Throughout the summer, even as the business of hockey appeared to be headed towards a stoppage of some sort, one constant has been teams attempting to extend their best young players before the current CBA ran out. Players like Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and others signed long term deals that would take them well into their UFA years, apparently operating under the belief that the deals teams were willing to make now might not be on offer come the resumption of business, whenever that might occur.
Here in Winnipeg, the Jets had just such a player in need of a deal, and tonight, after a summer where the fan base was wondering at least a little bit about that player’s committment to the team and the city, Kevin Cheveldayoff seems to have gotten his man. Evander Kane has signed a six year deal that will pay him 31.5M over that span, for an AAV of 5.25M
Given the other deals this summer, the numbers appear to be right in the range that could have been expected, and they’re in line with what I thought was reasonable this summer when George Ays raised the question in August. I don’t think the deal is some sort of exceptional bargain, since Kane still has a few holes in his game, but every time I start questioning where he fits, I remind myself that he led the NHL in 5v5 shots on goal last season as a 20 year old.
In the five seasons of the Behind the Net era, the previous leaders in 5v5 SOG have been, in order, Ovechkin, Ovechkin, Parise, and Ovechkin, so Kane joined some fairly lofty company with his performance last year. It doesn’t appear to be a fluke, either, since he was well up the list even as a 19 year old in Atlanta. There’s a fair bit of evidence that most goal scorers get it done over the long term on volume rather than by simply shooting a high percentage, so Kane’s ability to get rubber on the net at an elite rate is a promising sign, particularly since he hasn’t been blessed with anyone resembling an elite set-up man since turning pro. I like Kyle Wellwood at least as much as anyone not named Melissa Martin, but I’m fairly confident Wellwood won’t be doing Sid Crosby out of a job at the Sochi Olympics. Gary Bettman might be able to pull off that trick, but that’s another matter entirely.
The next move forward for Kane is to become a player that can flourish against better players. He had a fine out-shooting year against bottom sixers last year, as he and Burmistrov were the main beneficiaries of Claude Noel’s willingness to bury a few of his lesser lights. If the Jets are going to become more than a middling team 5v5, Kane will have to continue his improvement away from the puck.
The one other area where the Jets might get more from the winger is on the powerplay. Kane and Andrew Ladd spent almost exactly the same amount of time on the PP last season, and the shot generation numbers were just about equal as well. Ladd is a very good player that’s in his prime at age 26, so it isn’t like he’s getting time undeservedly, but his skill set is a bit more rounded than Kane’s is at the moment, so the club can still get good mileage out of their captain while handing a bit of that PP time to Kane. I suspect that over the next couple of seasons, Kane will become the number one PP option on the left side, and as that happens, he should solidify his position as one of the game’s best young scorers.
This signing will be overshadowed by the ongoing lockout in the short term, of course, but the primary message the team has been sending this summer is that they intend to keep their core around for the foreseeable future, and after the dust settles on the labour front, the Jets will return to action with every worthwhile contributor under contract. Again, I’m not entirely sure the Jets got a steal, but if nothing else they have wrapped up a very good player for a figure and term that should be acceptable under any likely CBA, and that’s not a bad thing at all.