On Evander Kane, Tyler Myers and a trade that has no real winners

Just about 22 months ago, the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres were the talk of the hockey world for a week or so after engaging in what was then considered a blockbuster trade. Less than two years later, the trade is looking more and more like a bust for both sides. It’s not a disaster for either team, but early returns on players acquired have not really moved the needle for either franchise.

The most important piece of the trade was troubled, but talented winger Evander Kane, whom Winnipeg shipped off along with Zach Bogosian and prospect Jason Kasdorf. In exchange, the Jets got Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, prospect Brendan Lemieux and a first round pick.

The trade stood out at the time for a few reasons. First, it was a couple weeks before the deadline, so it was the only trade action to discuss. There was no ensuing flurry of moves to distract people from this deal.

Second, Kane was only being traded because of his deteriorating relationship with the franchise. He notably showed up to a morning skate in a track suit and then had that suit thrown in the shower by Dustin Byfuglien. He was healthy scratched for that night’s game and traded soon after. Character concerns were often discussed in the next few days, but there wasn’t much concrete evidence to point to other than the track suit incident.

Third, the Sabres were tanking and tanking hard. Kane opted to have shoulder surgery just prior to the trade and missed the rest of the season. Sabres GM Tim Murray essentially traded away two NHL regulars and an occasional call-up for one healthy full-time NHL’er (Bogosian). Making it easier to lose certainly seemed to be an ancillary goal.

Fast forward to today and nearly every person involved in the trade has disappointed in some way.

Drew Stafford: Stafford’s contract was set to expire at the end of the 2014-15 season and there seemed to be no chance he would be resigned in Buffalo. After the trade, he put up 19 points in 26 games for the Jets and then 38 in 78 games last season. He has just one goal and four points in 14 games this season and is on the wrong side of 30.

Joel Armia: A former first-rounder, Armia was starting to blossom in the AHL when he was shipped off. He has since split time between the AHL and NHL and has 14 points in 53 games for the Jets. It’s beginning to seem like he’s not going to make it as a scorer at the NHL level.

Brendan Lemieux: The son of legendary pest Claude Lemieux was taken with the first pick of the second round in the 2014 draft. He was supposed to be a carbon copy of his old man: talented, physical and a pest; the prototypical ‘hate to play him, love to have him on your team’ guy. He dominated in his final two years of juniors, but hasn’t produced much in the way of offense at the AHL level. In 24 games over the past two seasons, he’s put up just 10 points. He won’t be 21 until March, but early returns have not been encouraging.

Jack Roslovic: The player that has the best chance of swinging the trade from two-way disappointment to Winnipeg is Roslovic. The Jets used the first rounder, which ended up being the 25th pick, to get the young American talent. After playing one season at Miami of Ohio, he signed with Winnipeg. He’s been an offensive force in the AHL with 17 points in 21 games for the Manitoba Moose.

Tyler Myers/Zach Bogosian: This portion of the trade is essentially a wash. Both were high picks that have had trouble living up to their draft status (Myers went eighth, Bogosian third). Both have bad contracts considering their skill sets. Both should really be third-pairing guys but often get top-four minutes due to their draft and contract statuses.

Jason Kasdorf: It’s not exactly fair to say Kasdorf has “disappointed” as he was nothing more than a throw-in. But splitting time between the ECHL and AHL as a 24-year-old is not promising.

Evander Kane: Tuesday, Kane had what could fairly be called his best night as a Sabre. The game also served as a microcosm of his NHL career. He scored Buffalo’s first goal in the opening period. Later, he took a stupid penalty with the game tied late in the third, leading to an Edmonton goal. Then he came back to tie the game with 28 seconds left before the Sabres got a dramatic win in overtime.

But those two goals were his second and third of the season (he just got his first Saturday) and that penalty is far from an anomaly. Kane’s shortcomings are so visible because they so obviously mask his talent. There are few guys in the league who are more dangerous with the puck on their stick, but he never seems to be able to finish. Often, he slaps the puck wildly, missing the net from angles where it seems impossibly difficult to do so. He’s a phenomenal skater, but an inconsistent back-checker. He takes shots in bunches, but doesn’t score at anything approaching an elite level.

And that only covers his on-ice issues. “Troubled” is no longer a fair way to describe Kane. He’s problematic and potentially abusive. He was the subject of a rape investigation in December where he was ultimately cleared. An ex-girlfriend called him “disgusting” and “abusive” in an Instagram post. This June he was accused of assaulting two different women in a Buffalo bar. He refused to take responsibility for any of these actions when faced with the media soon after.

It’s increasingly clear why Kane was expendable in Winnipeg. Many, myself included, scoffed at the character concerns that were described. There’s probably a lesson to be learned about outright dismissing these types of things.

The Sabres have already looked to trade Kane and have had trouble finding a suitor willing to pay enough in return. After fetching a haul of prospects, picks and veterans just 22 months ago, Kane is barely worth a phone call now.

Sometimes, things change quickly. Other times, as the two franchises involved know, change is slow and deliberate, especially when it comes to building a winner. If there’s one lesson to be learned on this long and winding road, it’s that not all blockbusters are as earth-shattering as they appear to be.

About Taylor Nigrelli

Former below-average winger. Current hockey blogger and Sabres fan. Fan of advanced stats, sabermetrics, analytics or whatever you'd like to call them. Brett Hull's foot was in the crease.

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