Behind that viral photo of Dustin Byfuglien flipping off Evander Kane

Via Winnipeg Free Press
Via Winnipeg Free Press

It’s become the stuff of hockey infamy: Winnipeg Jets star Dustin Byfuglien, allegedly throwing the track suit of teammate Evander Kane into a cold tub to “send a message” after Kane showed up to a team meeting in casual attire.

Reports said that drove Kane to leave the rink and miss the team’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. He was traded away to Buffalo less than a week later. Kane has downplayed the incident in subsequent interviews. Byfuglien would only say, “I’m sure you have rules in your household … and if the kids don’t stick to it, you’ve got to discipline them. It is what it is."

Speculation about these long-time teammates ran rampant. Some said they had a beef that went back to their days in Atlanta. Some said it was a more recent falling out. Whatever the case, there was little that captured the dynamic between Byfuglien and Kane.

Until that photo hit the web.

It shows Kane, in shorts and a T-shirt, reaching out and touching Byfuglien as he walks by. It shows Byfuglien ignoring him, and giving him the finger.

“This pic pretty much sums up Byfuglien’s and Kane’s relationship,” said one tweet. “Byfuglien does it right. Kane's always been a princess,” said another. “Big Buff has no chill,” said another.

Where the heck did this photo come from?

It was taken on Oct. 28, 2014, as the Jets left the locker room at Nassau Coliseum to take on the New York Islanders. Trevor Hagan, who snapped it, is a freelance photographer that was on a rare road assignment with the Winnipeg Free Press.

What’s interesting about the image – well, one of many things – is that it wasn’t included in the photo gallery from the game. It only surfaced last week, when the trade went down. Editors at the Free Press were searching for a photo that had both players in it, and the archived image came up. They opted to use it in a “Key of Bart” music parody video about the trade and then posted it to Instagram.

From that point on, it went viral and has become the definitive photo of the players’ falling out. Which is something that admittedly makes Hagan feel uncomfortable, because the context of the image was lighthearted.

Kane was injured for the Islanders game. Hagan said he was riding an exercise bike as the Jets began filing through the dressing room hallway to the ice. He got off the bike and stood by rookie goalie Michael Hutchinson to fist-bump the players they hit the ice.

Last in line? Byfuglien. Kane reached out. Buff “basically pretends that Kane wasn’t there,” said Hagan. He keeps walking, Kane gives him a playful shove and Byfuglien then gives him the finger.

“He then nearly crushed me against a wall,” said Hagan of Byfuglien. “His jersey was about an inch from my lens.”

Hagan said the entire sequence was “all in good spirits” and that there was nothing “malicious” behind Byfuglien’s actions. “Kane was supporting the guys headed to the ice. He had a good laugh. Hutchinson had a good laugh. And it was just Buff being Buff. He’s the type that jokes around with the players and the fans.”

Hagan, a freelancer for over five years with the Free Press, said the context of the photo presented a challenge to the editors when they discovered it and wanted to use it to illustrate the relationship between the players.

“The context is far removed from what happened in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “They debated about using it at all, or in what way to use it.”

In the end, the Free Press used it on the video and added context when it added the image to Instagram:

"In a playful mood earlier this season, Winnipeg Jets' Evander Kane jokes with Dustin Byfuglien prior to the game against the New York Islanders' during NHL hockey action at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY."

Hagan is struggling with the same conflict. He took a photo of a lighthearted moment between teammates that’s been redefined as the quintessential example of the players’ animosity.

“I’m happy to be associated with a major event in Winnipeg. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, I didn’t want the trade to happen. I thought Kane had been playing fantastic, and I’m honestly really sad about the way things went,” said Hagan, a Jets fan.

Like any photographer, he’s honored that the image has gone viral. But he hoped more people considered the original context.

“I’d rather have a fantastic image of the two of them that wasn’t being repurposed to be malicious,” he said. “Because that’s not how it was. It’s unfortunate, but expected.”