In one corner you have Evander Kane, no stranger around these parts, pulling no punches as he fires off challenges and verbal volleys as fast as his fingers can type. In the other corner you have Winnipegger Ryan Reaves, the NHL’s undisputed heavyweight champion, landing hard-hitting bombs of his own.
Grab the popcorn, folks. The league’s most personal feud, which was supposed to have been put on ice just a few months ago, is back with a vengeance. Rather than tsk, tsk their most recent public display, I’d suggest it’s a refreshing change of pace to have something other than escrow, deferred salary, the CBA and COVID-19 protocols to talk about when it comes to a sport where big personalities often go to die.
This latest chapter of "Hockey Sticks and Stones" is the most surreal yet and has expanded with several new characters, including YouTube star turned boxer Jake Paul, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner and Reaves’ brother, Jordan, currently a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Because of course it does.
And, no, I can’t believe I’m about to write the following sentences.
Just moments after Paul knocked out former NBA player Nate Robinson on Saturday night in the undercard to the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. match, Kane took to Twitter and invited Paul to be his next opponent. We can only assume that Kane, like many of us these days, is bored out of his mind from staying home while also spending way too much time on social media. And, perhaps, a bit delusional, given how easily Paul disposed of Robinson.
"Yo Jake Paul. I’d wreck ya. Easy to beat up guys with no experience and much smaller. August 31st 2021 Vegas we can see if you really about that action. #YOURMOVE," Kane wrote to his 232,000 followers. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Tweet had garnered more than 43,000 likes and several thousand comments, most mocking Kane for his keyboard warrior mentality.
Some pointed out Kane’s previous hijinks in Vegas, which include his notorious money phone picture while he was a member of the Winnipeg Jets during the 2012-13 lockout, and a 2019 lawsuit against him from the Cosmopolitan hotel and casino for $500,000 in unpaid gambling loans that was dropped earlier this year.
None of the replies, I should note, have come from Paul, who has an enormous online following and apparently has his sights set on a much bigger fish in the form of MMA star Conor McGregor. Because of course he does.
Lehner was quick to weigh in, telling Kane "Nah, step out of the way and let real Knights fight," then hilariously added the hashtag "babyshark" to the end of his message. That was followed by Jordan Reaves telling Kane to "sit your soft ass down."
Oh, you best believe those were fighting words in the eyes of Kane. The gloves were off.
"Always good to see the Reaves sisters chime in and try to hop on the coat tails. But that’s okay I’ll keep you both relevant," Kane Tweeted at both Jordan and Ryan (who hadn’t said anything up to this point).
A low blow by Kane, for sure, in the form of a sexist comment that has no place in society. It’s especially alarming coming from a guy who is a key part of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), which is meant to promote inclusion in the sport. Kane recognized that, apologizing later in the night.
Ryan Reaves broke his silence and landed a haymaker of his own, telling Kane "I ain’t never run from anyone’s sister in my life. Let alone for 9 years. That shark logo on your jersey is the toughest thing about you. I expect a billboard apology for running your mouth. I’m sure u still got the number."
"That might be the only billboard you’ve ever been on," Kane Tweeted at Ryan in what would be his last word on this matter, at least for now. Jordan had a profane follow-up in which he told Kane "I know kids with more fight than you. Stop that little boy."
The billboard comment was especially biting, a not-so-subtle jab at Kane for a highly publicized act of contrition in 2015 after his girlfriend at the time, model Mara Teigen, broke up with him. According to TMZ, Kane briefly won her back when he took out a billboard ad for her on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
The "still got the number" remark was clearly a throwback to the pair actually working together earlier this summer on the HDA, which makes these latest developments somewhat surprising.
"We have to put aside our differences on the ice and come together for a much bigger cause," Reaves told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last June about calling Kane to offer his services on the committee. A few months later, you’ll recall it was Reaves who led the way on a two-day pause of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with NHL players coming together to denounce the killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police.
Yeah, about that so-called truce: given the way they’ve come out swinging on social media, it seems unlikely Kane and Reaves are going to be exchanging Christmas cards later this month.
Perhaps we should have known it was only temporary, considering Reaves still has the Muffin Man as his Twitter profile picture, a reference to the label he branded Kane with after they fought during the Vegas-San Jose Sharks first-round playoff meeting in 2019. He also wore a Muffin Man mask as he arrived in the hub city of Edmonton to enter the playoff bubble this past summer in one of the all-time troll jobs.
Sure, there will be many fans (and likely league executives) ready to grumble about all of this, believing that by dragging each other into the gutter they’re giving the game a black eye. To which I would suggest they take a deep breath and chill.
There was once a time in the NHL when the hatred between teams, and players, was very real. But those days, for the most part, are long gone. Rivals now often train together during the off-season, player movement means the loyalties don’t run nearly as deep, and the game itself has changed (for the better, I might add) with a focus on speed and skill.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what that 1996 bloodbath between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings might have looked like if social media was around for Claude Lemieux and Kris Draper to trade insults over. Or Bob Probert and Tie Domi back in their pugilistic heydays.
In this case, some old-school conflict with a new-age twist is a breath of fresh air, something that will make every future Vegas-San Jose game must-see TV. Sports is supposed to entertain us. Love them or hate them, there’s no question Kane and Reaves are doing that in spades.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.