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Mike Harrington: Kane trade a growing topic at Cup final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- You hang around the Stanley Cup final and you hear the names you would expect. Sidney Crosby, P.K. Subban, Evgeni Malkin, Pekka Rinne, Matt Murray, Evander Kane.

Evander Kane? You bet.

Speculation about a trade involving the Sabres winger is gaining traction here and the likeliest teams involved are the same ones that have been rumored for months: The Los Angeles Kings and Kane's hometown Vancouver Canucks.

Kane has one year left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.25 million, and what to do with him is a delicate situation for new Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill. The most plausible scenario has the Sabres deciding right now if they're going to extend Kane's contract, or trade him with a full year left on the deal and his value presumably pumped up by last season's 28-goal performance in 70 games.

Botterill, of course, didn't make the trade with Winnipeg. Tim Murray did. And Botterill isn't going to be wedded to any of Murray's trade or draft acquisitions, seemingly other than Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and TSN's Bob McKenzie both have pushing Kane-on-the-move rumors in the last couple days and they're valid. The Sabres need help on defense and the likes of Vancouver's Chris Tanev or Los Angeles mainstays Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez have to be intriguing.

Don't forget that Sabres owner Terry Pegula is big on character these days, pushing it hard during the hirings of both Botterill and the Bills duo of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane. Both Pegula and his wife, Kim, were known to be furious with Kane's indiscretion at a Buffalo bar last June, when the entire league was in town during draft week.

With Murray gone, it's much easier for ownership to make it clear they want Kane moved and since Botterill doesn't have to justify the deal, it's more likely it gets done. The issue of course is that once Kane is moved, you'll be looking to replace his goals from a team that's already proven to be offensively-challenged and has only one pure goal scorer (Nick Baptiste) possibly ready to move up from Rochester.

So it's a rough balance for Botterill, but he certainly realizes he needs to do something on defense for next season. Closing the deal with KHL blueliner Victor Antipin will certainly help. Brendan Guhle seems like he should be in the NHL next season but the Botterill model is more likely to keep him in Rochester for at least half the season, so another veteran defenseman is probably necessary.

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The Sabres' coaching search is either completely stealth or simply in a holding pattern until this series is over. Botterill has interviewed former Buffalo defenseman Bob Boughner, now an assistant in San Jose, but it's uncertain if he's actually talked to any other candidate.

University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery interviewed twice with the Florida Panthers but has decided to stay with the reigning NCAA champions, and that's leading to speculation that the Panthers will be all in on Nashville assistant and former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley.

It's also led to similar chatter that Botterill may simply stay with what's familiar and go hard for Pittsburgh assistant and longtime former NHLer Rich Tocchet when the final is over.

"I'd love to have another kick at it, but honestly I haven't been contacted by anybody," Tocchet told NHL.com after practice here Sunday. "I'm just focused on this. I have no idea what's going to happen at the end of the year."

Tocchet, whose one-on-one chats with Phil Kessel on the ice have been very noticeable during practices, was a head coach for two years in Tampa before getting fired by new ownership in 2010. He said he's definitely interested in running his own bench again.

"I'd love another kick at it for sure," Tocchet said. "Nowadays communication with today's athlete is huge, and that's one of my strengths. I was a first-liner and I was a fourth-liner and a guy that sat out. I can relate with anybody. Communication is a key, definitely."

It should be noted that assistant coaches are generally kept away from the media during the Cup final. While granting an interview request from the league's official Web site, the Penguins declined a request by The Buffalo News to interview Tocchet earlier in the series.

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Vegas GM George McPhee said Saturday in HarborCenter he's prepared to take on some big money to gain more draft assets and there's talk some of those deals could go down at any minute. Wonder what it would take McPhee to take either Matt Moulson or Zach Bogosian off the Sabres' hands? Would Botterill be interested in enticing them with a pick as high as a second-rounder? That might be what's needed.

Bogosian has three years left at a cap hit of $5.14 million, while Moulson has two years left at $5 million. If Moulson isn't involved with Vegas, Botterill certainly has to be pondering a buyout of the veteran winger, now that he's down to the back end of the five-year, $25 million package Murray gave him in 2014.

Moulson has a $5 million cap hit for each of the next two seasons. According to CapFriendly.com, a buyout would take that down to $2,833,333 next season and $3,833,333 in 2018-19. The Sabres would then be on the hook for just an $833,333 cap hit for 2019-20 and 2020-21.

The Sabres do have to be careful when evaluating a Moulson buyout because they already will have Cody Hodgson on their cap through 2022-23 at varying rates that peak at $791,667 a season over the final four years.

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Much has been made to Botterill's grooming of several of the Penguins at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, notably red-hot winger Jake Guentzel. But the Predators brought many of their players up through the ranks as well in Milwaukee.

"It's unbelievable. It seems like a guy goes down, another guy comes up," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said Monday. "You look at Freddy Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg, Austin Watson. We've needed them since Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala got hurt. It's the name of our team, the one down/one-up mentality. We've seen it throughout the year that these guys can play at this level."

The mess made of Rochester was a huge reason Murray got the boot. The Amerks finished 26th overall in the AHL this season, their third straight non-playoff year, and have not won a single playoff series since 2005. The chatter out of Rochester this past season was not good, mostly that players didn't care about winning or about the team. Botterill is going to have pump up the Sabres' prospect pool and change that mentality.

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