While Coyotes focus on hockey, speculation over potential Winnipeg move grows intense

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Life as a Phoenix Coyote is pretty trying. The team has their hands full in dealing with a Detroit Red Wings team in the playoffs that looked all sorts of tough in Game 1 as the Wings took it 4-2. As things go these days for the Coyotes, half of what gets discussed about them comes off of the ice with regard to their in limbo status with ownership. The NHL still owns the team and time is ticking away for potential buyer Matthew Hulsizer to get a deal done to purchase the moribund Coyotes.

While the team is rumored to be getting closer to a decision being made, rumblings out of Winnipeg are growing louder that they’re soon to be in the serious planning stages of preparing to get back the franchise that left them 15 years ago. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless shares that the True North Sports and Entertainment group that would be the buyers for the Coyotes should Hulsizer’s deal fall through is preparing to start a campaign to sell season tickets for the returned NHL franchise.

A Winnipeg franchise is not a guaranteed economic success in the minds of many NHL types and it’s a certainty the league’s board of governors will tell True North, should they get to the point where they are prepared to relocate to Winnipeg, to go to its constituents and ask for a vote of confidence.

Such a cash call could come as early as next week.

True North, in order to satisfy the board of governors, will likely ask Winnipeggers to commit to purchasing season tickets for a minimum of three seasons.

It’s unknown how long the community will have to respond but count on a week to sell the vast majority of the MTS Centre’s 15,000 seats.

Before you get too excited about this, remember that Jim Balsillie also started to sell season tickets in Hamilton, Ontario when he thought he was about to land the Coyotes. Of course, that scenario is a bit different in that Balsillie ignored everything the NHL was trying to do in questioning his attempted purchase of the team. This time around, David Thomson’s True North group would seemingly be still playing by the rules and trying to prove something to the NHL in that Winnipeg is ready to have a team once again.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News says that a deal is a lot closer to being done with Winnipeg than not. As with all things having to do with reports on sales being imminent, take it with a grain of salt because nothing is ever as clear as it might read and you can never discount the possibility of a last minute Hail Mary coming through for Gary Bettman and the NHL. As it is, Campbell’s report looks like something we’ve read before and says that a potential deal would be announced between the end of the Stanley Cup final and the NHL Draft.

According to the source, the deal calls for the Coyotes to be sold to True North Sports and Entertainment for $140 million. It’s believed the deal will be announced at something north of $200 million, but that includes more than $60 million in renovations to add 2,500 seats to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

The source said the deal has not been signed, but there is a memorandum of agreement in place and that the deal will be signed when the NHL’s deal with Hulsizer officially dies.

Sources and insider takes on these things are what they are but with the way the chatter has inconveniently picked up just as the playoffs have started, the flashbacks for how the Winnipeg Jets initially left Canada  are starting to become a bit too surreal. In 1996, the Jets final game was played at home in Winnipeg as the Jets were bounced from the playoffs by none other than the Red Wings.

Should things break down the way it’s being said that it will the coincidences and the sadness that will be felt in Phoenix and Glendale will be all too similar and under the circumstances it’s a tragic story not just for the fans but for the city itself. Glendale has invested a lot of money in the area, the team, and the arena and to see it possibly go away for colder climes will be a bitter pill to swallow for the residents of Glendale who will be paying for an empty arena for years to come.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear of all this for sure, but the bell is beginning to toll on the Coyotes days in Arizona.

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.

The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Jets’ Wheeler: ‘It just felt right to take a stance’

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the few NHL players to make some sort of an unprompted statement in response to President Donald Trump’s weekend comments regarding NFL players and their protests during the National Anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on Friday the President urged NFL owners to fire players that “disrespect” the flag by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

On Saturday, Wheeler was critical of the President’s comments in a series of Tweets.

On Monday, Wheeler was asked about why he spoke out and ended up talking for several minutes on the subject.

“I think crossing over into the sports world it hits home a little more,” said Wheeler, via the Jets’ website. “I think a lot of people, similar to my wife and I, it has been kind of a slow boil. The rhetoric over and over, he has just kind of gone a little too far too many times. It just felt right to kind of take a stance.

“There have been a lot of players who have felt a certain way, one way or the other, when you start coming into their territory a little bit. Some of the language that he used referencing NFL players, I think that was kind of the last straw for a lot of guys, whichever way they feel about it to voice their opinion.”

Wheeler was later asked if he would support a teammate if they decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler. “I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

His entire media session is available via the Jets.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he supported Wheeler’s Tweets while adding that Wheeler is “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

During NFL games on Sunday pretty much every team took part in some sort of a protest during the National Anthem, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans who remained in the locker room prior to their games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, announced that they will be accepting their invitation to visit the White House just one day after the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced they would not be attending.

Lightning will retire Vincent Lecavalier’s number on February 10

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Monday morning that they will be retiring Vincent Lecavalier’s No. 4 this season, making sure that no other player will ever wear it for the franchise.

His jersey will be lifted to the rafters on Feb. 10 when the Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were one of three teams Lecavalier played for in his career, along with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It is a great honor to have my number retired and I’d like to thank the Lightning organization and Jeff Vinik for recognizing me with this achievement,” Lecavalier said in a team statement. “The Tampa Bay community and our fans have treated me and my family so amazingly that this honor is extra special to share it with everyone. My family and I are very excited for February 10 when we can share so many memories.”

Lecavalier was the No. 1 overall pick by the Lightning in 1998 and spent 14 of his 17 seasons in the NHL with the team.

He is currently the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and goals and the second-leading point producer. He will be the second player to have his number retired by the team, joining Martin St. Louis.

Lecavalier and St. Louis helped lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup during the 2003-04 season. His best individual season was probably the 2006-07 season when he finished with a league-leading 52 goals.