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Evander Kane and the Jersey-Tossing Fans

Evander Kane was believed to be a healthy scratch for the game on Tuesday between the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks.

At this point, the story has been told a million times, been skewed a million different ways, and been laughed about by the entirety of Twitter (and probably Evander Kane, who’s undoubtedly drowning out all his haters with expensive chocolate ice cream bought with his $5.25 million AAV salary. At least, that’s how I’d be handling the internet laughing at me as a 23 year old millionaire.)

What it’s been reported to come down to is this: Evander Kane wore the wrong attire to a team meeting. It sounds like things had been bubbling up for a while, so Kane’s teammate, Dustin Byfuglien, threw the incorrect attire — reportedly a track suit — into the team showers.

Following the tossing of the track suit, we fast forward to right before the game — when it was reported that Evander Kane chose not to show up for the team bus, didn’t answer any calls, and basically vanished off the surface of the planet until about an hour before puck drop. At that point, it was reported that he called the team (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I really hope it was Byfuglien who he chose to call with this truth bomb) and said that he wouldn’t be playing for the team that night.

Really, Evander? So nice of you to make that decision. At that point, you know, we were all really worried about whether or not you’d make it to the rink on time — no one thought the team would have scratched you anyways! Good call.

Anyways, that all led to a giant jumble of mass hysteria, both from the Twitterverse and from the mainstream media — something that we’ve all seen before, but never gets any more fun to deal with. It concluded with Kane finally getting checked out for a lingering shoulder injury, placed on injured reserve, and scheduled for surgery that would keep him off the ice for the next four to six months.

The team held one of the angriest press conferences I’ve seen in my handful of years covering hockey; the team’s remaining skaters gave some of the most chastising speeches to the media about hysteria reporting and jumping to damaging conclusions during a sensitive situation for the franchise. It’s true — what happens in the locker room shouldn’t always stay in the locker room (and the world of professional sports has dealt with enough ‘behind closed doors’ scandals to know better than to say that), but the situation quickly went from bad to worse because, in large part, the young forward was incriminated before the story had even come out. Even before it came out that Byfuglien and Kane had gotten into an altercation — and before the media got light of the fact that Kane had scratched himself, it was all but assumed that the star sniper was headed out of Winnipeg.

By opting to have the shoulder surgery, Kane made a smart move — the story had all but died by Winnipeg’s matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night. It was time to watch hockey.

Then, this happened:

Seriously? We’re back to this?

This isn’t the first time this has happened — not this season or ever. We’ve seen more Leafs jerseys on the ice than I could probably afford in my lifetime, and last spring, Edmonton Oilers fans brought the classy tradition to a front when they tossed jerseys on the ice — and an angry Ben Scrivens tossed them back.

Pretty much everyone who saw the jersey toss felt the same way — sad.

Winnipeg fans are fairly divided in how they feel about Kane; some believe that his talent outweighs his off-ice behavior, while others think that part of being a contracted employee (as every professional athlete, by definition, is) is adhering to the rules placed before you. It’s a matter of tangible value versus intangible issues, and brings the age old argument about whether athletes should be held to a certain behavior standard to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

On one hand, you have the immense on-ice talent that Kane has — not just as a goal scorer, but as a penalty killer, an effective teammate, and a dynamic skater. It’s clear that he’s bringing the right parts of his off-ice personality into his game; he loves to put on a show and have fun, and manages to harmonize that better, in my opinion, than almost any other player on the ice. There are few skaters in the NHL who are both as much fun to watch play hockey as Evander Kane is AND as useful on a team roster as Evander Kane is.

On the other hand, though, you have the issue of respect. The media has dropped the ball on giving respect in return in this particular case, but one thing is quite clear — when rules don’t suit Evander Kane, he doesn’t follow them. During the 2012 NHL lockout — when the players union held out for months to keep the extra percentage of funds those they represented received in the profit cuts — he threw that in the faces of the fans and the NHLPA by taking pictures of himself in Vegas with stacks of money held up to his ear like a cell phone. Is this a condemning offense? No, but it’s certainly in poor taste during a tense time like the lockout — and when a player like that appears to continue making these kinds of judgement calls, seeing things come to blows with his own teammates like they did do nothing to improve the team. He may be an awe-inspiring player, but it’s hard to inspire awe in your fans when you’ve refused to show up for the game because of an off-ice controversy.

At that point, off ice issues have moved on the ice — but here, that’s not the issue.

No — at this point, the issue is that, as we’ve seen more and more frequently in recent seasons, the fans have become more disrespectful than anyone else.

When Scrivens got upset with the Edmonton fan for throwing a jersey on the ice, he hit it home with his post-game comments:

There’s not much else to say beyond this. I sincerely hope that Evander Kane’s surgery goes well, and I wish him a speedy recovery.

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