EDMONTON – There are soft skills everywhere, but the National Hockey League playoffs are a very tough place.
So the player who gets you through an 82-game regular season is a necessary player, but not necessarily the one who can get you through the NHL playoff grind. See Maple Leafs, Toronto.
And as our game slowly moves away from the tough places it once resided – away from fighting, bullying and, to some extent, beatings – that playoff player is becoming rarer and rarer.
Evander Kane is becoming increasingly rare.
“He revamped the Top 6,” Zach Hyman said of Kane’s addition in January. “Just a massive addition.”
There are probably 22-25 legitimate left wingers in the game today. Guys who are undoubtedly the first on the left side.
But how many come in a six-foot-two, 210-pound package? And in this subset, how many can follow Connor McDavid? With hands soft enough to score 35 per season, tough enough and willing enough to keep flies away from the best player in the game?
Unique? In today’s game, Kane is that righteous side of a unicorn.
Today, this unicorn is an unrestricted free agent, one who wowed a hockey town with his prodigal talents, despite a reputation that brought him here in troubled circumstances.
“I will go back to when I was in a similar, but very different situation a few months ago,” Kane began when asked about his free agency plans on Tuesday. “Where I was, I had the opportunity to choose where I wanted to go. Edmonton was interested in me and I was interested in them. From my point of view, you have two of the best players in the world, a team that you know wants to win now and is ready to win now.
“I am happy to say that we have had success doing this. I’m very happy with my time here,” continued Kane, who turns 31 in August. “The fans have been phenomenal. The people in town have been phenomenal. It has to be the best organization I have played for. So I have nothing to complain about and, like everyone else, I’m curious to see what will happen.
Ken Holland, the Oilers general manager, told us a streak ago that he would like to re-sign Kane. But there’s a salary cap, and what does the NHL’s top playoff scorer command on the market?
Six million dollars? Seven million? Eight?
“I can sign anyone. But someone has to go,” Holland explained. “If you like everyone, someone doesn’t stay.
“Can you keep it? I can babysit anyone. But I can’t keep them all.
There are salary cap machinations set to take place: trading Tyson Barrie’s $4.5 million cap; move Zack Kassian to $3.2 million; maybe having to choose between which restricted free agent to sign, Kailer Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi.
Then there’s the baggage that dogged Kane throughout an NHL career spent on the sidelines with teams in Winnipeg, Buffalo and San Jose, where he was literally kicked off the island by the players. of the Sharks. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson was once enamored with Kane. Now the two sides are in arbitration, as the Sharks seek to void the seven-year deal they signed with Kane, despite him wanting some or all of the $22.9 million they would have paid him.
Here in Edmonton though, where Kane and his girlfriend welcomed a baby boy this playoff, Kane has been by all accounts a stellar teammate. And boy, did he help this team win.
“Guys like that are rare,” said Leon Draisaitl. “What did he mark? Thirteen playoff goals? By playing hard, but doing it the right way. These guys are hard to find. These are the guys you can race with, the type of guys you’re going to win with, eventually.
“He was amazing off the ice. He was a great teammate and on the ice he had a great year.
We, the people outside the locker room, will have our opinions. But these words come from within. From a team leader, no different than Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg or Logan Couture in San Jose.
Draisaitl knows better than you or me how valuable Kane is to the Oilers.
So here we are.
We all knew this was coming, right?