The word 'pro' gets thrown around a lot in the world of professional sports. It makes sense, these are professional leagues after all. Being a professional entails many different responsibilities across the board. You speak to the media, offer your time to the community, show up early to team meetings - never late - and generally are a well-rounded person.
A delicate balance has to be met when talking to athletes as a member of the media. You're not their friend but you see them daily. You try your best to walk a very thin line that helps you do your job best and keep a healthy relationship with the athletes. You also see things that you have to keep quiet until they explode like the Evander Kane situation which the Winnipeg Jets are handling poorly.
Kane was a healthy scratch Tuesday in his hometown of Vancouver, a game his family and friends were surely looking forward to. Head coach Paul Maurice ensured media it was the coach's decision to bench the forward who was rumoured to be injured. This wasn't the first time Kane was benched by the coach either.
Tuesday came and went and on Thursday morning, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported there was much more than a coach's decision that lead to the benching of Kane. According to multiple sources, Kane arrived at a team meeting in a tracksuit which is not what pros do. Team policy states the players must show up on time to team meetings at the arena in their suits, not tracksuits. Kane's lateness was met with disapproval from other teammates, namely Dustin Byfuglien, who allegedly threw his tracksuit in the shower.
There's a bit of hypocrisy going on here, though, as Byfuglien decides to send a message to Kane about being a professional by throwing his tracksuit in the shower. Obviously things have boiled over in the Jets organization for the situation to play out like this. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail tweeted he had heard Byfuglien and Kane have never gotten along as teammates. The problem didn't begin and end with Byfuglien as Blake Wheeler told reporters Thursday, "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. That's just the way it is."
Professionals wear suits and show up on time but to send a message they throw your clothes in the shower. It's the equivalent of a journalist taking the vowels off a coworker's keyboard and telling them if they don't work harder there are "other places to go."
"Usually we protect those guys and we take it out in practice," Garry Valk said Thursday evening on Sportsnet's first intermission broadcast of the Canucks and Sharks game. "Evander took it to another level trying to get away with something, get away with a dress code violation... I'm surprised it was the players though and not the GM [who did something]." Valk brings up a valid point. Kane has been rumoured to be on the trading block for years and rumours of his indignation in Winnipeg never dissipated. "He's never liked it in Winnipeg since day one, bring the kid home [to Vancouver], he'll be fine." Valk concluded.
The Jets have obviously tried everything to keep Kane happy as their hand continues to be forced into a trade market where many teams are strapped for cap space. Kane isn't Sean Avery, the Jets aren't going to tell him to pack his bags. The league and its fans aren't rolling their eyes at Kane the way they did Avery, they're genuinely baffled at how the Jets and Kane got to this place.
Being a professional at 18 years old is a tough go; think back to your decisions at 18 and add millions of dollars to your bank account. Now move yourself across the country and live on your own or with others you barely know. The travel schedule is almost as gruelling as the games and practices themselves. Mix in a few injuries and you've got a recipe for disaster. The same kind of disaster that happened to the Boston Bruins is happening with Kane.
Tyler Seguin was an excellent player for the Bruins and developed into a super star. He's fast, extremely skilled, and proved he belongs on the top line with the Dallas Stars. The Bruins didn't want to take the time necessary to coach him through his first few years in the league. As much as fans are accused of wanting immediate results, the Bruins thought he would perform without giving into temptations afforded to a young man who won the Stanley Cup in his first NHL season. There's a cycle that repeats itself with young, skilled players who need to be taken care of. They need more than a veteran to offer a room in their house.
The NHLPA has taken steps through the years to make the transition from a junior or college player to professional as seamless as they can. They offer support and financial advice, but it's up to the team to put in just as much if not more effort to grow the player they want. The Bruins wanted a top-six forward without putting in the necessary work to instill the morals they believe the rest of their team had. Peter Chiarelli made the decision to trade Seguin, Cheveldayoff still hasn't made a move.
Not all behaviour is on the league or the team itself. Kane is an adult, he knows the difference between right and wrong, and knows respect should be given to his coaches and teammates. What doesn't click is the way Kane has been handled by the organization. When a child acts out, there is a problem he or she is trying to disguise with erratic behaviour. As some of us grow up, we learn to continue to act out instead of talking things through as a means to get out aggression or frustration, even sadness. The worst thing that could happen when Kane is clearly trying to send a message that he's not doing very well is to have his coach and teammates pile on. Something hasn't fit from the beginning and there's more to Kane disappearing in his hometown than being late to a meeting and having his tracksuit thrown in a shower. The leadership group has failed Kane and so has management.
There are some players like Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel who gets the job done on the ice and steers clear of the media. When he is questioned unfairly things like "This guy's an idiot" come out. That looks bad on Kessel, on the reporter, on the media outlet, and on the franchise. There's no winner in that situation, but an apology will suffice. With Kane the situation has escalated beyond an apology or a handshake. He needs to be traded, he needs to get out of the organization that failed to bring him up - however reluctantly - and make a professional out of him.