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Inside the NHL: Botterill right to shoot for the moon on Evander Kane

Jason Botterill certainly wants to get at least a prize in the sky for Evander Kane. So how can you blame the Sabres' general manager for shooting for the stars and the moon?

What TSN is reporting as the Sabres' latest demands, a four-piece return for Kane that includes a first-round draft pick, seems unlikely to actually take place by the Feb. 26 trade deadline. But all it takes is one general manager to enter Stupid Season a few weeks early.

The feeling here is that Botterill isn't getting a first-rounder. Especially since the last lockout, teams protect those like valued currency. The only GM throwing them around was Tim Murray and you see where it's gotten the Sabres.

But what about social media's favorite gotcha point? The Sabres, after all, got a first-round pick from Nashville for Paul Gaustad. That was six years ago. And Kane is obviously a better player. Of more recent vintage, Arizona got a first-rounder last year and a second-rounder this year from Minnesota for Martin Hanzal, who had only four goals in 20 games.

Here's what teams have to ponder with Kane: Can he help them win when he's never played in a single playoff game? How much does he add to the offense? Does he add anything to their power play, when he's only scored five power-play goals the last two years for the Sabres? Will he keep his nose clean in the dressing room and out on the town?

With new Sabres deal never discussed, Kane awaits trade call

Kane's latest "issue" was the practice dustup he had last week with defenseman Justin Falk. Soon after the exchange of words got tweeted out, the phones of Buffalo reporters began lighting up from Canadian radio and television stations looking for conversation and, more important, footage of the incident.

It all happened so fast that none existed but it left many reporters to quickly use the situation as another example of Kane being a cancer on his current team. It was yet another rush-to-judgment from north of the border. I was in KeyBank Center that day, the folks up there were not.

Kane was standing in the neutral zone and yelled a profanity at Falk, who was still in front of the net working a drill, because Falk had struck both Kane and then Jordan Nolan in the head with his stick. When the drill ended, Falk sprinted at Kane screaming similar invectives and bumped him slightly as associate coach Davis Payne got between them.

The issue, of course, was that Falk called Kane a "selfish so-and-so" a couple of times. That one word could be a red light for hesitant teams. Botterill had to cringe when that dirty laundry got aired.

Botterill is playing a high stakes game and waiting until Feb. 26 might play to his benefit. Botterill promised to prop up the Rochester Amerks and has delivered. He's known to favor drafting college players and the choice of Casey Mittelstadt at No. 1 last June looks terrific. We have no idea, however, how he will do in the No. 1 chair at an NHL trade deadline, so how he navigates it will be fascinating to watch.

Botterill wants assets but he better get some nearly-ready NHL prospects in the deal too. The fan base is very impatient after this disaster of a season and trading your second-leading goal scorer for futures is not going to excite anyone.

More Sabres points

* I'm still baffled by the embellishment penalty Sam Reinhart got nailed for Thursday in New York. Referee Kyle Rehman flat-out choked on the call. What player throws themselves head-first into the boards trying to draw a penalty? It was a dangerous hit by Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, close to the standard for supplemental discipline. Crazy call.

* More on that call: Phil Housley needed to go berserk on the bench over that one. That was a garbage call only a last-place team gets and a good public blowup might have gone a long way in his dressing room. Too soft a response from the first-year coach. Can you imagine what Lindy Ruff would have done after a call like that?

* Social media was all over Robin Lehner after Thursday's game. This is the lowest-scoring team in the league with the worst power play and maybe the worst defense corps but the goaltender is the trouble? Please. The guy has never had a chance with this fan base. It's not his fault Murray traded a first-round pick to get him.

Leafs losing touch in Atlantic

Things are getting dicey in Toronto, where the Leafs have won just two of their last 10 games and haven't won at all in regulation since Dec. 28. With just 14 goals in a seven-game stretch, fans and media are focusing on coach Mike Babcock's unwillingness to shuffle his lines.

"We can move guys around if we feel it's going to help us get better," Babcock said. "I just think when I look at our last couple of games, I think that we're in a good situation. I don't feel like you (media) guys do, not one bit, but when I do, we'll change some things.

"I think, the better teams play defensively, the more you shoot to break them down. It creates more randomness rather than thinking pretty plays are going to be there."

The Leafs are losing touch with second place in the Atlantic Division, with Boston on a 15-game point streak (11-0-4). The Bruins hit the weekend with a five-point lead over Toronto and three games in hand.

Gospel of Hitch

Notebooks and tape recorders love Stars coach Ken Hitchcock and he was at it again Thursday after Alexander Radulov's goal was wiped out on goalie interference in what turned into a 2-1 shootout loss for Dallas in Columbus.

"I don't understand where we're going because we practice every day, like every other team does in the NHL, going to the net," Hitchcock said. "Our player went to the net and was responsible for putting a play on the net, and we scored on the rebound. When we're in a situation where you're not counting those as goals now, what are we doing? What are we doing to our game that that can't be a goal?"

Hitchcock was stunned referees told him it was an "easy call" and didn't understand how the play was disallowed.

"That's what every coach wants his players to do and now, you're going to tell your player, 'Well, you can't do that,' " He said. "Or you have to when you go to the net, you've got to be careful and you've got to make sure that you tiptoe around the outside. You can kind of stick your toe in the water, but you've got to go back to the beach.' "I don't get it right now."

Disclaimer: The video of this play seemed like a relatively obvious interference call. But no one truly knows where these reviews are going, be they for interference or offside. And taking away offense is never a good thing. On that point, Hitchcock has it right.

Know who to ask

Claude Julien got a standing ovation upon his return to Boston on Wednesday with the Canadiens and then said his team "laid an egg" after its 4-1 loss to the white-hot Bruins. The Habs fell to 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and 7-13-1 on the road for the season. They're 12 points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic and nine points out in the wild card. In other words, they're toast for the postseason and assured of a 25th straight spring with no Stanley Cup.

A disgusted Julien, when asked if some players have quit: "I think those are questions you have to ask the players. I can’t answer for them. It’s important for you guys to ask the right people. That’s part of your job. My job is to tell you that we weren’t good enough and we have to be better.”

RIP to the great Mr. Fisher

Red Fisher, the greatest hockey writer of them all, died Friday in Montreal at age 91. He started covering the Canadiens in 1955 -- on the night of the famous Rocket Richard Stanley Cup riot -- and didn't put away the notebook (and by then the laptop) until 2012. Fisher holds card No. 1 among members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and the PHWA's Beat Writer of the Year established last season was named the Red Fisher Award in his honor.

"When things would go wrong for the team or for me, I would search for answers,” Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden wrote in an email to the Montreal Gazette, where Fisher worked for his final 33 seasons. “If I couldn’t find them, I would say to myself, ‘I wonder what Red thinks’ and wait for the next day’s paper. I never did that with anyone else.”

A few years ago, Fisher wrote about a Sabres item I had in this newspaper and introduced himself to me as I was walking through the Bell Centre press box. Obviously, he didn't need to do that. I knew who he was. The fact he used my name in his column just about had me falling over in shock. The pleasure was all mine, fine sir. Rest in peace.

Around the boards

* We're past the halfway mark of the season and people still ask if I think Vegas is making the playoffs. The Golden Knights are leading the Western Conference. By now, this isn't a cute little story. This is the real thing. Admittedly, they are in a brutal stretch with 10 of 12 games on the road and six in a row from Jan. 30-Feb. 8. But that's followed by seven in a row and nine of 10 in T-Mobile Arena. They just blasted the Lightning in Tampa on Thursday night and pulled within one point of the Bolts for the Presidents' Trophy lead with Friday's overtime loss in Florida.

Maybe the Golden Knights don't win the West. Maybe they don't even win the Pacific Division. But they're going to be the first expansion team in the playoffs since the league doubled from the Original Six in 1967. Just too deep and too dominant at home (18-2-2) for them to miss. The question is not whether they make the playoffs, it's whether they actually become a buyer at the deadline.

* The NHL endured a huge backlash with the news that Kid Rock would perform at next weekend's All-Star Game in Tampa. Kid Rock is a noted supporter of Donald Trump, has denounced Colin Kaepernick and is well-known for formerly sporting Confederate flags on stage.

NBC Sports Network analyst Jeremy Roenick inflamed the situation during an interview with the Sporting News.

"Why does anything have to do with politics or where he stands with politics when it comes to entertaining and singing to people at a sporting event? It drives me crazy," Roenick said. "All these people have their panties so hung up they can’t think even straight. They don’t understand the performance. Entertainment has nothing to do with whether he likes Trump or he doesn’t like Hillary Clinton. Let him perform, sing his songs that have nothing to do with politics."

* Legendary Bruins anthem singer Rene Rancourt, 78, announced his retirement Wednesday at the end of the season after a fist-pumping career that dates to 1976. Rancourt was one of the legends of the old Boston Garden who followed the team a few feet up Causeway Street when its new home opened in 1995. He's an acquired taste, especially if you're at a game around the holidays and he's crooning Christmas carols during intermission. But he's been part of the scene in Boston for decades and this corner will miss him.

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