Evander Kane collected a pass near the Buffalo Sabres' logo at center ice, turned around and joined his San Jose Sharks teammates for a practice drill Monday afternoon. He was skating alongside defensemen Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, as well as center Joe Thornton, during practice.
One year ago to the day, he and the Sabres had lost eight of their last nine games. Kane, a left winger, would be traded to the Sharks in February and the team he left behind finished in last place. He and the Sharks beat his former teammates, 5-1, in San Jose last month, but their 7 p.m. game Tuesday will be his first in Buffalo since the trade.
His return coincides with the Sabres' first nine-game winning streak since 2006-07, and they are one win away from their third 10-game winning streak in franchise history.
Kane was accustomed to losing in front of sparse crowds. Now, he expects to return to a packed arena.
"I can imagine it will be positive," Kane said when asked if he expects a positive response from Sabres fans. "I’m sure they’re excited. I’m sure there will be a few more people in the stands than there have been in the past with how well they’re playing and the win streak. Looking forward to the competition tomorrow."
Kane insisted he's not sour over the Sabres' decision to trade him. Now 27, he was sent to a playoff contender in exchange for two conditional draft picks and prospect Danny O'Regan.
After recording five points in nine playoff games, Kane chose to re-sign with the Sharks for seven years, $49 million. Meanwhile, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill continued to overhaul his roster and drafted defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.
Jeff Skinner, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and Tage Thompson were among those added. Ryan O'Reilly was traded. Following the Sharks' practice, Kane was quick to point out the number of moves Botterill made and wanted to clarify that it was his choice to stay in San Jose.
"I had all the power in terms of picking where I wanted to play, if I chose to do so," Kane said. "For me, it was a situation that's obviously worked out for myself and they've -- I don't know, you tell me -- made eight or 10 different moves and got eight or 10 different players, so there's been a lot of changes other than myself."
Kane, acquired from Winnipeg in 2015 when the Sabres finished last and earned the right to draft Jack Eichel second overall, had 68 goals in 196 games with Buffalo. Kane had at least 20 goals in each of those three seasons, and had 20 goals and 20 assists at the time of the trade.
San Jose was a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup this season after it acquired Karlsson to join a roster that includes Kane, Thornton, Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl.
Entering Monday's games, the Sharks were second in the Pacific Division at 12-8-4 and lost to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, 6-0, Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Sabres (16-6-2) surpassed the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators for the NHL lead in points, though Buffalo has since fallen into third.
"I wish during my time here it would have been the way it is now, obviously," Kane said. "Nobody wants to lose consistently and have the building half-empty. That’s never fun. It’s never what you want as a player. But at the same time, I’m happy where I am, and I’m enjoying my time in San Jose."
Kane has seven goals among 15 points with a minus-4 rating in 24 games this season. He spoke fondly of his time in Buffalo and said the camaraderie inside the locker room last season was "pretty good," calling on-ice results the problem.
"It’s 25 games in," he said. "A quarter of the way through the season. A lot of hockey left to be played, but it seems like they’ve turned it around. I’m looking forward to tomorrow."
Sheary is expected to play Tuesday night but will be a game-time decision after leaving practice early Monday at KeyBank Center. Sabres coach Phil Housley said Sheary "tweaked something."
Sheary, 26, has six goals and six assists with a minus-2 rating in 23 games. If he's unable to play, Remi Elie likely would be in the lineup for a second consecutive game.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian didn't practice as a "maintenance day," according to Housley, and is expected to play against the Sharks. Berglund, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, skated on his own prior to practice.
In partnership with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Sabres tonight will hold a Hockey Fights Cancer night.
As part of an NHL-wide initiative to raise money and awareness for cancer research, the Sabres will host events throughout the game in support of local cancer patients and charitable organizations. With a $20 donation, fans can receive an autographed hat.
Volunteers from Roswell Park will sell raffle tickets at the 100 level near the HarborCenter bridge until second intermission for chances to win Sabres experiences and autographed items. An online auction will be held at Sabres.com/auctions beginning at 8 p.m. and ending at 9 p.m. on Dec. 9.
The Sabres also will set up a fundraising page on Facebook to encourage fans to donate to Roswell Park. In conjunction with the event, the Sabres will wear purple jerseys during warmups, which will be available during the online auction.