End the lockout

Hurry up and wait — only time will end the lockout


The NHL would love the players to think the season could be canceled tomorrow. Forget mediation, that would be the best way to get the union’s best offer.

The consensus opinion, however, is that the owners won’t pull the trigger until the New Year.

From the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

The 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled in February, but it probably won’t be that late this time. A few executives believe the true “red alert” is between January 1st and 15th.

A couple of weeks ago, veteran forward Mike Knuble said he thinks negotiations will start in earnest “sometime in December.”

“I just think that when the NHL wants to be serious about talking we’ll get a deal done. But I don’t think they’re at that point yet,” Knuble said.

“I believe they still feel their time line isn’t there yet. When it will be I think we’ll all know it and I think things will happen pretty quickly when they get to their time line.”

While it’s easy to panic (the league is hoping the players are doing exactly that), it’s important to remember that compared to this time in 2004 (back then, the players were still steadfastly refusing to accept a salary cap), the two sides aren’t actually that far apart.

But as Friedman notes, the “concern among the [moderate owners] is that the mushroom cloud between the two sides continues to build, which endangers the possibility of a last-minute settlement.”

One way the mushroom cloud could build is if the union were to start the decertification process. Last week, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that “would likely lead to the end of the season.”

Another way is if the owners were to pull the $211 million they’ve offered to the players in “make whole” funds off the table.

Unfortunately, as more time passes without an agreement, both those options become more likely.

Bit of a Catch 22 there.

The two sides, along with federal mediators, are back at the negotiating table today. However, there hasn’t been a ton of optimism that third-party intervention will help end the lockout.

The most important factor in this process has always been time.

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