SAN JOSE – Give Evander Kane some credit: nearly five years since he and his track suit were shipped out of town, Mr. Money Phone continues to live rent-free in the heads of many Winnipeg Jets fans.
Players come and players go all the time, and yet I can't think of any who have struck a nerve the way Kane has. The latest round of disdain was set for Wednesday night here in the Bay Area, with Kane facing his former team for the eighth time since the blockbuster trade in February 2015 that sent him to Buffalo.
You'd think by now, 1,751 days since the deal went down, most people would have moved on. You'd be wrong. I still see plenty of local vitriol directed his way on a regular basis, especially through social media where it often gets particularly vicious. Some might say it's bordering on obsession. It's often not a good look, a fact Kane himself brought up in an interview last year with a San Jose newspaper where he suggested racism was at play.
Judging by some of the ugly comments I've seen directed at him through his Twitter feed, the Sharks leading scorer (12 goals, nine assists in 22 games) has a point.
I realize that, by writing about Kane, some will suggest I'm only fanning the flames, but I try to call 'em as I see 'em, and the continuing casting of Kane as the local villain is a fascinating subject worth exploring, in my eyes.
I could see the anger if Kane had made life miserable for the Jets since moving on to supposedly greener pastures. But in his stints with the Buffalo Sabres and now the San Jose Sharks, Kane has scored just one goal and added three assists in the seven head-to-head clashes with Winnipeg heading into their latest meeting at the SAP Center. His teams have gone 3-3-1 in those contests. He's mostly been a non-factor.
I'd also understand the bitterness if the Kane trade had been a complete fleece-job on the Jets, one that would come back to haunt the franchise, but it wasn't. The acquisition of Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and the draft pick that turned into Jack Roslovic was largely viewed around the league as a pretty good haul by Winnipeg, which enjoyed much better times as an organization while the Sabres continued to stall near the NHL basement.
There's no question Kane can be a polarizing figure, and the way he left Winnipeg didn't exactly endear him to a lot of locals. While other Atlanta Thrashers seemed to take a real shine to their new digs, Kane and Winnipeg never seemed like a good fit, and the Vancouver-product admitted as much following his exodus to Buffalo, saying he'd asked general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for a trade every off-season, finally getting his wish after nearly four seasons, 222 games, 76 goals and 77 assists in the 'Peg.
To be fair, Kane has often made it easy for critics to jump all over him by making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The latest example was last month, when it emerged that the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas had filed a lawsuit against Kane seeking repayment of $500,000 in gambling markers extended to him last April when he was in town for the Sharks-Golden Knights playoff series. That's not a good look for Kane. I don't pretend to know the intimate details of the civil suit, which has yet to play out in court, but it seems ridiculous this couldn't have quietly been settled behind-the-scenes.
It's also a bit troubling that in the middle of a heated battle between his team and a fierce rival, Kane was losing his shirt at the tables. This wasn't just a big, one-time binge, either. According to the lawsuit, Kane was granted eight different loans, each between $20,000 and $100,000. San Jose did go on to win an epic seven-game series, although Kane was held off the scoresheet in all three games in Sin City and had just one goal in the series.
I remember having the same "How did it come to this?" questions about Kane back in 2013, when the Manitoba government took the unusual step of filing a Court of Queen's Bench motion in an attempt to recoup $650.80 in outstanding traffic ticket fines from Kane, who had just signed a six-year, $31.5-million contract earlier that summer.
The fact his wages had to be garnished for texting while driving and being caught without a valid licence was nothing short of embarrassing and spoke to an inflated sense of ego and entitlement.
There have been other lawsuits (an ex-girlfriend is currently seeking $6 million, claiming Kane reneged on a promise to pay her $3 million to get an abortion, which came after two previous pregnancies by him were terminated), and even a criminal investigation (trespassing and harassment charges against Kane involving two women and a bouncer at a Buffalo bar in 2016 were eventually dropped).
So, yeah, Kane doesn't always seem to make the best choices, a fact folks are always ready to remind him of.
We saw that in Winnipeg, where the much-publicized rift between Kane and Jets teammate Dustin Byfuglien ended with the winger's clothing being tossed in the shower just a few weeks before the trade to Buffalo. That only seemed to further enrage Jets fans, many of whom organized a "track suit" night during Kane's first visit back in early 2016.
And Vegas fans really let Kane have it earlier this month as the teams faced-off at T-Mobile Arena, with chants of "Pay Your Markers" raining down for the rafters. Kane is also Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the Golden Knights faithful, and his long-running feud with Ryan Reaves (a Winnipegger, go figure) contains some legitimate hatred. The two have traded barbs and chirps, on and off the ice, for a couple seasons now, with Kane referring to Reaves as the "Muffin Man," at one point, suggesting he's soft.
Funny stuff, for sure, but there's a nastier side to all of this, which we've seen play out. In speaking last year about his time in Winnipeg, Kane referenced the uproar that followed after he Tweeted a picture of himself holding stacks of money on a Las Vegas hotel balcony, pretending it was a telephone, while NHL players were being locked out by owners as part of a labour dispute during the 2012-13 season.
"If you don’t acknowledge (the racial element) to some degree, you’re living in the shadows," Kane told the Mercury News. "I was in Atlanta for my first two years and those were very smooth years. Then, we got sold to Winnipeg and things changed. I didn’t change, so it’s interesting how things happen."
No, Kane may not have changed. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many Jets fans who just can't seem to let go of the past.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 9:30 PM CST: Updates story.