NEW YORK — Evander Kane knows his phone could crackle today, tomorrow, next week or that he might have to wait all the way until the NHL's trade deadline on Feb. 26.
The Sabres' winger, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, knows the call is inevitably coming. He's going to be traded by the club even though he's the team's second-leading goal scorer and, at age 26, is in the prime of his career.
The Internet has been rumbling in recent days on Kane, with TSN reporting the Sabres could be looking for as many as four pieces in return for a player who entered Thursday night's game against the New York Rangers with 16 goals and 20 assists in 36 games. One of those assets the Sabres are reported to be coveting is a first-round pick at the June draft in Dallas.
It remains to be seen if first-year General Manager Jason Botterill could pull off such a haul for a rental player. Still, it's known the Sabres have made it clear they're willing to retain some of Kane's salary for the rest of the season as a way to up the ante for potential trade partners. There's no shortage of teams at least pondering the possibility of a Kane trade, with some likely suitors including Pittsburgh, St. Louis, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Nashville and the New York Islanders.
Botterill, like predecessor Tim Murray, has been consistent with the message that he will trade players on expiring contracts to reclaim assets rather than have them leave for nothing in free agency.
Kane, however, clearly wishes things were different.
He's in the final year of a six-year, $31.25 million contract he signed with the Winnipeg Jets in 2012 and confirmed to The Buffalo News this week what has been widely assumed: The Sabres have never negotiated with him on a new deal.
"Does it surprise me? Well, I've said many times nothing really surprises me," Kane told The News. "This is all part of the business. Both sides. We're in different situations and I understand it all. One thing I've always said is that I've really really enjoyed my time here and will continue to do so for as long as I'm here. My focus is simply game to game, keeping the focus narrow."
Kane left no doubt he would have entertained negotiations on an extension if the Sabres had approached him and his representatives from Newport Sports Management in Mississauga, Ont.
"Of course I would have. Absolutely," he said. "I've said from Day One I've really enjoyed the time here. For me, it's a place where I've grown to know more and more about Buffalo. It's been a real great experience for me. I'm just going to continue that until I get told something different."
The salary cap is obviously a major deterrent to Kane's return, and it's known that owners Terry and Kim Pegula were furious when Kane was arrested for harrassment in the wake of an incident at a Chippewa Street bar the night before the 2016 NHL Draft opened in Buffalo. Those charges were dropped last May, 11 months after the alleged incident, but the Pegulas were mortified by the situation because it came with representatives of the league and every team in town for the draft.
Whether or not the Pegulas wanted him gone or the Sabres even feel Kane is a building block for their future, a big-money contract was unlikely, given what they will be paying next year in cap space to their other marquee names.
The Sabres have high on-the-hook 2018-19 numbers for Jack Eichel ($10 million), Ryan O'Reilly ($7.5 million), Kyle Okposo ($6 million), Jason Pominville ($5.6 million), Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4 million), Zach Bogosian ($5.142 million) and Marco Scandella ($4 million).
That's $43.6 million committed to just seven players in a year where the cap will be rising to a figure ranging from $78 million to $82 million. Kane makes $5.25 million this year and is certainly going to be looking to move into the $7 million and up category. There's little chance the Sabres can absorb that kind of cap hit.
Botterill declined comment Thursday on Kane's situation but the Sabres have been happy with how Kane has handled his walk season, both on and off the ice. Kane said he understands the position the team is in. He reiterated players should feel they're playing for the entire league and not just the team they're currently with. After all, he reasons, you never know who's watching and might be interested, or who your team might be talking to about you.
"I'm aware of what's going on. I stay fully aware of my situation even though I don't necessarily do a lot of reading," Kane said. "I'm in the loop. I don't think there's anybody in the loop more than myself and my agents. Reading doesn't really get me anywhere, doesn't give you any more information that I can't get on my own."
Kane skated in his 541st career game Thursday night. The only NHL players who have yet to be on the ice more without competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs are injured Buffalo teammate Zach Bogosian (552) and Carolina forward Jeff Skinner (542).
There's a good chance that drought finally ends for Kane this season, his ninth in the NHL. It should be noted that Kane was a huge winner as an amateur as he won a Memorial Cup with the 2007 Vancover Giants and helped that team get to the Western League's conference final in 2009. Also in 2009, Kane won a gold medal for Canada on a legendary World Junior Championship club that included the likes of current NHL stars John Tavares, P.K. Subban, Jamie Benn and former Sabres Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson.
But Kane has never had a chance in the NHL's postseason party with the Atlanta Thrashers, Jets or Sabres.
"I'm just not focused on that right now. I'm still here and I want to be in Buffalo for as long as possible," Kane said. "Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity for that but the prospect of it is exciting and that's how I've felt about it coming into every season. It's something I want to be a part of, you always want to be in. I'm betting the excitement will be even higher when it comes because I've never been fortunate enough to have the chance."