The AHL should not be a dumping ground for unwanted NHL players.
When the final horn blew at the United Center on Sunday night, it primarily signified a 2-0 victory for the San Jose Sharks, but it also signified something else; Evander Kane’s 21-game suspension for violating the NHL and NHLPA’s COVID Protocols had officially expired. That morning, it was reported that Kane would be placed on waivers to be reassigned to the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. Kane cleared waivers the next day and was officially reassigned on Monday.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson took a medical leave of absence on Saturday, tasking Sharks assistant general manager and Barracuda general manager Joe Will with handling day-to-day operations. Regarding the decision to reassign Kane, Will told the media, “We just decided that since he’s a contracted hockey player, it’s the best thing at this time for him to continue to play hockey, and this is the best option for that right now.”
Is it really, though?
Asked about the potential of Kane in the Barracuda locker room getting messy, Will responded that “there’s very strong leadership with the Barracuda,” namely head coach Roy Sommer.
He added, “Roy has been around longer than anyone, Roy knows Evander. He knows the entire organization after having been associate head coach a couple of seasons ago. Roy has been with many, many players, more than any other coach I know. […] He’s dealt with a lot of things in his career. So he’s there, he’s aware of this too and I trust the environment.”
While it’s smart of Will to trust his highly-seasoned head coach with this developing situation, to my knowledge, I don’t think a Sharks minor league team has ever faced this controversial of a decision before. The closest comparison came during the Barracuda’s inaugural 2015-16 season, when Raffi Torres was re-assigned to the Barracuda on a conditioning stint after serving a 41-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Jakub Silfverberg. Torres only played six games for the Barracuda before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with two second-round picks, for Roman Polak and Nick Spaling.
In the case of Torres, the issue was not off-ice behavior, but being a player that presented a risk to player safety. Regardless, the Sharks organization has still utilized their AHL team as a means of getting rid of a problem player and were relatively successful in doing so with Torres, who officially retired in 2016.
The game plan since the Barracuda arrived in San Jose has been to develop their prospects, while being surrounded by veterans with both NHL and AHL experience, such as John McCarthy in years past and now Jaycob Megna and Mark Alt. San Jose has also prided themselves on being one of the youngest AHL teams year in and year out, with all but four players (not including Kane) under 25 years of age. Six current Barracuda players are in their first professional season.
Assuming that Kane hasn’t, or isn’t willing to change when he reports, what sense does it make for these young prospects to be exposed to a player with a lengthy history of off-ice and locker room problems?
I think to how the New York Rangers broke up with the ever-controversial Tony DeAngelo last season. After reports that DeAngelo and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev had a physical altercation in the tunnel leading to the Rangers’ locker room following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, then-Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton placed DeAngelo on waivers. When DeAngelo cleared waivers, the defender was placed on the Rangers’ taxi squad, though only as a paper assignment. Gorton announced that DeAngelo “had played his last game for the Rangers” and would not be allowed around the team. The Rangers bought out the remainder of his two-year, $9.6 million contract.
While the circumstances are different, as taxi squads have been eliminated this season, the Rangers still decided to cut their losses and send DeAngelo home. They could have re-assigned him to the Hartford Wolf Pack in an attempt to boost his trade value, much like the Sharks are trying to do right now with Kane, but the Rangers decided it was more trouble than it was worth to allow that player to continue to sully the organization.
I don’t know how well — or if at all — Evander Kane is going to mesh with the Barracuda locker room. What I do know, and fervently believe, is that the AHL should not be a dumping ground for unwanted NHL players. The organization has a responsibility to its young players to put them in the best place for their development and that should be more important than rehabbing the image of a player they want to get rid of.
There isn’t one single solution for the problem that the Sharks have had to deal with since the beginning of the season, but I do not believe this is one of them. Some things are more important than getting a good deal on a trade.