NHL Free Agency: The Blackhawks Must Pursue Evander Kane

NHL Free Agency: The Blackhawks Must Pursue Evander Kane

Reports on Saturday are that Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane doesn’t want to negotiate an extension with the team, and may become available this week before the 2012 NHL Draft.

If that’s the case, the Chicago Blackhawks should be on the phone with an old friend to make a deal happen.

Kane, who doesn’t turn 21 until early August, was the fourth overall pick in 2009 and his entry-level contract has expired. He is a restricted free agent this summer.

He is the ideal player for the Blackhawks to pursue, and sign to a multi-year deal.

After being selected by the then-Atlanta Thrashers, Kane made the jump straight to the NHL as a teenager and hasn’t looked back since. In three seasons in the NHL (213 games), Kane has posted 63 goals and 63 assists with 183 penalty minutes. In 2011-12, he scored 30 goals in 74 games.

It gets better: Kane is a left wing who hits people.

It’s no secret that the Blackhawks haven’t acquired a special player via trade since they won the Stanley Cup; the best NHL player added by Stan Bowman in a trade to date is probably Viktor Stalberg.

In fact, since the post-Cup summer selloff of 2010 ended, Bowman has made nine trades. Of those nine, four have been with a former Hawks employee; three have been with Dale Tallon in Florida, and one was with Kevin Cheveldayoff in Winnipeg.

The same Kevin Cheveldayoff that is now dealing with Kane.

It’s understandable that Bowman believes in the group of prospects that he’s worked hard to build in the Hawks’ organization. Most analysts consider the Hawks to have one of the better groups of prospects in the NHL. And maintaining a young core is a good cornerstone for sustained competitiveness in the league today.

But consider that Kane is almost two years younger than Jimmy Hayes. And is 20 months younger than Kyle Beach. And has a 30-goal NHL season on his resume. Andrew Shaw, who was an impact rookie for the Hawks last year, is less than two weeks older than Kane.

The Hawks have shown some affection for the 2009 Draft recently. Their own first round pick from that season, Dylan Olsen (28th overall), made his NHL debut this season and has 28 games on his resume now. Nick Leddy was the 16th overall pick in that draft by Minnesota, and has played 128 games for the Hawks.

Bowman has also acquired the rights to the 27th overall pick from the 2009 Draft, Philippe Paradis, and the 45th overall selection, Jeremy Morin. Chicago’s second round pick from 2009, Brandon Pirri (59th overall), has played six NHL games as well. In the fifth round that year, the Hawks selected Marcus Kruger.

So why not add another player from that draft class to the roster? Especially when only two other players from that year, John Tavares and Matt Duchene, have score more goals in the NHL than Kane.

Kane’s NHL salary the last three years was $900,000, but his cap hit was $3.1M. After a season in which he scored 30 goals and added 173 hits, he is looking at a significant pay day. With at least one NHL deal heading back to Winnipeg in any deal to acquire Kane, the Hawks have ample cap space to fit a 21-year-old power forward for the next few seasons.

There’s also one other critical reality to consider: the Jets have holes the Blackhawks could help them fill quickly.

Because of Kane’s age, experience and success, the Blackhawks shouldn’t have any problem parting ways with a couple of their “valuable” prospects if they could land a young player that could be part of their core moving forward.

It’s only been four months since the Hawks and Jets last did business, when Bowman sent a second and third round pick to Winnipeg for Johnny Oduya. Hopefully he remembers Cheveldayoff’s phone number, and gives him a call this week before the draft begins to discuss adding a second Kane to the Blackhawks roster.

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