Calls for the Winnipeg Jets to trade Evander Kane, and for the Vancouver Canucks to deal Zack Kassian, have increased this season, particularly in recent weeks. In Kane’s case, it’s because of a recently-reported falling out with teammates, while Kassian has yet to reach his projected potential as a power forward.
It’s certainly understandable why so many followers of the Jets and Canucks are calling for, or at least expecting, Kane and Kassian to be dealt. The duo haven’t played up to expectations. With both clubs struggling to hang onto playoff berths, those opinions appear justified.
Yet it wasn’t that long ago when such demands would’ve been met with serious disagreement from those fearful Kane and/or Kassian might blossom into superstars with other teams. NHL history is certainly replete with examples of such instances. The most recent occurred in 2013, when the Boston Bruins shipped promising – but immature – forward Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars in a multi-player deal.
At the time of the trade it made perfect sense from the Bruins’ perspective. Seguin wasn’t playing well under head coach Claude Julien. A natural center on a team loaded with them, Seguin struggled as a winger. There were whispers the youngster enjoyed the night life so much it was adversely affecting his play.
The Bruins were coming off their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three years. Seemingly loaded with depth, and getting what appeared to be a great return from the Stars (veteran forward Loui Eriksson, promising winger Reilly Smith and blueline prospect Joe Morrow), the Bruins seemingly didn’t need their promising young forward. It was assumed the Bruins would be better off without Seguin.
Two years later, Seguin is an NHL superstar, leading the Stars in scoring and challenging for top spot in the league scoring race. The Bruins – wracked by injuries, struggling offensively and forced by cap constraints to shed versatile defenseman Johnny Boychuk – are now a playoff wild-card team, prompting some fans and pundits to question the logic of the Seguin trade.
Kane’s recent brouhaha follows several real and imagined antics by the 23-year-old winger in recent years, leaving observers questioning his maturity and commitment. However, he’s also a former 30-goal scorer whom many experts feel could blossom into a reliable offensive star in the right setting.
If reports are to be believed, Kane has worn out his welcome in Winnipeg. He could be dealt by the upcoming March 2 trade deadline, or in the offseason, perhaps during the NHL Draft weekend in June.
The difficulty for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is getting a good return for his troublesome winger. On the one hand, Kane’s 23, has yet to reach his prime, possesses 30-goal capability and is signed through 2017-18. On the other hand, he’s struggled with injury, his best season was three years ago, he’s earning $5.25 million annually and there’s the baggage regarding his supposed immaturity.
If Cheveldayoff lands a decent return which improves the Jets in the short and long term, Winnipeg fans won’t mind so much if Kane blossoms into a superstar with another team. Otherwise, Cheveldayoff will be pilloried by Jets fans upset over getting so little for a top talent who was mishandled during his tenure in Winnipeg.
In the Canucks’ situation with Kassian, Vancouver fans and pundits remain haunted by the club giving up on Cam Neely way back in 1986 and shipping him to the Boston Bruins for Barry Pederson. Neely blossomed into a Hall-of-Fame player. Pederson had a couple of productive years with the Canucks before injuries hampered and eventually cut short his career.
That deal occurred nearly 30 years ago and current GM Jim Benning had nothing to do with it. He was there, however, as a player for the immediate aftermath. Benning is undoubtedly very aware of how it troubles Canucks followers to this day.
The worry here is Kassian (who has shown few flashes of his projected power-forward promise) could be dealt to a club where, away from the spotlight and with better teammates, he could achieve his potential. That would leave the Canucks once again have a dubious legacy of mishandling and giving up on a promising young player who went on to stardom elsewhere.
In this instance, however, there appears little chance Kassian will become even a poor man’s version of Cam Neely. He’s given little indication he can become an effective power forward, and his struggles this season have undoubtedly hurt his trade value. At this stage, the Canucks will be lucky to get a serviceable roster player for him.
And yet…and yet, what if they get a lousy return for Kassian and he becomes a scoring star in another NHL city?
Making trades isn’t easy for an NHL general manager. While fans and pundits dream up supposedly foolproof trade scenarios and chide GMs for lacking the foresight to implement such genius deals, the reality is it takes two to tango when making a trade, and in today’s NHL there aren’t many rubes one can fleece.
Even the simplest of deals come with some form of risk, especially in today’s salary-cap world where the management of payroll plays a significant role in building and maintaining a successful roster. Such moves can not only determine the club’s success or failure, but also the continued employment of the general manager.
Despite Kane’s issues, he still has trade value, particularly among non-playoff clubs with plenty of cap space. The problem, however, is finding the right deal to help the Jets now and in the future. Even when a return looks great, it can still fail to achieve expectations. Just ask Bruins fans. What looked like a great return for Seguin now pales in comparison to his value to the Dallas Stars.
Kassian’s situation isn’t as risky. He hasn’t proven himself as a power forward. Odds are he probably won’t. While he could still go on to an effective NHL career as a gritty checking forward, the Canucks won’t suffer much by giving him up. Sure, they’ll lose some size and physicality but that can be more easily replaced.
At some point between now and next season, Kane and Kassian will probably be playing for different NHL teams. Whatever returns the Jets and Canucks receive, time will tell if it was worth it. That’s what Cheveldayoff and Benning get paid for. Depending on how the deals pan out, they’ll be showered with praise or burdened with scorn. Such is the risk in moving young NHL players who’ve yet to achieve their full potential.