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NHL

The Oilers Got What They Wanted

EDMONTON, AB - MAY 22: Evander Kane #91 of the Edmonton Oilers scores his third of the evening against goaltender Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Calgary Flames during the second period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on May 22, 2022 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The problematic nature of Evander Kane’s greatest stretch of hockey ever makes it hard to enjoy, and I only use the word “problematic” because I cannot measure your level of outrage for you. If you want to replace “problematic” with “obnoxious,” “detestable,” or even “I’d like Milan Lucic to pound his face flat,” that is between you and, well, you.

This is exactly what Edmonton was hoping for when they signed him on Jan. 27, which is the same thing Atlanta/Winnipeg, Buffalo, and San Jose got, without the social and legal issues that Atlanta/Winnipeg, Buffalo, and San Jose got. They signed him knowing he could go off the rails while hoping he could benefit from and contribute to the labors of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers also hoped he could make them less them, as in, “How do we waste McDavid and Draisaitl this time?”

As it turns out, Kane has been of enormous benefit to McDavid (and vice versa) from the moment he was first attached to his left hip, and Draisaitl since he was returned to the McDavid line. Kane leads the league in playoff goals on the power of two hat tricks and two two-goal games, and he has been an irritant to both the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames, including Sunday night when he dropped three of Edmonton’s goals in a 4-1 win that put the Oil up two to one in the latest rendition of Albertan Angst. While it can be said that almost any drayhorse with four hooves pointed in the same direction would thrive with McDavid and Draisaitl, it must also be said that the Oilers have tried a lot of players with McDavid and Draisaitl with far less noteworthy results. If he’s the reason why Edmonton wins and Calgary loses, the town will smile, congratulate each other, say slanderous things about the Colorado Avalanche, and spend the summer awash in frothy refreshing ambivalence by the pint.

Now for you non-Oilers fans, you have to decide how much New Kane you’re good with because as I said, I cannot monitor your level of offense over his history of off-ice behaviors. Anyway, you’re paying for typing here, not ethical guidance. If it helps, your author falls short of indifferent but slightly ahead of mildly pissed about it, but he also stopped thinking sports was a place to find human exemplars long ago. Evander Kane is a hired stick, and is being held to only two standards here:

1. Can he help Ken Holland and Jay Woodcroft keep their jobs?

2. Can he keep McDavid and Draisaitl from leaving?

You’ll notice that “3. Can he be a good citizen?” is not listed as an option here, for the obvious reason that it wasn’t part of the calculation. This isn’t a story of redemption, it’s a story of cold-blooded pragmatism. Kane was available, he’s a good player, he came cheap (one-tenth the salary San Jose paid for him when they signed him to a seven-year, $49 million deal), and Edmonton was running out of patience with Holland as they did Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish, and Peter Chiarelli before that. They stopped selling out their building, and the “How much more of this can McDavid endure?” narrative was gaining snow-tire traction.

In sum, Kane is the Oiler who has best utilized the magic of McDavid and to a lesser extent Draisaitl, and has done as much as anyone to put the Oilers on a path toward their first Cup Final in 16 years. It may fail profoundly as a heartwarming tale, but Holland didn’t ask you, or really anyone. For him, it’s not about “Will people be unhappy?” It’s about “Will the guy who utterly controls my fate and can have me vaporized with a single word be unhappy?”

And yes, that guy is Connor McDavid.