The not-so-great and fake controversy around Evander Kane

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A fast-building controversy around Evander Kane has erupted on social media. NHL commentators have suggested Kane took a shot at Oilers coach Jay Woodcoft.

No small number of Oilers fans have wondered if internal dissension around Kane isn’t part of the what’s gone wrong with the team so far this year.

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I was perplexed by such claims, not seeing any evidence of it, but I was pointed in the direction of this interview between Evander Kane and Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake during the second period of the Jets-Oilers game on Saturday.

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For context, Kane had been bumped down to the third line for the game. It was the first time, if I am recalling correctly, that he’d been taken off one of Edmonton’s top two lines.

Due to the high number of penalties in the game, Kane had ended up playing little in the first period, a bit more than three minutes, well below his usual ice-time.

In the second period, he got into an old-fashioned fist fight — with both players agreeing to take off their helmets beforehand — with Brenden Dillon of the Jets. Kane landed several wicked blows on Dillon’s face in the scrap.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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The key moment came at the start of the interview, with Oake asking: “Evander, you had some jump in the second. Would it be fair you say that the scrap with your former teammate Brendan Dillon was part of you finding your game?”

Kane’s response?  “Uh, yeah, I didn’t play much in the first period. So I thought I might as well get into a fight and take seven or eight minutes in the box.”

After the game, Hockey Night in Canada’s Kevin Bieksa said the clip would go viral. “Guys just don’t do this. They don’t take a shot at the coach mid-game about their icetime. I think it’s hilarious, though. But I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. If you’re frustrated with your ice time maybe that is a conversation with the coach behind closed doors. Like this thing is going to go now and maybe it’s going to be a little bit of a distraction.”

Commentator Kelly Hrudey was OK with what Kane said. “Every once in awhile you got to stand up for yourself.”

Bieka was correct about that last part. This did blow up.

Numerous Edmnton fans took this as Kane complaining about playing time, about being dropped to the third line, which would essentially make his statement a shot at Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft.

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But at Monday’s practice when sensible Ryan Rishaug of TSN asked Woodcroft about how some folks were saying this was Kane complaining about ice time, that’s not how Woodcroft saw it, not even close.

Woodcroft saw Kane’s comments in a good light.

“I see that as a positive,” he said. “I saw somebody that was frustrated with the way the first two periods went in terms of the amount of penalties taken. If you look at that first two periods I think both teams took five penalties each that led to power plays. So that’s 20 out of the 40 minutes. As soon as you scrape off half of the available game in terms rhythm and stuff, you’re not getting into a rhythm so, like I said, I saw some positives in his game as the game wore on. As I said, he got physical, he got in a fight. I thought the team responded to some good things and, you know, I don’t see that as a negative at all. I see it as someone who’s passionate and wants to get into a rhythm and wants to play.”

Rishaug then asked Kane about the notion some fans hold that his statement was a complaint about his ice time: “How did you mean it?”

Said Kane: “It’s really easy to view that complaining about ice time when they don’t  clip
the question, and they just clip my answer, right. So like a lot of the times you know I’ve talked about the media, there’s always a lack in context, and that was a great example of something being taken, a quote from me,
without even there being a question involved, so people can take it as they may. And to be honest, even if you
just look at the question, or the answer I just laid out the facts. I did play three minutes that period. I did get
into a fight and I did sit in the box for eight minutes. So I was just laying out the facts.”

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My take

1. First of all, great questions from Rishaug. Many fans were making this kind of comment, some online pundits were blowing it up into full-blown internal dissent on the team, so it was worthwhile to dig into it with Woodcroft and with Kane with a pair of straight ahead questions. It was fair to both the coach and the player and being fair to people is a big part of any reporter’s job. Excellent work here.

2. It was also fair for fans to wonder what Kane meant. I wondered myself. It sounded like it might well be a shot at the coach. That said, I couldn’t be sure. The danger here was attempted mind-reading, being certain that you knew what Kane meant with his cryptic comment, and then running with that.

No one knows what he meant, save for Kane himself. None of us can read his mind. Maybe he was suggesting he got little ice time so wanted to make an impact. Maybe he was ticked at all the penalty calls, end of story. To run with it and suggest he was unhappy with being bumped down the roster and that this is evidence of internal dissent is not just a step too far, it’s a step off a cliff into nonsense.

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We’re all guilty of mind-reading and putting the worst spin on statements by politicians and athletes and others, especially if we’re not fans of a particular individual. It’s important to keep in mind how offside we can be when we attempt to mind-read. It’s easy to hallucinate someone is saying something when that’s not in their mind at all.

3. Kane has plenty to be upset about with the media. He’s had a controversial and dramatic life, with numerous allegations against him and numerous personal issues that have been reported on, but with many of the accounts one-sided. Exhibit A are all news reports leaving out or downplaying the hugely significant fact that in his ugly he said/she said dispute with his ex-wife, a Californian judge sided with Kane and awarded him custody of the child’s couple.

4. All that said, I didn’t find Kane’s response to Rishaug that enlightening, other than it’s more proof the guy thinks for himself, says what he likes, is hugely confident and isn’t going to bend over backwards to please anyone with a response. He’s his own man, obviously. But I can’t say if he was ticked off at his coach or not. He might have been. He might not have been. Who knows?

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Kane has done well in Edmonton both off and on the ice. He’s become a massive fan favourite, though his play since he came back from his terrifying wrist injury hasn’t been at his previous level. He’s struggling with his dexterity with the puck, struggling to make plays. At the same time, he’s still fast, still aggressive, still a hugely intimidating force, and even with less offensive skill, he can help this team win if he plays a strong defensive and hitting game, adding offence where he can, quite possibly in a third line role.

5. Bottom lines: I put most weight in this new not-so-great, fake controversy around Kane on Woodcroft’s words and demeanour. The coach — who has all the access and authority he needs to clear the air in private with Kane over Kane’s comments — had zero problem with Kane’s words.

None whatsoever.

In fact, as he stressed, Woodcroft liked what he heard. He sees Kane as a passionate competitor, he saw Kane’s comments in that light, end of story, much ado about nothing.

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P.S. The Bakersfield Condors have signed Oilers favourite Sam Gagner to a new contract. Good luck to Gagner in his comeback. Will we see him in Edmonton this year? That would be something.

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