The Winnipeg Jets are not a very good hockey team. This is an obvious statement. Even more obvious, as the already difficult Central Division improves around them, Kevin Cheveldayoff has done very little to improve his team’s chances for the upcoming campaign, instead choosing to rely on drafting and player development to turn the Jets into a contender someday. Which means that this current stretch of struggling isn’t likely to end anytime soon for the maligned franchise.
Yet, the Jets’ largest concern doesn’t necessarily have to do with what they have done on the ice, but rather how they have appeared to treat their biggest star off of it.
The 2014-15 season will be the second year that Tyler Seguin will suit up for the Dallas Stars, coming off of a fantastic first season out of Boston. A player known for his supposed issues away from the rink, in addition to more than one Twitter mishap, there are certain parallels in Seguin and that of Jets forward Evander Kane. In Kane, the Jets have a disgruntled potential star that they have more than mishandled.
Kane has been in the league five years already, despite the fact that his birth certificate lists him at just 22 years old. He has a 30-goal season already under his belt and had a very good season in 2012-13, during the lockout shortened campaign. His production fell off a bit last season, but he was also coming off of an offseason in which he underwent foot surgery. He served as a healthy scratch on more than one occasion, regardless of who was behind the bench for the Jets.
Regardless of his production on the ice, Evander Kane has constantly been the subject of trade rumors since the franchise arrived in Winnipeg. The Jets’ front office has done absolutely nothing to quell those trade rumors, either, prompting Kane to go on the radio in Vancouver and provide absolutely no clear picture about his future with the organization. He’s signed through 2017-18 at an extremely reasonable $5.25 million cap hit.
Should the Jets follow through with trading Evander Kane, as the speculation has been over the course of the last few years, it would be a tremendous mistake on their part. However, equally as egregious is their current treatment of a player who has all the makings of a “face of the franchise”. Kane’s lack of a commitment to his future in Winnipeg is no worse than the organization essentially being non-committal directly back in his direction. And that really is two-fold.
Not only have the Jets refused to come out and defend their star and his supposed “lack of maturity”, at 22 years of age, mind you, but they have done virtually nothing to build around him. He’s a franchise cornerstone, and while there are some solid pieces around him in guys like Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien, they have yet to put him in the best position to succeed, which would likely be with Mark Scheifele in the middle of his line.
For all of the focus out of Winnipeg on Evander Kane’s off-ice “issues”, his missteps are far less severe than other players that somehow continue to fly under the radar. He’s allegedly skipped out on a few restaurant bills and has had a few regrettable Tweets. Some have cried foul over the situation and pointed to race, but perhaps the simplest explanation is a failure to acknowledge that this is a 22-year-old kid doing 22-year-old things. Mike Ribeiro was recently bought out of his contract that had three years remaining on it because of off-ice issues (which still are not clear) and was picked up quietly by Nashville with no real note either way. Yet, the world waits on pins and needles for the next Evander Kane Twitter screwup.
At the end of the day, we don’t know what the Jets are planning to do with Evander Kane. They haven’t come to his defense verbally, but they’ve also been non-committal in their refusal to shoot down trade rumors and really build around him. That, in itself, is tremendous mishandling. Luckily, there’s still time for the organization to amend that.
Of course, they could go the Boston route and ship off a supreme young talent for aging veterans to make a statement, and look incredibly foolish when he goes off on the stat sheet somewhere in another sweater. And in the event Evander Kane does demand a trade out of Winnipeg, he’ll face incredible backlash within the city, but could anyone outside of the desolate part of Manitoba blame him?