January 22 2012 08:01AM
Evander Kane is a gifted hockey player. No question about it, he can play. He's 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and can skate and score. When he comes flying down the wing, he reminds some of the old-timers of Bobby Hull. He's considered by most NHL scouts as a 20-year-old with a tremendous future.
These days he's the Jets leading goal scorer with 18 and the second-leading scorer with 31 points. But he's now in a dreadful slump -- he hasn't scored a goal in 10 games, has only two points in the last 10 and is minus-eight.
He's also developing a horrible reputation and whether that's fair or not probably doesn't matter. Somehow, in a city that has embraced its hockey team with an enthusiasm never seen before in Winnipeg -- perhaps never seen in this country -- one player has upset the fans so completely that he's now the butt of jokes, the source of rumours and the target of large, homemade signs of derision.
His problem would appear to be the fact he's a big-city, 21st Century athlete in a small town that has never warmed to athletes who (a) need to be paid for just about everything they do and (b) carry themselves as bigger, richer and more important than other members of the community.
Still, it's shocking that in a city that is so madly in love with its hockey team that almost everyone in town has at least one piece of Jets gear and where tickets sold out in minutes and Jets licence plates sold out in hours, that one player could bring out so much anger.
It probably started when his (NOTE, two hours later new information: "business manager," and not his) agent, Craig Oster, went to local restaurants and bars with a business plan: for money, young Evander would tweet that a bunch of Jets were at a particular watering hole in order to draw fans to the establishment -- even if they weren't there at all.
Then Kane, who is no different than any other 20-year-old -- he likes the occasional party at a downtown saloon -- ended up on thedirty.com, a social stigma website that pays tribute to those who act like douchenozzles in public places. Ouch.
Then came Saturday night.
The media was told on Saturday that Kane had suffered a concussion. The team wasn't sure when the young player became concussed, but head coach Claude Noel said that Kane had come forward on Friday to say he wasn't feeling well and later in the day, the team determined that it was a concussion.
That didn't stop the fans from going nuts on Twitter, Facebook and at the rink. More than one person was convinced that Kane had been involved in an altercation Thursday night after the win over Buffalo at a Winnipeg bar called Whiskey Dix. In fact, Whiskey Dix got more tweets on Saturday that it ever would have, had it (and it may have) paid Kane for the service.
Whether it was true or not didn't matter. The damage was done.
Meanwhile, at the rink this past week, Kane became the butt of an embarrassing sign. It read: "Dear Evander: Please stop walking out on your bills. Sincerely, Winnipeg servers and restauranteurs (sic)."
A local Winnipeg newspaper columnist called a couple of local restaurants (two to be precise), and defended Kane from the nasty implications, but what all this suggests is that somehow, some way, in a small prairie city that actually worships its professional hockey players, one of those players has angered enough people to become much less than worshipped.
Now let's not take this too far. Kane was paid to sign autographs at a local auto dealership a month ago and fans who came just moments late had to wait in line for more than an hour. The name "Kane" is still on plenty of Jets jerseys in the crowd. This might be just a bump in the road to hockey immortality.
But for a kid who wanted a trade early in the season, has responded with improved play to two benchings and has been the most explosive offensive force on a team that can't score, this just might be another wake-up call.
Because when you've pissed off a fan base that wants to love you as much as their own family members, you're probably doing something wrong.