Brent Sutter

Brent Sutter doesn’t sound super enthused about playing Matt Stajan tonight

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To give you an idea how far Matt Stajan’s stock has plummeted in Calgary, consider what Flames coach Brent Sutter said earlier this afternoon.

“Well, we are going to dress 12 forwards tonight so Matt’s going in to play center ice for us,” Sutter told prior to tonight’s game against Vancouver. “We need Matt to come in and he’s got to bring us some juice and he’s got to be a real solid, competitive player for us. I’m not putting any expectations on him or anything like that.”

Is now a good time to mention Calgary signed Stajan to a four-year, $14-million extension in March of 2010? Because I feel like it is.

Stajan’s been a healthy scratch for the last two games, the low point in what’s already been a forgettable year. He’s recorded just a single point in seven contests and seen his ice time dwindle from a high of 13:56 (back on Oct. 13 vs. Montreal) to a low of 8:15 (the last game he played, Oct. 22 vs. Nashville)

What’s worse, he didn’t even get replaced by another center. Rather than roll four guys down the middle, Sutter has opted to dress an extra defenseman and play just three centers lately. Those three centers? Brendan Morrison (who Calgary signed after Vancouver cut him), Roman Horak (who hadn’t played in the NHL prior to this season) and Olli Jokinen (who is Olli Jokinen).

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not frustrated,” Stajan said about his current situation. “Obviously I’m not happy with the situation because I want to play — every player does. I get my chance tonight and go in there and do a job.”

Stajan is drawing in tonight mostly out of necessity. The Canucks are deep down the middle and one of the NHL’s top faceoff teams, so Calgary needs to counter that. Stajan will likely center the fourth line between Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman.

Regardless of how tonight turns out, Stajan can take solace in the fact he’s not the only high-priced guy routinely parked in press row. Anton Babchuk, PHT’s 2nd Dud of the week last week, looks like he’ll be a healthy scratch again tonight for the sixth time in eight games — this after signing a $2.5-million deal with Calgary back in July.

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