By the time the Sharks held their standard individual exit meetings with Doug Wilson and Bob Boughner before the beginning of the 2021 offseason, the general manager and the head coach already knew. Evander Kane was a problem for much of the season, and many on the team hoped it would be rectified in the coming months.
Several key players informed team brass that if Kane was going to be a part of the Sharks going forward, they didn’t want to be. That’s how bad it got, and how complicated this situation has become.
“Guys were going into Doug’s office all year long,” according to one source, “saying Kane had to go. … All Doug would say is, ‘All teams have locker-room issues,’ which just isn’t true. Not the teams that win, anyway.”
“The Sharks ignored everything,” said an NHL agent who represents at least one player on the team. “Team turned a blind eye.”
The NHL is investigating Kane, who has been accused by his wife of gambling on NHL games. But the Sharks’ displeasure with Kane stemmed from a general disrespect for team rules, including routinely being late for games and practices, not adhering to the dress code and having poor practice habits. At one point late in the season, according to a source, Kane nearly came to blows with assistant coach Rocky Thompson in a meeting after arguing where he was supposed to be positioned on the power play. Several sources indicated there was a general frustration among the team that Kane was permitted to get away with whatever he wanted, with no repercussions. On previous Sharks teams, Kane had to answer to older, respected veterans like Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joe Thornton, the latter of whom memorably picked up Kane at the airport after a midseason trade from Buffalo on Feb. 26, 2018. All of them have since departed, including Thornton, of course, who signed as a free agent in the 2020 offseason with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He’s now not having to really answer to anyone,” said one league source. “Nobody in that room is a fan of him. … (Boughner) likes him because he’s a good player, because he genuinely is, but the off-ice stuff is just too much at this point.”
According to The Hockey News, one agent said: “One of my clients on the Sharks just hates him, hates the negative energy he brings into the room. Only (Kane) can change that, but he may have gone too far (with the current allegations). Some guys think that they’re bigger than the team, and I guess that helps drive (Kane) on a personal basis, but in the team construct, it doesn’t play well at all.”
Another league source suggested that Kane’s only real companion in the dressing room is Timo Meier, and that the situation with Kane “is also a Timo problem.” Meier, who once said early in his career he tried to model his power-forward game after Kane, was arguably the Sharks’ most disappointing player last season with 12 goals and 31 points in 54 games. Whether Meier can reverse his decline of the past two seasons after scoring 30 goals in 2018-19 will be vital to the Sharks’ success in 2021-22.