Cup finals questions: More surprise success for Michal Handzus?

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When the Chicago Blackhawks traded for Michal Handzus, there were more than a few howls from around the league.

Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski wrote that the 36-year-old had a fork sticking out of his back. Some troublemakers joked that his recent playoff scoring streak would make sense … if it happened in Europe. Only a handful of people thought he’d be anything more than a guy who’d win some faceoffs.

Instead, Handzus has been a useful second-line center for Chicago. He already has more points (nine) in 17 postseason games as the eight he scored in 39 regular season contests spread between Chicago and the San Jose Sharks.

Even head coach Joel Quenneville admitted that he didn’t expect things to work out like this for the Slovakian pivot. Handzus agrees, as NHL.com reports.

“I don’t think anybody thought I was going to be playing in the top six,” Handzus said. “I just came to the team that was winning before I came here. They played great the whole season. I just try to fit in, try not to disrupt anything because they were playing great. I just try to play anywhere. I don’t care if I’m playing on the fourth line or second line. It’s all about the team right now, winning. It’s not about individual goals anymore.”

That’s a good attitude to have because NHL coaches change line combos more often than they change ties. Considering what Boston did to a versatile offensive machine in the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s plausible that Handzus could fall out of the top-six if things fall off the rails. Make no qualms about it; skating with the likes of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa boosted his stats immensely.

Still, he doesn’t need to be a scoring machine to exceed expectations. He just needs to do what’s asked of him reasonably well.

And he might just skewer a few more critics in the process.

For more 2013 Cup finals questions, click here.


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