NHL in Winnipeg

Thrashers update: Bettman preaches patience, speculation for announcement continues

While Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz seems to share his city’s impatience for the arrival of the Atlanta Thrashers, others are requesting that hockey-starved fans take it easy. Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger are asking people to calm down a bit about the situation.

Bettman said that “people need to take a deep breath and pause” because the deal isn’t done yet, also claiming that the league would only allow a team to move if there was no alternative. Much like deputy commissioner Bill Daly and other NHL executives, he didn’t deny that the Thrashers might move, either.

To be fair to the citizens of Winnipeg and Manitoba overall, they’ve been waiting about 15 years. Selinger noted that he is “totally excited” about the prospect of Winnipeg getting an NHL team again, but he echoed Bettman’s advice to remain patient.

“We know there is a lot of excitement about it in Manitoba,” he said Wednesday. “We know that we’re very well positioned in terms of the growth of our economy and our ability to support hockey. But we have to put our confidence in Mark Chipman and True North and have the patience to let them do their job.”

As much as those officials want to stamp out excitement, people are still on pins and needles to hear an official announcement. Sure, some celebrated the reports almost a week ago, but many are probably worried about getting burned again.

The uncertainty of the situation is prompting a lot of outlets to throw out their guesses for when an official announcement will be made. Here’s the latest take on when an announcement might take place, via Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.

All that is left to be determined, said a source, is when the announcement will be made by the NHL. It will either be done between now and the Stanley Cup final or between the end of the final and the draft. It is expected there will be an extended layoff of several days before the Stanley Cup final begins, which would give the league time to make the announcement of the sale and relocation.

The league is apparently of two minds when it comes to making the announcement. If it does so between the conference finals and Cup final, it would remove the speculation that would hang over the Cup final, but might also be a dominant topic when the league wants the focus to be on the series between the league’s top two teams. But if it waits, it risks having the speculation of the sale hanging over the final.

Naturally, we’ll keep you up to date as this situation progresses. Chances are there might be some more news (or at least a few extra rumors) this week.

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 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