Evander Kane’s Tumultuous Off Season Ends with 21 Game Suspension

On October 18, 2021, the National Hockey League (NHL) suspended Evander Kane for 21 games without pay, which equates to over a quarter of the season, for submitting a fake Covid-19 vaccination card to the NHL and The San Jose Sharks. The NHL and the NHL Player’s Association (NHLPA) have deemed it an ‘established violation’ of the Covid-19 protocol.

The fake vaccine card accusation was just one of many accusations levied against Kane, and subsequently investigated, in recent months.  In addition to the fake vaccine card, Kane was accused on social media by his estranged wife of betting on NHL games and throwing his own games that he bet on.  Even further, Kane’s estranged wife has accused him of domestic violence in recent court documents.

In this article I will set the stage for these various accusations to try and understand just how the Evander Kane saga has led us to where we are today.  From there, I will dive into the three separate accusations and how they are affected by the corresponding NHL/NHLPA protocols and policies. 

Filing For Bankruptcy

In January 2021, Kane filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, claiming just shy of $27 million in debt. Kane signed a 7-year, $49 million contract extension with the San Jose Sharks in May of 2018. In the bankruptcy filing, Kane lists 47 different creditors. Kane is also facing multiple lawsuits from a few of those creditors.

One such creditor has filed suit seeking $15 million in damages alleging fraud against Kane, claiming that he took out a $1.5 million loan with no intention of ever paying it back. The creditor is seeking punitive damages well above and beyond the $1.5 million loan principal. Kane is also being sued by two other creditors for defaulting on loans. In court documents the creditors claim that Kane has ‘serious gambling issues.’

Kane’s Contentious Divorce

Many of the issues Kane is facing have come to light due to his pending divorce from estranged wife, Anna Kane. The specific allegations and investigations will be detailed thoroughly below, however, both the gambling (on NHL games and his own games) and the domestic violence accusations have come directly from Anna Kane herself, or court documents related to the divorce. In August, Evander Kane obtained a restraining order against Anna Kane. In September, Anna Kane filed for her own restraining order accusing the San Jose Sharks forward of abuse.

The bankruptcy filing and the divorce proceedings have led to three NHL investigations into Kane’s conduct this off season.

Gambling Accusations and Investigation

As part of the aforementioned chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, Kane listed $1.5 million in gambling debts. Some reports have pegged that $1.5 million in gambling as being accumulated just in the month leading up to the bankruptcy filing. This is not the first indication of Kane’s gambling issues, either. The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas filed a lawsuit in November 2019 seeking $500,000 in damages from Kane. The complaint alleged that the Casino extended lines of credit totalling that amount to Kane in April of that year and that it had remained delinquent and unpaid. Kane and The Sharks were in Las Vegas at that time playing in the NHL playoffs. However, the Casino later dropped the suit, which leads to the assumption that the debts were paid off.

Kane’s Wife Alleges Gambling Issues in Instagram Post

The accusations of Kane not only gambling on NHL games but throwing his own games due to bets he had placed on them, surfaced via his estranged wife’s Instagram account on July 31 of this year.  There, Anna Kane explicitly accused Evander Kane of gambling on his own games and stated that he was ‘obviously throwing games to win money’ and called on Commissioner Gary Bettman to investigate.

The NHL announced that they would be opening up an investigation mere hours after the post was published. However, The NHL later announced that Kane had been cleared of any wrongdoing. The NHL investigation team reportedly used a combination of interviews and analysis of gambling trends on Sharks games over the past few seasons and found no irregularities. Kane vehemently denied the allegations; he also had one of his best seasons last year, tallying 49 points in a shortened season.

Gambling Policy in the NHL Bylaws and CBA

It is an obvious assumption that NHL players betting on NHL games (especially their own games) would be prohibited. That is affirmed by way of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the NHL By-laws. Although Kane was cleared of wrongdoing in the NHL’s gambling investigation, it is still an interesting exercise to examine these league documents and understand the mechanics behind any possible punishment.

In paragraph 2 of Exhibit 14 of the NHL/NHLPA CBA, titled ‘Form of Standard Club Rules’, the prohibition on gambling is succinct and to the point. It simply reads “Gambling on any NHL game is Prohibited.” It is important to note, however, that the gambling prohibition is listed amongst other club rules that seemingly are much less dire (or in other words would have a much less significant impact if violated). Listed right beneath gambling is the set of rules stating that players must show up on time for club events like practice, meetings, games, etc. Note 1 to Exhibit 14 states that fines related to anything listed in the Exhibit (arriving late to practice and gambling on NHL games as examples) carry a fine of $250 and $500 for first and second offenses, respectively.

A fine of $250 for a player’s first time getting caught gambling on NHL games?

….this is a far less significant punishment than one would imagine being levied against a player getting caught gambling on NHL games. However, this apparent anomaly is cleared up in the NHL Bylaws. It is reported that the Bylaws provide for punishment by way of suspension or expulsion from the league if a player is caught gambling on NHL games (whether or not the player played in a game they bet on). Although the Bylaws seem to bail out the CBA in this instance, it is still an interesting issue to analyze- why did the NHL/NHLPA include gambling amongst other seemingly minor infractions and corresponding minor punishment?

However, in the end, it is clear that the punishment for Kane would have been severe if the accusations proved to be true. To reiterate, however, Kane was cleared of any wrongdoing with respect to the NHL gambling accusations. Unfortunately for Kane, even more investigations were to follow.

Domestic Violence Accusation

In September 2021, Anna Kane accused Evander Kane of domestic violence and sexual assault, per court documents related to her application for a restraining order. Evander Kane vehemently denied these allegations; further, his attorney categorized the restraining order application (and allegations therein) as retaliatory, false, and explosive.

The domestic violence allegations are particularly interesting in this context because the NHL does not have an explicit or defined policy regarding domestic violence. 

This issue reared its ugly head for the NHL back in 2014 when Slava Voynov, then playing for the Los Angeles Kings, was arrested for violently abusing his wife. He later plead no contest and moved back to Russia, after which his conviction was dismissed by a Judge. However, the NHL conducted its own investigation and suspended Voynov indefinitely after the incident. Voynov attempted to be reinstated in 2019, and the NHL suspended him again, concluding the investigation with a determination that Voynov did in fact commit domestic violence.

So, this begs the question, how can the NHL suspend a player for domestic violence if the league does not have a domestic violence policy?

Off-Ice Conduct Language in the CBA

The answer to that lies in Article 18-A of the CBA, entitled ‘Commissioner Discipline for Off-Ice Conduct.’ This article vests the power in the Commissioner to fine, suspend, or expel any player who is found guilty of “[off-ice] conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league or the game of hockey.” The authority-granting language here seems to give the Commissioner a broad latitude and plenty of discretion when it comes to punishments for off-ice conduct. The Article also lays out the procedural steps the Commissioner must take in order to impose discipline. There must be a league investigation and a right to a hearing, among other steps, before the NHL can impose discipline under 18-A.

Thus, even in the absence of a defined domestic violence policy, Kane was still facing the potential of severe punishment from the NHL due to the allegations in the restraining order application. However, on October 18, 2021, the NHL announced that the domestic violence accusations against Kane could not be substantiated. He was cleared of any wrongdoing as far as the NHL was concerned.

However, this league announcement was made concurrently with the announcement that Kane had in fact been suspended for a violation of other league rules- in the form of a fake Covid-19 vaccination card.

Kane Gets Caught Submitting a Fake Vaccination Card

In a statement regarding Kane’s suspension, the NHL’s official language given for the reason behind the suspension was “an established violation of, and lack of compliance with, the NHL/NHLPA COVID-19 Protocol.” Kane was suspended for 21 games without pay, over one quarter of the 82-game NHL season.

The NHL released its Covid Protocols (Protocols)  on September 2, 2021. Like most major sports league in North America, the NHL decided against mandated vaccines for players.  However, the rules are structured in such a way that it is a major burden on players who do not receive the vaccination.  The ‘preventative’ measures include restrictions on travel, hotel rooms, and interactions with other players and guests off the ice.

Section 1(B) of the Protocols allows a team to suspend unvaccinated players who are unable to participate in club activities due to the protocols. The player would forfeit their pay for each day suspended. Section 2(A) of the Protocols mandates that all vaccinated players submit their cards showing proof of vaccination status to their respective teams.

Interestingly, while players are not mandated to vaccinate, anyone who will have access (within 12 feet) to any club personnel (including players) are required to be vaccinated (Section 1(C)).  Examples of individuals falling under this umbrella include everything from on-ice officials, to team chefs, to charter flight attendants, to X-Ray technicians, and media members among many others.

Although the Protocols do have some interesting provisions as noted above, they are (likely) intentionally broad and vague when it comes to penalties for violations thereof. Section 9 of the Protocols, entitled Compliance and Governance, states “Established violations of, and/or lack of compliance with, the COVID-19 Protocol will result in significant Club and individual sanctions, including potential forfeiture of games, fines and reimbursements of expenses, loss of draft choices, and/or ineligibility for participation in training activities.”

Thus, the combination of Section 2(A) (requiring players to submit their proof of vaccination) and Section 9 (compliance) of the Protocols is what gave the NHL the authority to suspend Kane for submitting a fake Covid vaccination card.  The NHL explicitly labelled this an ‘Established Violation’ and the broad language that follows in Section 9 provides the NHL with a far-reaching license in its discretion for penalties. 

Kane was suspended for 21 games without pay.  That is over 25% of the entire season that he will miss and not receive a game check for. For a player who has filed for bankruptcy, is going through a contentious divorce, and is battling an apparent gambling issue, the suspension is especially damaging. This is not the first time Kane has been suspended by the NHL, but it is by far the most extensive and punitive suspension he has been given. Hopefully Kane is able to battle through these issues and complete the rest of his NHL career without issue.

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