Buffalo Sabres

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.

Why Sharks shouldn't be ruled out if Sabres' Jack Eichel demands trade

Why Sharks shouldn't be ruled out if Sabres' Jack Eichel demands trade

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is a phenomenal hockey player, and it's easy to understand why he might be frustrated in his current situation. He's one of the top young players in the NHL -- a true franchise centerpiece -- but he'll enter next season having never played for a winning team and will be playing for his third general manager at the professional level.

The 23-year-old has totaled 337 points over his first five seasons in the NHL, and scored a career-high 36 goals in just 68 games this past season before it was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Sabres finished tied for the third-fewest points in the Eastern Conference, extending their playoff drought to nine seasons.

On a conference call with reporters last month, Eichel made it clear he was not satisfied with the trajectory of the franchise.

"Listen, I'm fed up with losing and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated," Eichel said. "It's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It's been a tough couple of months, it's been a tough five years with where things have went."

"I'm a competitor," he added. "I want to win every time I go out on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season ... I'd be lying if I said that I'm not getting frustrated with where things are going."

Eichel's comments seemed to have a direct effect on Buffalo's decision to clear house three weeks later, firing GM Jason Botterill along with other executives and scouts. Clearly, the hope is that the new regime will help turn things around in short order. If it doesn't, though, one wonders when Eichel will reach his limit.

If Eichel ever demanded a trade, every team in the league would be on the phone with the Sabres to see if a deal could be made. He has already proven himself to be one of the top talents in the game, and he has not yet entered his prime.

The Athletic's Eric Stephens and Lisa Dillman recently questioned if the Anaheim Ducks should pursue a trade for Eichel, if he were ever made available. But, what about the Sharks?

First things first: any trade for Eichel would first be dependent on him wanting out of Buffalo. Even if he did, the Sabres' asking price surely would be astronomical. In speaking with Stephens, NHL Network's Mike Johnson suggested the package likely would have to include a current young player, a future first-round draft pick and two top prospects.

"It would take so much," Johnson said, "it would be a hard deal to sort out."

Given all of that, is there any possibility Eichel could be wearing teal in the relatively near future?

It's extremely faint, but as long as Doug Wilson is San Jose's GM, it would be unwise to count the Sharks out of any superstar pursuit.

Erik Karlsson. Joe Thornton. Brent Burns. Evander Kane. Dan Boyle. Dany Heatley. Bill Guerin. Wilson has a lengthy history of acquiring big names. Eichel would certainly qualify, though the cost might be prohibitive.

Factoring in both what Buffalo likely would demand as well as salaries, a Sharks' potential trade package for Eichel might look something like: Burns, Ryan Merkley, Jonathan Dahlen and a future first-round pick -- and even that might not be enough. Burns' talent surely would be attractive to the Sabres, but he's also 35 years old. Not to mention, he has a modified no-trade clause in his contract.

[RELATED: Sharks avoid nightmare scenario in 2020 NHL Draft lottery]

If Burns wasn't included, he likely would have to be replaced in the deal by another player making a considerable salary. The best fit currently on the Sharks' roster might be Timo Meier.

Is Eichel worth Meier, Merkley, Dahlen and a first-round pick -- assuming that's enough to get a deal done?

That's a question for Wilson to answer. He might not be able to, but the Sharks and every other team in the league should be asking it.

Sharks hoping history of turning season around vs. Canadiens continues

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Sharks hoping history of turning season around vs. Canadiens continues

There's something about playing the Montreal Canadiens that prompts the Sharks to turn their game around.

San Jose is 14-4-0 against the Habs dating back to 2005, and some of those wins have occurred when the Sharks needed them the most. In Dec. 2015, San Jose broke out of a seven-game losing streak by beating the Habs in Montreal 3-1. In more recent history, a four-game losing streak -- which was followed by a closed-door meeting -- was snapped by another 3-1 victory at Bell Centre that turned the Sharks 2018-19 season around.

Now, in the first month of their 2019-20 campaign, San Jose could use another one of those turnarounds.

Granted, San Jose is facing some new problems this season than they were when they last defeated Montreal. They aren't coming off a lengthy losing streak or having glaring issues with their goaltending. This time around, however, the team is trying to establish its identity while integrating new players -- and that process hasn't exactly been a smooth one. Miscues and turnovers continue to end up in the back of San Jose's net, and getting a solid 60-minute game out of all four lines is still a work in progress.

Even with three straight victories in the middle of the month and some clear signs of improvement, the Sharks are still at the bottom of the Pacific Division. Plus, their current swing through the East Coast isn't going to get any easier. Perhaps playing against a team who they've fared well against in the past will turn things around?

To be clear, this isn't to say that there's some otherworldly magic that comes from the Sharks playing the Habs. Simply that the Sharks are playing them at yet another point of a season where they need to elevate their game. 

San Jose is coming off of back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Sabres, and even though they got a point out of Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss, they also blew a 2-0 lead. Erik Karlsson told reporters afterward that "by no means should we be satisfied" despite picking up the one point. Head coach Peter DeBoer said he thinks the team is getting better, but "we're still not where we want to be."

Not every Shark is heading into Thursday's game on the struggle bus, mind you. Karlsson himself will take the ice in Montreal on a five-game assist streak and tallied his first goal of the season on Tuesday night.

Logan Couture has points in seven of nine games so far this season. Young center Dylan Gambrell scored his first regular-season goal in Tuesday's game and continues to play a key role in making San Jose's fourth line more effective.

[RELATED: Sharks' Thornton, Marleau piece together funny memories]

Even San Jose's goaltending looks better than it did last season -- there's no denying Martin Jones was a big reason Jack Eichel didn't allow the Sabres to run away with Tuesday's game in Buffalo.

But the fact is, the Sharks still need to turn things around if they're going to recover from a rough start to their season. And there's no better time for them to do that than on Thursday night against the Habs in Montreal.