Mike Gillis, Manny Malhotra

Alain Vigneault on Manny Malhotra return talk: ‘Don’t go there’

As we’ve noted before, the mere fact that Manny Malhotra is already skating again with the Vancouver Canucks is pretty amazing. Of course, when a player starts popping up at practices more often, it’s only natural for media members to ask if that person might return to his team’s lineup. Malhotra sparked some comeback chatter when he practiced in full gear on Tuesday, although he didn’t participate in full contact drills.

In case you’re not up to speed about Malhotra (seen speaking to GM Mike Gillis in this post’s main photo), a late season eye injury threatened not only his career but also his long-term vision. He underwent at least two surgeries on that eye, making the prospect of a quick return very unlikely. Such a grim scenario might lead some to wonder why people are asking about his odds of a comeback, but then again there’s also that underlying factor that hockey players are ridiculously tough.

Vancouver media members are asking those obvious questions about Malhotra, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault isn’t too pleased with the speculation. He was quick to shoot down rumors that Malhotra might play for Vancouver at some point in this postseason.

“It’s just about having him around the team,” Vigneault explained. “He’s been a very important part of our leadership group. I want him around the team and it’s that simple. We’re not going to discuss his physical situation, his eye. All I can tell you is I want him around the team, and that’s it.”

Last week, Canucks GM Mike Gillis declared it was “extremely unlikely” Malhotra would suit up again this season.

Then associate coach Rick Bowness said it would take “a complete miracle” for Malhotra to play in a game. Is this miracle happening?

“Don’t, don’t, don’t go there,” Vigneault snapped. “I just told you we’re not discussing that. Anything else?”

(Am I the only person who imagines a valley girl’s inflection upon reading Vigneault’s “Don’t, don’t, don’t go there” statement? Let’s just move on.)

Malhotra might not be a top goal scorer, but his two-way play (most apparently shown in his elite faceoff skills) will be missed even as the Canucks continue to march toward June. He’s most likely sticking around for moral support, yet it’s understandable that some might wonder if could inspire his teammates even further by improbably playing during the 2011 playoffs.

It’s far fetched, but we’ll keep you updated about his status either way.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado