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Mike Harrington: Sabres have sell-high dilemma with Kane

Evander Kane is causing trouble for the Buffalo Sabres again. This time, it's a good problem to have.

The burly winger is one goal off the team lead with 16 -- and leads the NHL since Dec. 3 with 14 goals at even strength. That's a pretty impressive nugget right there.

So for all the assets General Manager Tim Murray gave up in the 2015 trade with Winnipeg, it's pretty clear he's gotten the best player in the deal so far. Which was exactly what Murray had in mind when he traded for Kane, who was headed for shoulder surgery after essentially getting voted off the island in the Jets' dressing room.

Kane still has a year left on his contract and his off-ice issues had the Sabres clearly wishing to get rid of him over the summer. But he was a pariah at that point, with little value. There's no doubt now his value is re-established.

But with the Sabres trying to win and get out of the spin cycle of rebuilding, do you go forward with Kane as a core guy? Or do you try to sell high to get a top-four defenseman as you approach the trade deadline because the playoffs are a longshot?

A dilemma indeed.

There are nights when Kane is an absolute beast. Tuesday's game against San Jose marked his fourth two-goal game of the season. The second one came, of course, on the overtime winner that saw Kane complete the Sabres' comeback from a 4-1 deficit by depositing a Jack Eichel pass and then crashing into the end boards.

Who's the last power forward having this good a stretch for the Sabres? Who's the last player this franchise has had that can combine power and offense?

You could think of guys like Rick Vaive, Brad May, Vaclav Varada or J.P. Dumont but they didn't have anywhere near this kind of speed. Mike Foligno didn't either but had a lot more finishing touch than the others, putting up a trio of 30-goal seasons while captaining the team in the 1980s.

Kane, remember, was KO'd in the second period of the season opener when he careened into the end boards after a shove from Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin. Four broken ribs later, Kane was out for 11 games. He came back before he should and didn't score for 11 more.

It was an ugly flashback Tuesday. Same end of the ice. A few feet to the right. When the Sabres announced the callup of Evan Rodrigues on Thursday morning, they were hedging against Kane being out again. But he battled through the morning skate and answered the bell for the disappointing loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

"Everybody saw the collision into my favorite wall," Kane joked Thursday of his trip over the pad of San Jose goaltender Martin Jones. "It's an important time of the season. I felt better than I maybe thought I would this morning. ... I want to be out there as much as anybody else."

As the calendar hit Dec. 3, the Sabres had played 23 games and Kane didn't have a single goal. That means it took him just 30 games since to get 16 goals, or a 44-goal pace over an 82-game season.

"I think he's a helluva season. He came off that horrific 'car crash' into the boards and bounced back from that very quickly," Sabres General Manager Tim Murray said Thursday during his weekly interview on WGR Radio. "It took him a couple games to get going but for not scoring in his first 12 games, getting hurt, coming back, I think he's had a tremendous year."

There was zero chatter about Kane's play when he was in Winnipeg. All the talk was about the off-ice shenanigans that he was involved with in the Jets' locker room. Things obviously got more sordid once Kane hit Buffalo, with his pair of highly publicized late-night incidents downtown.

"I've said from day one, when Evander steps on the ice, I'm very happy with him," Murray said. "He plays the game hard. He's going to compete every night and every shift. He's the last guy most nights I'm going to complain about his lack of effort.

"The off-ice stuff, we've worked through that and we continue to work with him. It will never be forgotten obviously, nor do we want to forget. You learn from mistakes. But on the ice, what I see now is what we traded for I think. I'm a fan of his game."

Off the ice, of course, is where the red flags are with Kane. Terry and Kim Pegula were known to be furious about Kane's run-in with the law last June on Chippewa Street, a highly embarrassing moment for the organization because it came during NHL Draft week with the entire league in town.

The Sabres need help on defense and don't have many prospects left to deal. There will be no shortage of scouts here this month looking at the Sabres and you would think teams like Los Angeles, Kane's hometown club in Vancouver and perhaps even the Ducks might be interested.

When rumors started flying earlier in the season, Kane said he heard them but was enjoying his time here and hoped to stay. That was before he had scored a single goal. Murray insisted Thursday he hasn't made any calls to his counterparts on Kane. That doesn't mean they haven't called him or they haven't been watching closely.

"He plays a hard, gritty, heavy game with speed and that's a rare, rare combination," Murray said. "Is there a crazy deal somebody could throw at me that would force me to do it? I guess there is. ... I'm not throwing rumors out there getting a media guy to help me and say, 'Evander is available.' That type of thing. Not at all.

"He's the type of guy I think we need if we want to be competitive every night and we want to be a playoff team."

Mike Harrington: Players will ultimately make Murray's decision

Mike Harrington: Evander Kane hears the trade talk. He's just looking for goals

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