NEWARK, N.J. — For one reason above all, Jake Middleton isn’t sweating Evander Kane playing for the San Jose Barracuda.
“Cowboy Roy Sommer, he’s been [head coach] there longer than I’ve been alive. So he’s seen it all. He knows how to handle those things. And he’s had so many different players,” Middleton told San Jose Hockey Now after the San Jose Sharks practiced this afternoon.
“He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met. Great coach, just a great human being. Whatever things you guys are speculating, I don’t see a problem, especially with Cowboy being the head of the ship down there.”
Now that’s a ringing endorsement, and of course, the 25-year-old defenseman knows Sommer well, having spent the better part of the last five seasons with the Barracuda. Meanwhile, Sommer is in his 24th season as head coach of the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.
But of course, there’s never been anything like Kane getting sent down to the AHL. Literally.
When’s the first time a team’s leading scorer in the previous year has been banished to the minors with no clear timeline for a return to the NHL? That should tell you something, by the way, about how much baggage that Kane has accumulated — and how much the San Jose Sharks don’t want Kane around the big club.
So naturally, there were eyebrows raised when the Sharks announced their intention — if Kane cleared waivers (he did) — to foist their problem child, who they reportedly couldn’t handle last year, off on their minor league affiliate.
Kane has disrupted three NHL locker rooms in Winnipeg, Buffalo, and San Jose — what kind of damage could he wreak in the AHL? And on younger, perhaps more impressionable teammates?
But it’s a different season, not a COVID year where players were perhaps given more liberties, and you’ve got the most successful head coach in AHL history to take care of business.
“There’s rules in place that are for many different areas, standards of conduct, everything else, from garden variety to tough situations. And on the other hand, there’s very strong leadership with the Barracuda,” acting GM Joe Will said on Sunday. “I trust the environment.”
So if there’s any clash with the controversial Kane, expect the Cowboy to have no tolerance.
“He’s really honest with the players,” Noah Gregor, who’s played with the Barracuda for the last three years, said. “You know what to expect, you know where you’re at. If you’re wrong, he’s gonna tell you. If you’re doing a good job, he’s gonna let you know.”
Anyway, Middleton thinks all this hullabaloo about Kane with the Barracuda is much a-do about nothing.
Besides Sommer, Middleton also cited captain Jaycob Megna as a leader of the highest order. And anyway, it’s in Kane’s best interest to be on his best behavior if he wants to return to the NHL, more than likely with another organization. A good showing in the AHL could facilitate a trade, which is a good thing for both Kane and the San Jose Sharks.
“Everyone’s kind of got the same mindset in pro hockey,” Middleton said. “You got to do what you have to do when you show up at the rink. So whatever outside noise might be going on, once you show up at the rink, it’s just business.”
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