Winnipeg Jets: Is it bye-bye Citizen Kane?

Evander Kane reminds me of Kent Nilsson. Not on a skill level, understand. Nor aesthetically.

Nilsson was smooth, refined, elegant, full of luster. His pure talent was jaw-dropping. Gasp-inducing. Other-wordly. He was spell-binding in his brilliance. In the mood, the slick Swede was da Vinci. Michelangelo. Rembrandt. He made hockey look easy, like Brando or Streep on the big screen, or Streisand and Bocelli in concert. Mere child’s play.

Kane, on the other hand, is coarse, edgy, brusk, scratchy. His game is brash, brawn and bravado, not painting pretty pictures or singing sweet songs. If he has a soundtrack, it’s hip-hop or rap. Angry rap.

The two are as dissimilar as satin and sandpaper. Kane is the bull to Nilsson’s china shop. Yet, there exists a frustrating, sometimes infuriating, commonality.

Nilsson, you see, was a tease. He almost always left us insatiated. We were convinced (still are) that he was cheating us, if not himself. That he should have been putting up Gretzkyan numbers, not those of a mere mortal. We hungered for more, even on nights when he’d light it up. More, more, more. Give us more, Kenta, was the mantra.

It doesn’t matter that Nilsson’s points-per-game number is top-10 in National Hockey League history. Any discussion about him usually includes the words, “if only.” If only he had applied himself. If only he had the same motor as Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or Steve Yzerman. If only he wasn’t so soft. If only he cared more.

So now we have Kane, who seems to have the complete tool kit. He is big, raw-boned, strong and moves about the freeze lickety-split. He will shy away from no foe and willingly contests the nasty areas. Alas, he is delivering, yet again, what appears to be a sub-20-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets.

We want more. We expect more. No doubt Kane does, too, otherwise he wouldn’t have beaked off during the pre-season about lighting the lamp 50 times this winter.

To many, of course, those were the bleatings of a cocky kid who never passes a mirror without giving it a second glance. The Natural, indeed. At the same time, however, even Kane’s harshest critic would concede that, yes, it might be doable. If not 50, certainly 30 or 40 goals. Well, good luck with that.

The Jets are almost certain to have four 20-goal scorers this crusade, but, should he maintain the pace established during his NHL career, not one of them will be named Evander Kane. For the fifth time in six seasons.

Thus, we wait…and we wait…and we wait. For something that might never happen.

Contemplating the merits of Kane makes me think of the Miss Peggy Lee classic Is That All There Is?, because, really, is that all there is? His high-water mark is the 30 goals he scored in his third season, the low being 14 as an NHL freshman in 2009-10. He has never suited up for an 82-game season, due to an assortment of owies, wrong-doing both on and off the ice, and one lockout-abbreviated campaign. Through it all, Kane has averaged one goal per 3.3 assignments, or 25 per 82 games.

If only he could deliver those 25 goals in an 82-game season.

There are those words again: “If only.” They applied to Kent Nilsson and now they apply to Evander Kane.

But perhaps we should reassess how we view Kane. Lower our expectations.

That is to say, look at his 30-goal season as an anomoly. A one-off, if you will. No more talk of 40- and 50-goal campaigns. Rather than gush over all that unrealized potential and allow visions of grandeur to cloud our sightlines, perhaps it’s time to see Kane for what he is: An injury-prone, power forward capable of rag-dolling a game but one who has a penchant for losing the plot, both on and off the ice, and one who is more likely to mix in with the crowd and hopefully deliver 20-25 goals per season. Anything more is a bonus.

Is that so bad? Not if he actually does it. But he’s only done it once and isn’t doing it now.

And now he’s once again in head coach Paul Maurice’s pooch palace, a healthy scratch Tuesday night in Vancouver, where the Jets’ losing skid reached five games with a 3-2 setback against the Canucks.

Rumors abound, naturally, with speculation suggesting the benching was a punitive measure for yet another off-ice misdeed. If true, it isn’t the first such incident and will, no doubt, lead to heightened rumor and gossip about Kane’s shelf life in Winnipeg, especially with the NHL trade deadline dead ahead on March 2. Whereas the Jets’ focus should be squarely on their playoff pursuit, the three-ring circus will return to town with the spotlight placed directly on the enigmatic left winger. Do the Jets deal him, finally, or do they continue to put up with his shenanigans?

The sticker price for Kane last summer was said to include a first-round draft pick and live bodies, and we don’t know how close general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff came to pulling the trigger. This latest development might inspire The Possum to action and place phone calls to Edmonton or Buffalo, or perhaps Philadelphia, where the Flyers are said to have a keen interest in Kane. I’d be surprised if Cheveldayoff hasn’t already been on the phone to one or all of those outfits.

Oops. Check that. We’re dealing with The Possum, who doesn’t make NHL player-for-player trades. Silly me. Cancel those phone calls.

Sarcasm aside, dealing Kane would be a bold, risky move, but better players have been moved.

The aforementioned Nilsson, for example, was dispatched to the Minnesota North Stars by the Calgary Flames on the heels of a 99-point season. In barter, Flames GM Cliff Fletcher accepted two second-round draft choices. That’s it. No live bodies. Fletcher used the first of those two picks to pluck Joe Nieuwendyk from the player pool at the NHL entry draft and we scoffed. Kent Nilsson for some Ivy League college kid? It was a joke, right? I was writing for the Calgary Sun at the time and our main headline read: Joe Who? I referred to him as Joe Whowendyk. All he did, though, was win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, help the Flames win the Stanley Cup and is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That’s not so say Cheveldayoff should ship Kane out for a string of beads, but somehow I believe the Jets would survive without their 10-goal scorer.


                                            GP G A P
2009-10                              66 14 12 26
2010-11                              73 19 24 43
2011-12                              74 30 27 57
2012-13                              48 17 16 33
2013-14                              63 19 22 41
2014-15                              37 10 12 22