Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kane needs to avoid smoke, start creating fire on ice

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Evander Kane has made a lot of noise since arriving in Winnipeg. Some good and some bad. It's time for him to roar again now that he's back in action but there's no more room for the chatter that seems to follow his every off-ice move.

No more low-end cash-for-tweet deals, no more unpaid bills gossip and no more bar fight rumours. Headlines? We got 'em. But Kane needs to force us to save them for on-ice exploits. Hat-tricks and game-winning goals, not TMZ trash.

Kane controls it all. He is in charge of his play and what this community says about his behaviour away from the rink. Maybe we fan the flames but if there's no spark there's no fire. Most of what's been said about Kane has been smoke but its hung around all season.

No one is expecting him to be a hermit. He's a young man with money in his pocket and should be free to enjoy what our city has to offer. But there's a way to roll and heavy doesn't do anyone, in particular Kane, any good.

Sure, Winnipeg is a fishbowl but there are plants and fixtures to stand behind. Kane's teammates have all figured a way to slip out for dinner, a date or a drink and not have it dominate the next day's news cycle. He needs to do the same.

The Jets leading goal-scorer returned to action last night after missing seven games with a concussion. Kane told the media on Tuesday morning he believes he suffered the injury back on Dec. 20 in a game against the New York Islanders and then played in 14 games while fighting symptoms. He also stated his injury was not the result of an incident away from the rink.

"No. The last time I suffered an off-ice injury I was five years old. It was not an off-ice injury," said Kane, who has been dogged by rumours he was injured in a bar fight.

Kane's return to action was mostly ordinary highlighted by a couple of dangerous shifts but little in terms of productivity.

The 20-year-old is enjoying his best season with 19 goals and appears on the cusp of a breakout. This summer the Jets will need to determine what they want to do when Kane's entry-level contract expires. Try to sign him to a long-term deal or go with a shorter bridge contract so they can continue to assess his potential.

For the Jets to commit big dollars and enter a lengthy deal they'll need to be certain they're getting a player they can build their team around. Is Kane that player today? Difficult to say.

Likely he'll fall under the same category as Zach Bogosian did last summer when the Jets needed to re-sign the third-year defenceman but weren't compelled to give the player more than a wait-and-see two-year deal.

Is Kane a future 40-goal man and a leader in the dressing room? Maybe. Maybe not.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to make that assessment but based on what we've seen and heard this season there isn't enough data for a confident evaluation. Kane will have to show more in terms of production and maturity.

Just 20 and already in his third year in the league, Kane has enormous upside. But potential is a difficult thing to bet on and the Jets hold most of the leverage in this case and can afford to wait.

Kane will be a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. He has two choices: sign a deal offered by the Jets or sit out.

Cheveldayoff won't be pressured into a pact with a player he's unsure about and Kane has allowed doubt to creep in. He has time to convince Cheveldayoff and the Jets he's worth betting on but don't be surprised if they elect to hedge.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2012 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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