Yes, this could be a ‘franchise-defining game’ for the Penguins


“Dan, there’s been talk about this game being a franchise-defining game. Do you think about that at all?”

That was one of the questions Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma got this morning ahead of his Penguins’ Game 7 versus the New York Rangers.

Predictably, Bylsma said he doesn’t think about it — “Not really, no I don’t” — and that he’s not looking at a “bigger picture” than simply a game to advance to the conference finals.

And that may be true for him, since it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand, not the possible ramifications, which Bylsma can’t control anyway.

But make no mistake, this could be a franchise-defining game for the Penguins, because Game 7’s have a way of being exactly that.

Consider: What if the Bruins had lost Game 7 to the Canadiens in 2011. Instead of winning in overtime and going on to hoist their first Stanley Cup since 1972, it’s likely coach Claude Julien would’ve been fired. Remember, the B’s were only a year removed from choking on a 3-0 lead versus the Flyers.

And what if Washington had won Game 7 versus Montreal in 2010? Instead of a devastating first-round exit that made the Capitals rethink the run-and-gun style that made them the most exciting team in the NHL, maybe they’d have runned and gunned their way to a championship that year. We’ll never know, will we. But that was a good team. Not so much anymore.

Now imagine if the Maple Leafs hadn’t blown Game 7 versus the Bruins last year. And if the Canucks had won Game 7 versus the Bruins in 2011. Talk about franchise-defining games for Toronto and Vancouver, the latter of which is still dealing with the ramifications three years later.

Granted, it’s possible the Penguins win tonight and flame out in the conference finals, just like they did last year. In that case, tonight’s game will be a footnote.

But if they win and go on to the Cup Final?

Defining game.

Or a loss followed by the firing of Bylsma, which surely wouldn’t be the only big change?

Definitely a defining game.

“You’ve got to enjoy this moment,” said Bylsma. “This is what we all play for.

“You’ve got to get excited about it. It’s not just the overbearing, overriding sense that a bounce here, or a missed play here, or whatever, is going to decide this game. You’ve got to enjoy it, got to get ready for this. Again, this is what you all play for.

“You don’t remember Game 51. We’re going to all remember this Game 7.”

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