Weekend Takeaways: Don’t bet on Vegas yet

The NHL's salary cap rising to an estimated $73 million could be tied to the strength of the Canadian dollar. (Chris Young/CP)

BOCA RATON — There were two significant pieces of business that once seemed likely to be on the NHL’s agenda when the board of governors convene on Monday, but now neither seems likely to get much of a hearing.

Multiple sources say an expansion team for Las Vegas isn’t going to be announced in any way, shape, or form — although many believe it’s coming. Second, the proposed sale of 51 percent of the Arizona Coyotes to financier Andrew Barroway isn’t going to be announced.

Nobody’s quite sure what’s happening with Barroway, with reports ranging from suggesting this is just a delay to others suggesting the deal has fallen through. We’re quite used to on-again, off-again ownership stories when it comes to the Coyotes, of course.

A representative of Quebecor, the company actively looking for an NHL team to house in the new rink in Quebec City, is expected to address the board, but that’s believed to be on an unrelated television issue. Still, with Florida Panthers attendance dwindling below 9,000 a night (no crowd larger than 11,500 this season) the suggestions that the Panthers would do much better in Quebec City won’t go away.

Other weekend takeaways:
Outgoing Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke won’t be at these meetings. Larry Tanenbaum is Toronto’s governor and Brendan Shanahan is the alternate governor, but it’s still odd that Leiweke won’t be here.

It was at these meetings last year, don’t forget, that Tanenbaum abstained on the otherwise vote of approval of the new Rogers TV deal with the NHL as Bell and Rogers, co-majority owners of MLSE, couldn’t agree on how to deal with the sensitive issue.

Some interesting things going on these days with Phil Kessel, Randy Carlyle and the Maple Leafs. Kessel is clearly hurt with multiple injuries, including an on-going back issue. How his fitness level impacts that is anyone’s guess, but it can’t help. Still, like most top scorers, Kessel always is hunting for more ice time, but Carlyle isn’t giving it. Kessel woke up today 12th in NHL scoring, but only 67th in ice time among NHL forwards after playing a season-low 14:13 against Vancouver on Saturday night.

Calgary’s first-round pick, Sam Bennett, will have his surgically repaired shoulder examined by the surgeon who performed the operation in the first week of January, and appears to be on schedule to return to action in late January or early February. The betting is still that his return will be with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs.

One certainly wonders if big Buffalo forwards Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno might be available in trades after coach Ted Nolan accused them of doing “pirouettes” during games rather than what he wanted them to do.

For now, GM Tim Murray says he’s listening to offers, but not making any. The thinking is he wants to wait until more teams have injury issues and into the new year when prices for players are likely to increase.

Have to wonder whether it wouldn’t be smart of the Oilers to get Leon Draisatl out of that mess and back to junior hockey, or at least loan him to Germany for the upcoming world junior hockey championships. The thinking seems to be he’s their best option at No. 2 centre, which is certainly not the kind of long-term thinking the Oilers claim to be focusing on.

Craig Berube got the dreaded vote of confidence from Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall on Friday. Peter Laviolette, you may remember, got something similar in the fall of 2013, and then was fired three weeks later. Chairman Ed Snider, meanwhile, said Philly’s recent west coast trip was a “turnaround” for the season.

Florida’s Nick Bjugstad is suddenly a scoring machine, having scored 11 goals in his last 15 games, including the winner on Saturday against the Sabres.

Defenceman Aaron Ekblad, meanwhile, suddenly has 17 points to put him behind only Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau in rookie scoring. Finally, David Bolland is expected to return to the Florida lineup tonight for the first time since Oct. 17. The off-injured centre has had a groin injury.

The Coyotes have moved out veterans Rob Klinkhammer, David Schlemko and Kyle Chipchura in recent days, again sparking suggestions they’ll eventually dump out and try to get into the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in a serious way. The on-going ownership uncertainty, meanwhile, makes it difficult for GM Don Maloney to get a new deal done with UFA-in-waiting Antoine Vermette.

Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Mikkel Boedker are all players rumoured to be moveable if Arizona decides this season is a lost cause.

Odd that St. Louis would give Martin Brodeur the home start Monday over Jake Allen unless Allen is injured. That’s a sure way to unsettle Allen’s confidence, a problem unless the Blues might actually choose to keep Brodeur and play him after Brian Elliott returns from a knee injury.

Interesting and sad story in the Denver Post about Avalanche winger Jesse Winchester, signed by the team as a free agent last summer.

Winchester suffered a concussion in the pre-season and while he can skate and work out, mentally he’s intimidated by trying to practice at the Pepsi Centre.

“I feel like such a weakling,” he said.

Oddly, he’s okay at the team’s practice centre, just not at the big rink.

The Canadiens have surrendered the first goal in 20 of 29 games this season, including in Saturday’s loss to Dallas. Suggestions that the way they were playing earlier this season would eventually catch up to them may be coming true, as Montreal has slipped to fifth in the East and 11th overall after that fast start in October and November.

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