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Bucky Gleason: Sabres' Evander Kane no longer fool's gold

The decision would have been much easier when the calendar flipped to December and Evander Kane’s scoring slump reached a dozen games. He was an unproductive winger with a troubled past, making him trade bait assuming the Sabres could find a team foolish enough to take him. In truth, they had no better option.

Kane’s stock had reached an all-time low after he was charged with trespassing and harassment following an incident in a Buffalo bar. He was a problem child with a history of juvenile behavior, with some accusations more serious than others and none worth the hassle given his lack of output.

Three months after nobody wanted him, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, Kane’s value has reached an all-time high. He’s performing like the dominant player Tim Murray envisioned when he traded for him two years ago. Rest assured several teams would take him off the Sabres’ hands before Wednesday.

What to do? I’m not sure until I know the offer.

The disparity between the Sabres’ demands and bids they receive is likely too wide to complete a deal, but you never know. Murray holds Kane in high regard after making him the central figure in the blockbuster to acquire him from Winnipeg. But it also would be a disservice to the Sabres for him to overvalue Kane without considering all variables.

Murray should listen to offers. Wayne Gretzky was traded in 1988 after leading the Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. It’s not as if Kane is untouchable. The same is true for any player, including Jack Eichel. If Murray can improve his team for the foreseeable future, he should pull the trigger. It makes for a tricky situation.

Kane has scored 21 goals over the past 36 games, including 20 at even strength. He’s been one of the NHL’s best forwards in recent months. Effort is not an issue. The guy plays hard even when he’s not playing well. Kane’s simple style and knack for finding soft spots in defensive coverage complements Eichel and fills a need.

The Sabres have been desperate for an elite scorer since the start of their rebuild, but I’m still not sure Kane is one. No doubt, he’s a good player who found chemistry with Eichel and had a terrific stretch for nearly a half-season. But it remains unclear whether Kane can maintain such a pace and become a consistent 40-goal scorer.

Kane scored 30 goals only once in his career. He was on pace for 29 goals during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. His goals and points per game over his career project to 25 goals and 50 points per season. He’s making $5.25 million this season and has one full season remaining on his contract. Once an organizational liability, he has become a major asset.

If anything, it makes him more valuable in a trade this season. His worth may never be higher. If the Sabres aren’t in postseason contention next season, his stock in the trade market would likely decrease based on his status as a rental. If he has another big year, his contract demands could shoot through the roof.

It’s impossible to say with any certainty that he’s finished acting like a child away from the ice. He needs to stay out of trouble through April for the previous charges to be dismissed. Based on his history, I’m inclined to believe he’ll find trouble again at some point. It makes him a risky player and moving target for Murray and potential suitors.

With uncertainty comes “What If?” questions that paralyzed many a general manager. What if he goes somewhere else and has a great career? What if he stays and commits a felony? Or he fails to maintain a high level of play? Or he prices himself out of the market?

All are valid questions. If they make the wrong decision, they will be kicking themselves. And the clock is ticking.

Let’s not give up on this season or the possibility of Buffalo improving next season with Kane. Of course, it’s also conceivable the Sabres would improve with players they obtained in exchange for Kane. It depends on what they would get in return, knowing their needs up front and along the blue line.

Going into Thursday’s games, Buffalo was four points out of a wild-card spot with four teams ahead of them. Hockey-reference.com gave the Sabres a 7.8 percent chance of making the playoffs this season. Then again, the Patriots had virtually no chance of winning the Super Bowl going into the fourth quarter – but they did.

To predict the future, we rely on the past.

Kane has a history of scoring in bunches and disappearing for long stretches. In 2011-12, when he had 30 goals and 57 points in 74 games, he had a spurt of seven goals in seven games before failing to score in 16 of his next 18 contests. In lockout-shortened 2012-13, he was effective at times and invisible at others.

It continued into Buffalo last season. He’s never had a 36-game stretch like the current one. He had seven goals in eight games before the Sabres’ bye week. His stat line hasn’t read 0-0-0 for more than three consecutive games since November, which also marked the last time he failed to score for five straight games.

An optimist would argue that he figured out the game at age 25, that he grew up and was ready to take another step in his career. A pessimist would suggest that he’s a good player who happens to be on a hot streak. The truth is likely somewhere in between, but Kane deserves credit for creating an interesting situation.

What should Murray do? That's easy. Keep him until a team out there gives him no other option. It has been the solution all along.

 

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