BUFFALO – Throughout a miserable season, winger Evander Kane was often the Sabres’ best asset, scoring goals on a hapless team starved for offense. To general manager Jason Botterill, the nine-year veteran is a “premium” player.
So why did Botterill trade Kane to the San Jose Sharks shortly before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline for two conditional draft picks – one could become a first-rounder, although that seems unlikely – and a marginal prospect?
“As a result of where we are in the standings, we have to make changes to our organization,” Botterill said Monday inside KeyBank Center shortly after completing his only trade. “The group that we have right now is not working.”
The Sabres never seemed interested in re-signing Kane, who was dogged by off-ice problems early in his Buffalo tenure.
“I’m not putting all the blame on Evander Kane,” Botterill said. “There’s a lot of blame to go around – coaching staff, management, players. We have to be better in certain situations.”
Fair or not, Kane, who joined the Sabres in a blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets three years ago, has been perceived as a bad influence off the ice. Botterill said that wasn’t a problem. He said ownership had “zero” input on trading Kane.
“I’ve heard some of the rumors and stuff out there before (about Kane),” Botterill said. “Evander, he handled himself very well in interacting with us.”
Other factors, of course, contributed to dealing him. For a 30th-place team, the Sabres don’t have much salary cap space. As an unrestricted free agent following the season, Kane, 26, will likely command a long-term contract worth perhaps $6 million a year.
Despite Kane’s fourth 20-goal campaign, there wasn’t much interest in him around the NHL.
“The bottom line is we had one legitimate offer for Evander,” Botterill said.
So Botterill unloaded him. The market for rental players was weak, he said, although the Jets packaged a first-rounder to the St. Louis Blues in their deal for center Paul Stastny.
Kane has eight more goals than Stastny, the same amount of points (40) and is six years younger.
The Sabres received a second-round pick in 2019 that becomes a first if Kane re-signs with the Sharks or they win the Stanley Cup and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2019 that becomes a third in 2020 if San Jose wants to push it back, Botterill said.
The Sharks also sent forward prospect Danny O’Regan, Jack Eichel’s college linemate at Boston University, to the Sabres. O’Regan, the AHL’s top rookie last season, will report to the Rochester Americans, Botterill said.
Kane, meanwhile, joined a Sharks team that ranks second in the Pacific Division with 74 points. Incredibly, he has never played in an NHL playoff game.
“This is a great opportunity,” Kane said on a conference call. “Excited probably doesn’t do it enough justice to how I feel. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity of possibly playing in the playoffs, and just hoping to add as much as I can to that group.”
Botterill’s group is bad, and he knows it. The rookie GM slammed a door Feb. 17 watching the Sabres’ feeble effort while losing a 4-2 afternoon home game to the Los Angeles Kings.
“I’ll be up front, the situation in the L.A. game, one of the biggest disappointments for me is our home record (9-18-4), it’s unacceptable,” he said. “I was looking at that game very closely.”
Then Botterill began speaking as passionately as he has during his 10 months as GM. He watched that contest so closely because the Sabres’ previous afternoon tilt Jan. 20 – he refers to early starts as “kid’s” games – the Dallas Stars stomped them 7-1.
“So you’re looking for a response, you’re looking for a performance, and I understand where we are from a skill level sometimes, and that’s on management to improve our skill level,” he said. “But from a compete standpoint and our preparation, we have to get better as an organization.”
Botterill said the Sabres need “more internal competition.”
“We have to have players who are on our NHL roster who can step into situations when a Jack Eichel or a (Zach) Bogosian (get injured),” he said. “We have to have more players who are ready to come up from Rochester. It’s a scenario where I don’t have an exact time frame.”
The quick transformation of two teams this season gives Botterill some hope.
“The beauty of our league right now, it’s a very competitive league, but you can look at teams such as Colorado, such as New Jersey, that can make the adjustment really quickly,” he said. “But it’s going to be work for us.”
While Botterill said he had “lots of talks” with other teams about some of the Sabres’ upcoming UFAs, he had no offers.