Oilers See the Negative Side of Life with Kane in Game 3 Loss to Avs

There was no lack of controversy when the Edmonton Oilers signed Evander Kane to a one-year contract on Jan. 27, midway through the 2021-22 NHL season.

Kane had recently become a free agent when his contract with the San Jose Sharks was terminated for breach of COVID-19 protocols, in what was just the latest transgression by the veteran forward. Having previously faced several unsavoury allegations off the ice, and carrying a reputation as a locker room cancer, Kane had few bidders for his services. The deal with the Oilers, which included $750,000 in salary and $625,000 in bonuses, was a marriage of convenience: Kane needed an opportunity to rehab his image and prove worthy of another major contract, while the Oilers desperately needed a jolt to help get their season back on track after a slump of just two wins in 16 games spanning much of December and January.

Deal Has Been a Win-Win for Kane and Oilers

A few months later, it can be unequivocally said that things worked out brilliantly for both parties. Keeping on his best behavior, Kane racked up 22 goals and 17 assists in 43 regular-season games with the Oilers, followed by 13 goals and four helpers in 15 postseason games thus far. His play factored significantly in a remarkable turnaround that has seen the Oilers go from potentially missing the playoffs to reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time in 16 years.

Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now that he’s demonstrated that he can stay out of trouble while producing points, Kane will almost certainly receive several rich contract offers this summer. The 30-year-old is going to command figures that the Oilers can’t afford to match without some major moves to free up cap space.

Related: Oilers Need to Find a Way to Bring Back Kane

Kane has been so good with the Oilers that many Edmonton fans fear losing him would be a devastating setback that takes the team out of championship contention. There are those who believe in re-signing Kane at all costs, which could mean saying goodbye to one or more of the players who need new contracts (including promising homegrown forwards Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Ryan McLeod) or using money that could otherwise be spent on addressing Edmonton’s biggest need, goaltending.

While the Oilers are certainly a better team with Kane, life without him might not be the ‘Sky is Falling’ scenario so many envision, and their 4-2 loss on Saturday (June 4) to the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final series showed them why.

Kane Killed Oilers’ Momentum

Going into Game 3 trailing the best-of-seven series 2-0, Edmonton needed to come out blazing in front of its home fans to avoid falling into the 3-0 hole from which almost no team escapes. A strong start Saturday would allow the Oilers to dictate play and could open the floodgates for one of their trademark scoring outbursts.

They got just the start they needed, with Connor McDavid scoring only 38 seconds from the opening faceoff, electrifying Rogers Place. The 18,000-plus, who have seen their heroes reel off two or three goals in quick succession several times during Edmonton’s playoff run, could sense another flurry coming. But the Oilers never had a chance to parlay that momentum into a multi-goal lead.

Twenty-eight seconds after McDavid’s goal, Kane was assessed a five-minute major for boarding after he cross-checked Nazem Kadri from behind, sending the Avalanche forward face-first into the end boards. Kadri left the game and has since been ruled out for at least the rest of the series, raising the spectre of further discipline for Kane.

It was a dangerous and dirty hit. A careless and reckless one. It was unnecessary, selfish, and just plain stupid play by Kane, and it cost his team.

The Oilers actually killed off the entire five-minute major, with a terrific effort from their PK. But the issue wasn’t that Edmonton emerged from Kane’s penalty still leading 1-0 – it was that Edmonton emerged from Kane’s penalty only leading 1-0.

Edmonton looked ready to offensively erupt in the opening moments of the game. But for five minutes, they were stuck in full defensive mode rather than being able to go on the attack, where the likes of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, and Kane, himself, could have added to the lead.

Instead, the margin remained just one goal, and it wasn’t that long before Valeri Nichushkin scored at 16:12 of the first period to tie it up for the Avalanche. Edmonton never led again, trailing for more than 30 minutes over the final two periods, and when the dust settled, the Avs held a 3-0 stranglehold on the series.

Kane Sits atop Playoff Leaderboards

Taking undisciplined and untimely penalties is nothing new for Kane, who has often found himself in the sin bin when he really didn’t need to be. With 37 penalty minutes, he leads all players in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s also the leading goal scorer in the postseason, and it’s not even that close. His 13 tallies are three more than that of second-place Nathan MacKinnon of the Avs, and after that, no other player has hit double figures yet.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Without Kane’s 13 goals, the Oilers aren’t likely one of the final four teams playing this postseason. However, that lofty total is a bit misleading, as his output has been either feast or famine, with five multi-goal games, but goals in only six of the Oilers’ 15 playoff games. He totalled five goals combined in their two victories by six goals over the Los Angeles Kings in the first round but hasn’t scored in any of their three postseason games that were decided by one goal.

Championship players produce consistently, and they deliver when their teams need it most. They don’t put their teams in shorthanded situations at the most unideal times. So is Kane a championship player? Or is there a reason that despite some seriously impressive career stats (286 goals, including eight seasons with at least 20), his teams made the playoffs only twice in his first 12 seasons before he linked up with McDavid and co.?

That’s something the Oilers will have to determine this offseason, which suddenly could be arriving a lot quicker than they hoped, with Game 4 set for Monday (June 6) night at Rogers Place.

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