Locking Up Evander Kane Long Term Will Be Costly, But Winnipeg Can’t Afford Lose Rising Star

Locking Up Evander Kane Long Term Will Be Costly, But Winnipeg Can't Afford Lose Rising StarAsk most Bruins fans, and chances are they'd say Evander Kane's value is priceless.

After all he's the guy who delivered this devastating KO to Matt Cooke about a month after the Pittsburgh cheap-shot artist effectively ended Bruins center Marc Savard's career with a blindside hit to the head in 2010.

But the Winnipeg Jets have to set an actual value on Kane, a restricted free agent who led the club in goals and was second in points last season with a 30-27-57 campaign.

Kane, the fourth overall pick in 2004 by what was then the Atlanta Thrashers, has already logged three seasons in the NHL and won't turn 21 until Aug. 2. His totals have dramatically improved over each of those seasons, climbing from 14-12-26 as a rookie to 19-24-43 in the team's final season in Atlanta to last year's 30-goal season after the relocation to Winnipeg.

Those three seasons exhausted his entry-level contract, and now the Jets must determine if that upward trajectory of Kane's career will continue and warrant a major investment in the form of a new long-term contract.

The answer appears to be yes, with the Winnipeg Free Press reporting on Tuesday that the sides are working on a new deal that could keep Kane in Manitoba for another six years.

And that should be Winnipeg's decision. Kane is the kind of exciting young talent an emerging team must build around, and the Jets simply do not have enough talented young players that they can afford to alienate him. With about $50.9 million committed to the cap toward 20 players, Winnipeg can afford to make a significant commitment to Kane, and that's what it's likely to take.

Kane's comparables at this point are 2009 draft classmate John Tavares and Phil Kessel. Kessel put up similar numbers over his first three years in Boston, going from 11-18-29 to 19-18-37 to 36-24-60. He couldn't come to terms with the Bruins on a second contract, but landed the deal he sought with Toronto, which signed him for $27 million over five years ($5.4 million cap hit) after trading three draft picks that would become Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight to Boston for his rights.

Tavares just completed his entry-level deal, but already signed a six-year, $33 million extension ($5.5 million cap hit) last September. That was before he put up a career-high 31-50-81 line last season, but the 2009 No. 1 overall pick had already put up 24-30-54 and 29-38-67 campaigns.

Kane, while a talented young scorer, lags slightly behind both Kessel and Tavares in terms of pure offensive skill, but does bring other elements to the table. Cooke learned the hard way about Kane's toughness, and Kane provides a physical presence on a regular basis with 173 hits last season, compared to 27 for Tavares and just 12 for Kessel.

That kind of approach can put a lot of strain on Kane's relatively slender 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, and can make a long-term deal a bit more risky. He has already missed 33 games over his first three seasons with a variety of injuries, including a broken foot and a concussion.

While Kessel and Tavares both got long-term deals in their second contracts, there are other comparable players have settled for shorter pacts. James Neal signed a two-year, $5.75 million ($2.875 million cap hit) after going 24-13-37 and 27-28-55 in Dallas, but has since cashed in with a six-year, $30 million ($5.0 million cap hit) that begins this upcoming season. Logan Couture is about to begin a two-year, $5.72 million deal of his own after putting up 32-24-56 and 31-34-65 totals in his first two seasons, while Matt Duchene, picked one spot ahead of Kane in 2009, settled for a two-year, $7 million deal this summer after slumping to 14-14-28 totals in 58 games last year after 24-31-55 and 27-40-67 in his first two seasons.

The Jets and Kane appear headed toward a longer marriage though. That's an interesting development after Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported last month that a Jets player had told him Kane wasn't interested in negotiating a deal at all. That may have stemmed from coach Claude Noel benching Kane for part of a January game in Boston, then publicly criticizing his effort.

"For me, I wasn't happy with the way he started the game," Noel told the Winnipeg Sun. "Either you are going to play or you're not. Figure it out.

"I'm not going to wait for him to start, the game has started. I saw two or three shifts and I'd seen enough. It's like, what do you want to do here? If you want to be a key player on our team, if that's what you think you want to be, then get ready to play the game, like everybody else."

Kane is a key player for the Jets, one of their cornerstone pieces they cannot afford to lose. There have been some bumps along the way, but he's responded properly. He did not score in the six games immediately after Noel called him out, but then finished the season strong with 12-14-26 totals in his final 28 games.

Now the Jets just need to make sure Kane's continued maturation and development happens in Winnipeg.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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