Evander Kane returns to the Oilers, ready to build on last season’s success

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EDMONTON — Evander Kane arrived in Edmonton last January and sat on the same bench that Jake Virtanen sat on Monday. “Why,” he was asked numerous times and in different ways, “should the Edmonton Oilers give him a second chance?”

“I think everybody in this room has probably made a lot of mistakes,” Kane said that day. “They’re just not documented. They’re just not publicly recorded. They’re not questioned.”

“It was,” we wrote in our column, “like Joey Chestnut saying, ‘Hey, we’ve all had a hot dog…'”

Kane promised that day that he was not the guy being portrayed, and that he would prove it by being a good teammate and productive player. And you have to admit that he kept both promises, the second one in spades. He managed 22 goals in 43 regular season games and 13 more in 15 playoff games.

By all accounts, Kane was a model teammate. According to general manager Ken Holland, in exit interviews all of his top players recommended Kane’s renewal, a meeting that seemed impossible between a cash-strapped club and a player who had just scored 35 goals in 58 games.

There was no way the Oilers could sign Kane, we thought more than once.

“You’re right,” Kane said Wednesday, the opening day of training camp in the National Hockey League. He left Edmonton last spring thinking the same thing: There’s no way he’s coming back.

But then Duncan Keith retired, and that freed up more than $5 million in cap space. Then Zack Kassian was traded, and suddenly the Oilers had room and Kane’s phone was ringing off the hook.

“The cap sucks for a player. Especially a good one,” Kane said. “But now it’s like, this is a great opportunity. This group, this organization. You know, from the top down with Kenny (Holland) and Jay (Woodcroft), Connor (McDavid) and (Leon Draisaitl) and those guys. It was hard to pass up and get a chance to truly compete for a Stanley Cup and hopefully lift one here on a Canadian team.

“Those are all the things that, as a kid, you always wanted to do. I had the opportunity this offseason to start with that. I wanted to be a part of that.”

The only comparison between Kane and Virtanen is that they’ve both had to deal with legal issues outside of the game, and even those aren’t entirely similar. As players, Kane is a Rembrandt to Virtanen’s paint-by-numbers.

Kane is quick enough to skate alongside McDavid, with the gloves burying pucks at a rate of 0.6 goals per game last season. And his bite? He’s still sharp enough to intimidate, keeping the flies off McDavid the way we once thought Milan Lucic would.

“I got involved with this team. I’m happy to be here,” said Kane, who signed a four-year contract worth $20.5 million to play in Edmonton until his 35th birthday, and quickly bought a house here. “Honestly, since I landed at the airport in January, everyone has treated me very well. The fans, the community have been great, and that just kept growing over time. It was no different coming back for the season opener. .”

Full disclosure: I wrote last January that the mistake was not signing Kane to a mid-season deal. The mistake, I said, was to give him a free agent contract in July, because his modus operandi is for him to get comfortable and then go off the rails.

So let’s see who is right and who is wrong. So far I feel bad, but the book about Kane’s time in Edmonton is still being written.

Kane enters this season as the man who occupies the most coveted winger position in the NHL: He will start the season and could play 82 games alongside McDavid.

Now that he has settled his contract grievance with the San Joe Sharks, he can now refocus on the ice.

“Glad it’s over,” he said when asked. “I won’t go into too much detail, but it will probably be in the Netflix doc when I’m done.”

So we asked him about Virtanen and what he might instruct his younger teammate about, as Virtanen tries to restart his NHL career in a tryout with the Oilers. Virtanen was tried in the BC Supreme Court in July on a sexual assault charge, stemming from a 2017 incident in Vancouver. Virtanen claimed in court that the meeting was consensual and a jury of his peers found him not guilty on July 26.

Some guys would take offense at the question, but not Kane. He dug into Virtanen, using his personal experience as a guide.

“He prevailed in court,” Kane began. “You know, when you’re dealing with tough situations, there’s a lot of things that people like to speculate about. People like to pretend they know. People like to pretend they have an idea, and a lot of that is BS sometimes.” .”

“It’s funny how time and letting things unfold, how attitudes and viewpoints change,” he continued. “How time allows attitudes and opinions to change, but at the same time, everyone has their opinion. You could donate $5 million to charity today, and someone will find something wrong with that. That’s the way social media , specifically, and the age we live in today.

“So, regarding Jake, you know, he knows what he did. He knows what he didn’t do. And that’s left for him to deal with.”

What we do know is how Kane performed on the ice last season. It was the best transaction in the NHL.

What awaits us?

On the ice, I think I know.

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