.

Similar to the Canadiens, the Arizona Coyotes could be on the hunt for a physical goal-scorer to revitalize what is shaping up to be a rough season for the ‘Yotes if the recent games between the St. Louis Blues (Oct. 16, 7-4 loss), and the Columbus Blue Jackets (Oct. 14, 8-2 loss) are any indication.

The Vancouver Canucks could be an option, too. General manager Jim Benning has made worse decisions, and the Canucks are both feeling the loss of Jonathan Dahlen and the burn of their own downward spiral. They might feel that adding Kane to their lineup makes them more physically intimidating and competitive in a division that seems to be leaving them behind. Not to mention, Vancouver is Kane’s hometown.

The Vegas Golden Knights are always an option, as they’re a team proven to be “Cup or Bust” no matter what. Without Reaves, they’re a very different team on the ice, and much easier to push around. Vegas thrived on their physical identity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they acquire a player like Kane to fill that role.

Can the Sharks reassign Kane to the AHL?

If the Sharks reassigned Kane to the San Jose Barracuda, Kane could either report to the AHL and the Sharks could buy themselves some time (assuming Kane cleared waivers), or Kane could refuse to report (which is more likely), and the team and his agents would then be able to either discuss mutually terminating his contract, so he could try to sign as a free agent somewhere or play in Europe, or suspend his contract.

The problem with contract termination is that even if a player has violated his contract, it’s very rare for that to actually be grounds for termination, and it looks like Kane doesn’t qualify.

In order for the Sharks to terminate his contract for failure to report to the AHL, Kane would have to both clear waivers and then agree to the termination. Unless there was a team interested in Kane, I can’t see him agreeing to part ways with the Sharks at this point in time. Plus, putting him on waivers evokes the real possibility another team scoops him up, which sounds great until you realize the team would get no return on him, whatsoever. That risk would only make sense if the team finds no way to otherwise move him.

If he does fail to report, his contract would be suspended, and his salary wouldn’t count against the cap. In that scenario, the most likely option when it comes to reassignment is that they come to a mutual decision that Kane would sit out this season, potentially on a suspension from him failing to report to the Barracuda. Hypothetically it would give the team time to decide how to proceed, allow Kane the time to build good PR (by sitting out of the season, if nothing else) and it would give the Sharks some cap relief.

The Sharks missed the buy-out windows in the off-season, so buying out his contract isn’t an option right now, but a suspension could carry them to next off-season’s window.

Can they include Evander Kane in the line up?

No one’s favorite option is letting bygones be bygones and putting Evander Kane back in the regular line up.

Here’s why this is a bad idea; for starters, Evander Kane has a laundry list of allegations and problematic behavior, and shirking COVID-19 Protocol is simply the latest of his “mistakes.” (Notice the sarcasm: A mistake is a messed up coffee order, not deliberate decisions, as bad as they are.) A lack of real consequences excuses bad behavior, and it’s bad PR for the Sharks.

Another reason is that compared to last year, the locker room environment has been a huge improvement. A team can’t succeed on the ice if the dressing room is fractured, and the inner turmoil of the Sharks, caused in part by Kane, was a factor in last year’s disastrous season. There’s a reason Bob Boughner and the rest of the coaching staff has prioritized team chemistry this season in the absence of Kane, and it’s paying off.

Plus, the Sharks already approached training camp and the preseason without Kane in mind. They structured their team and identity for the regular season to account for his absence, not inclusion. Why mess with the winning formula now after all that work? It’ll just cause their momentum to backslide with the addition of Kane.

Whatever the team decides to do, it’ll irrevocably affect their team. Either Evander Kane returns and disrupts the momentum the team has this season, or the Sharks are able to offload his contract and will finally be able to move on from the ghosts of Sharks past.