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Columnist: Lockout “could not have come at a better time for Burke”


Four years ago today, Brian Burke was named president and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Suffice to say, things have not gone as planned.

With Burke in charge, the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs and are still without many of the aspects they were lacking before his much-ballyhooed arrival – most notably, a No. 1 center, reliable goaltending and, perhaps most galling, “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”

With that in mind, the National Post’s Michael Traikos argues that the NHL lockout “could not have come at a better time for Burke.”

The longer it goes, the more time he buys. Prospects such as Morgan Rielly, Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy might be one step closer to being NHL-ready. And salary-cap dead weights such as Tim Connolly (US$4.75-million) and Matthew Lombardi (US$3.5-million) would come off the books.

At the same time, Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur would also be free agents, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe the Leafs try to re-sign Lupul for less than his current US$4.25-million salary. And with another year in the minors under their belts, maybe Matt Frattin or Nazem Kadri simply takes MacArthur’s spot on the second line.

Or maybe Burke takes a look at what’s available in free agency. Last year’s crop of free agents were limited, but with teams unable to talk to their players during a lockout, there potentially could be more names on the market in 2013.

Would Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry reunite with Burke and head coach Randy Carlyle in Toronto? Would the Leafs take a run at Boston’s Nathan Horton, New Jersey’s Travis Zajac, San Jose’s Ryan Clowe or Florida’s Stephen Weiss?

Another summer also means Burke has another opportunity to hammer out a trade for Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. Or maybe Burke signs free agent Tim Thomas, Niklas Backstrom or Mike Smith.

Many observers believe Burke will be fired if the Leafs miss the playoffs for a fifth straight time under his watch. And hey, you can’t be blamed for missing the playoffs if there aren’t any.

By that logic, Burke may indeed have a better shot of keeping his job if the NHL were to cancel the entire season.

Which somehow seems wrong.

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