Author: Mike Halford

Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers

Is Taylor Hall set to become Edmonton’s new captain?

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Some pretty curious stuff coming out of Edmonton today.

First, from the Journal: A back-and-forth radio exchange between Oilers broadcaster Bob Stauffer and ex-Oiler Georges Laraque, in which the two dance around the rumor that Taylor Hall will replace Andrew Ference as team captain.

Then, from Sportsnet: A piece suggesting Ference will have troubles cracking Edmonton’s defense this season, with a telling closing question — “How many nights can a captain spend in the press box before he can’t be the captain anymore?”

Per TSN, Ference has already spoken to head coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli about ceding the captaincy, should the organization decide to go that way.

It could be the best move for all parties involved.

The last thing Edmonton wants — or Ference, for that matter — is to have a situation like Buffalo had with captain Craig Rivet in 2010; once head coach Lindy Ruff started healthy scratching Rivet, the whole thing became a distraction.

As for the timing? One has to think that, if the Oilers are going to make a leadership change, they’ll pull the trigger soon. If McLellan learned anything from his final year in San Jose, it’s that an unresolved captaincy issue is an unnecessary headache. Probably doesn’t want to go into his first season in Edmonton under similar circumstances.

Hall seems the likely choice as new captain, given his six years (time flies!) spent in the city and a contract that runs through 2020. Others have floated the possibility of Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but to most, Hall remains the guy.

The more complex decision is how to handle Ference.

Despite diminishing skills on the ice, he remains an important figure off it; he’s regarded as a quality leader and extremely active in the community, and also has a fairly hefty contract remaining (two years at $3.25 million per, with a no-movement clause).

The Oilers wrap their preseason on Saturday, and open the regular season on Oct. 8.

Will the decision be made by then?

Carolina could be really, really young on defense this year

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Justin Faulk, the former U.S. Olympian and All-Star, is a cornerstone of the Hurricanes’ blueline.

And at 23 years old, he’s also one of the more experienced defensemen on the team.

Seriously!

On Monday, the ‘Canes made another round of training camp cuts, which left them with Faulk and nine other d-men: John-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey (both 34), James Wisniewski (31), Michal Jordan (25), Ryan Murphy (22), Jacob Slavin (21), Brett Pesce (20), Haydn Fleury (19) and Noah Hanifin (18).

The big (and exciting) questions for Carolina are Fleury and Hanifin, the club’s most recent first-round picks. Fleury (seventh overall, ’14) has the physical tools to play at the NHL level — he’s 6-foot-3, 200 pounds — and could end up sticking partly because of his predicament; he’s only 19 and therefore AHL ineligible, meaning he’d need to be returned to WHL Red Deer, where he’s already played three full seasons.

Then there’s Hanifin, the fifth overall pick at this year’s draft.

Like Fleury, he’s seen by some as NHL-ready and the ‘Canes have made it clear that, should the former Boston College standout prove he’s ready to play, he’ll play.

“We certainly think with his skating ability and his size, he has the potential to step in and play, but we’re certainly not going to rush him in that regard,” GM Ron Francis told the team’s website this summer. “I think if you look at history, a lot of young defensemen take a little longer to develop.

“There have been more and more (defensemen) recently that have been able to step in and not only contribute, but have tremendous success.”

As for the other youngsters — Slavin and Pesce — their fates could be decided by the health of others, specifically James Wisniewski. The well-traveled journeyman, acquired from Anaheim at the draft, is dealing with a groin injury and has a length history of health concerns.

It’ll also be interesting to see how many d-men Bill Peters keeps to start the year. The ‘Canes head coach could begin with eight, given the Wisniewski situation, which would further pave the way for a potential youth movement on the blueline.

The Isles are still choked at Tom Wilson, apparently

NHL Game 7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders
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In last year’s opening-round playoff loss, the Islanders were none too happy with Caps forward Tom Wilson — Wilson was a physical presence all series long and ended Lubomir Visnovsky’s season with a big hit, prompting Kyle Okposo to call Wilson an “idiot.”

On Monday night, the Isles tried for their pound of flesh in an exhibition tilt against Washington.

To no avail.

“[Wilson] kept turning me down [to fight],” veteran tough guy Eric Boulton told Newsday. “He wasn’t interested. He was scared to death.”

Both Boulton and defenseman Scott Mayfield tried to goad Wilson into a scrap, but the third-year forward turned them down. Why? Well, aside from the risk of injuring himself in a preseason fight, Wilson was under the assumption last year’s playoff series was water under the bridge.

“I thought maybe the change of scenery, everybody would have forgot about last year, but obviously, there was a little bit of hard feelings carried over,” Wilson told the Washington Post, alluding to the fact Visnovsky doesn’t play for the Isles anymore. “I made a little bit of a big hit on the first shift and kind of woke up the bear. [Boulton’s] done that his whole career.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Boulton. He’s 39 years old and he’s still playing tough, still in the league, so I understand what his job is. I understand what he’s trying to do. I just tried to kind of play hockey.”

While Wilson tried to downplay the situation, it’s clear the Isles are still upset — much like they were in the days following the Visnovsky hit. Captain John Tavares and defenseman Thomas Hickey both expressed their anger and, later in the series, Anders Lee dropped the mitts with Wilson.

Some figured that was sufficient revenge.

The Isles are not some of those people.

These two teams next meet on Jan. 7, if you want to start circling dates on your calendar.

Demoting Preds prospect Fiala was ‘difficult,’ says Lavy

Montreal Canadiens v Nashville Predators

Following a year in which he played well in the AHL and made both his NHL and Stanley Cup playoff debuts, Kevin Fiala seemed primed to make the Nashville Predators.

But on Saturday, he was cut.

“It’s difficult,” Preds head coach Peter Laviolette said Monday, per The Tennessean. “He’s a young player. He’s going to be a terrific player for us. We’ve got 23 spots on the roster that we can take players in, and at this point, this is where we felt we needed to be.”

In dropping Fiala, 19, from the roster, Laviolette alluded to the path taken by Nashville’s leading scorer last season, Filip Forsberg.

Forsberg started the ’13-14 campaign — as a 19-year-old — with the Preds, only to be returned to AHL Milwaukee after just 12 games. The organization felt he needed to learn more at the American League level, and the move has seemed to pay off; Forsberg had a terrific ’14-15 campaign, scoring 63 points while appearing all 82 games, and finished fourth in Calder voting.

Fiala, the 11th overall pick in 2014, is believed to have similar offensive upside to Forsberg, which is why some thought he could be a fit in Nashville’s bottom-six forward group. Though he wasn’t drafted to be a bottom-six froward, Fiala — who had 20 points in 33 games for the Admirals last year — could’ve “learned on the job” in a lesser role and provided a punch to that group, which GM David Poile wants more scoring from this year.

But instead, like Forsberg in ’13-14, Fiala’s now off to try and rack up some points in Milwaukee.

“His path should be pretty close to Filip’s,” Laviolette explained. “That’s a good path. Filip developed, he learned a lot and when he got here, he was ready to make a difference.”

Coyotes: No. 3 pick Strome survived camp cuts ‘on merit’

Connor McDavid
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The Arizona Coyotes are down to just 31 players on their active roster, one of which is 18-year-old Dylan Strome — and according to head coach Dave Tippett, Strome has earned the right to stick around.

“He’s here on merit,” Tippett said over the weekend, per the team website. “[He’s] very poised. Some players look very poised in practice, and then in a game they have a hard time translating. He’s almost the other way.

“In a game you see a lot more of his sense than in practice. He’s played well and we’ll continue to look at him.”

The Coyotes say Strome hasn’t taken them by surprise, and they’re probably being honest. At the draft, GM Don Maloney fielded a number of trade calls from teams looking to secure this year’s No. 3 overall pick but he refused, saying no offer could match what he saw as a potential franchise center in Strome, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder with dynamic offensive ability.

“Looking at our organization and what we have, it wasn’t only that we really needed what we believe is a really good, skilled, playmaking center that makes others better and who’s won everywhere he’s went,” Maloney said at the time. “So let’s say we pass on that and take a defenseman; how are we going to ever find somebody close to [Strome]?

“We didn’t see it in the draft.”

It’s worth pointing out that Strome’s coming to the organization at the right time, too. Arizona isn’t expected to be very good this year and seems ready to embrace youth in a major way, as Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are penciled in for the opening-night roster.

Strome — who’s already lasted longer in camp than ’14 first-rounder Brendan Perlini — might end up there as well.

“We said we’re just going to keep going with the players that are playing well for as long as we can,” Tippett explained. “We’re very open to whoever can make us better.”