There are probably 50 people on Earth who fully understand the situation between Evander Kane and the Winnipeg Jets, and I assure you, I am not one of them. I’m also pretty confident none of them work in the media, so we’re all taking stabs at this thing from the outside.
But what I can tell you is that the isolated incident that Chris Johnston reported on yesterday does not color outside the lines of where hockey culture is normally scribbled.
Because pro sports dressing rooms have an uncommonly high number of what you’d call “alpha males,” and guys find their best friends in those places, teasing and generally giving guys a hard time can be seen as a pretty good way to not come off as soft and sensitive while still chumming around with your buddies.
But you know how that works. When I get off the ice and my best friends have sewn the pant legs of my jeans shut, we all have a big hearty laugh. When the guy who I don’t get along with does it, it’s a real f*** you.
The lines with this stuff can get blurry. Was that joke malicious, or a guy reaching out? The players who get targeted most are almost always the most beloved characters, but when it’s happening often to a guy who doesn’t seem to be everybody’s best friend, is he getting picked on or being included?
The general rule is that you just learn to take it, or at the very least, are expected to. Since pranks and teasing almost never, ever involve anything physical, you’re asked to steel yourself against it all, toughen up emotionally and just play.
Coming back around to Winnipeg: The whole “get your clothes soaked when you break dress code” thing wasn’t Dustin Byfuglien going all Richie Incognito and setting a never-before seen precedent. I’ve seen guys whose clothes were transferred from the shower to the freezer for the same infraction.
What normally happens is, the guy who broke the rule knows he broke the rule, he sticks his clothes in the industrial-strength dryer that’s in every pro arena, then stretches, jokes and drinks Gatorade for the extra 15 minutes he’s stuck at the rink.
I personally never cared for this type of teammates-policing-teammates conduct, but it happens.
Knowing locker room culture means the takeaway from Kane’s reaction is an obvious one: his situation was toxic long before he found his clothes soaked after practice.
It’s possible that Kane just believes he’s above that sort or treatment, or that he’s been picked on, or that he’s sensitive to it, but it seems pretty clear Kane wasn’t getting shown a lesson by friends. These guys know his personality, and they knew where their relationships were at, so they had to know what response was coming. I suspect they wanted it.
Nothing speaks to this better than Blake Wheeler’s comments on the situation.
There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to. We’re professionals, we make a lot of money. And we’re expected to uphold a certain standard. That’s the code we live by.
If you don’t like it then there’s other places to go. This is the way we do things.
There had undoubtedly been enough subtle hints about reforming before they decided to send a “shape up or ship out” message.
The question now is, can it be fixed for the Jets.
Yes and no.
Yes, it can work from a hockey standpoint. The team can hash out their issues, continue to not particularly like each other, and play good hockey on the ice. Dressing room issues can spill over and affect on-ice play to a small degree (maybe looking off a guy on a 2-on-1 where you should pass), but if your team is good enough, it’s probably still good enough.
And no, it can’t work permanently in the dressing room without player turnover. “Hashing this stuff out” is a too-small Band-Aid on a wound that will eventually re-open.
Some of the team leaders have a problem with a prominent player on the team, and that feeling seems mutual. Something has to give, and since Kane is the splinter in the finger, it’s up to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to play the part of the tweezers, give the guy a fresh start, and let his team start to heal.