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Why Sabres GM Tim Murray is in a bind when it comes to Evander Kane

Bucky Gleason

One quality Tim Murray possessed from the beginning that endeared him to Buffalo is his no-nonsense attitude. He didn’t have time or energy for schmoozing and messing around. He didn’t do warm and fuzzy. He conducted business without apology or sentiment or fear.

Murray is the only guy in town who could entertain the masses, and place them in the palm of his hand, with four simple words: “Buffalo selects Jack Eichel.” His straightforward, prickly persona made him an amusing character, but the current situation facing the Sabres general manager is no laughing matter.

Evander Kane was back in the news this week after he was arraigned on charges of criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment in connection with an incident at a Buffalo nightclub. With the charges were disturbing accusations that he grabbed women, pulled their hair and demanded they go home with him.

For now, they’re accusations and nothing more. Hours after he was charged, he was slapped with a lawsuit by a woman who claimed he assaulted her in December. He was cleared in that case, and his lawyers this week said they were planning a countersuit against her for making false claims.

No matter, the decision before Murray shouldn’t solely revolve around Kane’s guilt or innocence but what’s best for the Sabres as they soldier forward. Murray needs to detach himself from his trade for Kane and take a cold, hard look at the situation before deciding whether the talented winger is worth the aggravation.

It makes for a tricky decision.

Kane hasn’t been convicted of any crime, but he has shown a penchant for finding trouble or trouble finding him. The legal process will sort out what happened at Bottoms Up, but I would imagine Kane wasn’t engrossed in philosophical discussions about world hunger when things unraveled shortly after 3 a.m.

In the NFL, teams can release players and walk away from non-guaranteed portions of their contracts. Rules are different in the NHL, where contracts are fully guaranteed. The Sabres could release Kane tomorrow, but they would be on the hook for $12 million he’s owed over the final two years of his deal.

Buying out his contract is not an immediate option. The window for this year closed June 30, or about three weeks before Kane was arrested. It would have cost the Sabres $4 million, a price that would have been worth examining. Murray is left in an unenviable position with only a few options and no guaranteed solution.

Murray could follow the legal system to make a decision, but that would be missing the point. The Sabres have a young, promising roster. They’re looking to make the playoffs after showing progress. Murray signed Kyle Okposo, acquired Dmitry Kulikov and drafted Alex Nylander.

The Sabres are going in the right direction under Murray, who had the spine required to make bold decisions without looking back or fretting over potential repercussions. The last thing Buffalo needs after improving the roster is Kane causing one distraction after another and stunting the growth of his team.

Remember, he was suspended last season because he missed practice after partying at the NBA All-Star Game. It was yet another sign, but not the last sign, that he was immature and irresponsible. Alcohol was somewhere in the backdrop of his problems in Buffalo. He might want to lay off the booze and grow up.

Murray could keep Kane and hope he cleans up his act, but that’s ignoring an unsettling past followed him from Winnipeg to Buffalo. He could trade Kane, but that means getting little in return. Teams aren’t lining up for a $6 million forward who embarrassed two organizations multiple times. They could stuff him in Rochester, but what would that solve?

If they keep him, Buffalo runs the risk of him landing in more trouble, or worse trouble, and further embarrassing the organization. Clearly, the Sabres were conflicted Tuesday after wishing Kane a happy birthday via Twitter, deleting the preset Tweet presumably after followers complained, and posting an edited version.

What are the rules for a company sending along birthday wishes to an employee a day after he was arraigned? I’m not sure, but I’m certain it would have been avoided if Kane didn’t put himself in another precarious position. There’s no telling what the future holds.

Kane-to-Vancouver trade rumors, which had been flying for weeks, sounded like a viable solution. Kane would get an opportunity to play for his hometown team and be surrounded by family and friends. The Canucks would get a good player who would provide a much-needed boost for a team in transition.

The Sabres wouldn’t get full value for Kane in any swap, but there would be benefits to making a deal. In the problems-to-production-to-price formula, trading him could be sold as addition by subtraction. As it stands now, Kane the player is less attractive to teams that have heard about Kane the person.

It comes back to Murray, who paid a bundle for Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf. People remember the Sabres shipped Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, but they forget Buffalo also unloaded prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick.

Kane had 20 goals and 35 points in 65 games last season. In an uneven year, the first-line winger justified the Sabres’ decision to acquire him and confirmed why the Jets traded him. Bogosian was mediocre. Myers had a solid year while Stafford scored 21 goals in 78 games for the Jets, who also missed the playoffs.

Murray paid a hefty price, but it comes with his aggression and willingness to take chances in an effort to improve his team. At times, he’s going to strike out while swinging for the fences. It beats going down looking. That was his approach before he acquired Kane, and it’s not going to change now.

It’s why people like him.

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