Sabres have big decision looming on Evander Kane

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Jack Eichel‘s pending contract extension will probably be the signature move of Jason Botterill’s brief tenure as Buffalo’s GM.

But there may be another.

Botterill and the Sabres are facing a quandary with forward Evander Kane. Kane, who turned 26 on Wednesday, is heading into the last of a six-year, $31.5 million deal with a $5.25 million average annual cap hit. He led the team in goals last year, with 28. The only forwards to average more TOI were Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. He’s a big part of the team.

Kane’s behavioral issues and off-ice antics are well documented, but with the charges from last summer’s bar incident having been dropped, his trade value may be higher than it’s been in quite some time. His name was bandied about prior to June’s draft — Sportsnet reported teams were interested, the L.A. Kings among them — and while the rumblings have since gone quiet, uncertainty remains about next year.

There are some major considerations at play.

Kane might not want re-sign with the Sabres.

Back in mid-June, Kane said he wasn’t looking for a change of scenery.

“I’m getting prepared to start another NHL season,” he told The Province. “Hopefully it’s in Buffalo.”

Staying with the Sabres this season is one thing. Staying beyond is another.

Kane was eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and a full month has passed. Granted, Botterill had plenty on his to-do list, including the ongoing Eichel negotiations. But with each passing day, Kane gets closer to starting the campaign while heading into the last year of his deal, and all that comes along with it. There will be endless questions about where negotiations are at. Will you negotiate during the year? Will you shut down talks? Then there’s speculation about getting traded at the deadline. It’s what most pending UFAs face in the final year of their deals.

There’s also free agency itself.

Kane’s never really had a say in where he’s played. He was drafted by Atlanta, moved with the team to Winnipeg, then got traded to Buffalo. Going to market would be his first chance at picking a preferred locale — and, as always with free agency, a major opportunity to cash in.

The Sabres might be good!

There’s energy in KeyBank right now. Franchise legend Phil Housley’s behind the bench, and Botterill bolstered the blueline by acquiring Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin. Up front, Kane has talented running mates in Eichel, O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart, who almost have to be healthier than last year. Combined, that quintet missed over 60 games to injury.

As such, a scenario exists where Kane enters the year without a deal, plays well, and the Sabres wind up in playoff contention come deadline time. That’s when Botterill is faced with the big decision. If he decides to move Kane, he gets something in return for an asset… but also diminishes the team’s chances of winning. If he keeps Kane, it signals the Sabres are ready to make a push — remember, it’s been six years without a playoff appearance — but they also run the risk of losing Kane for nothing.

Sign and trade?

This idea has been bandied about. The thinking is that Kane’s trade value is diminished somewhat due to the expiring contract, so what if there was more security? Botterill could, in theory, get an extension signed, then move Kane (who doesn’t have a NMC or NTC). The acquiring team would have more cost certainty this way and know the term.

The issue here is Kane signing on the dotted line. Aside from the guaranteed money, he wouldn’t control a huge part of the process — specifically, where Botterill could send him. Given free agency is just months away, Kane could take total control by simply going to market.

It’s going to be an interesting next while.