Wednesday September 30th, 2015

After three phases of due diligence, the NHL is still playing coy about its process for adding one or more expansion teams at some point in the future.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said there was “no predetermined outcome” after the league’s executive committee heard presentations from expansion hopefuls Las Vegas and Quebec City on Tuesday.

Las Vegas, Quebec City move one step closer to NHL expansion dream

Time restrictions prevented the committee from giving full consideration to the proposals, but Bettman said that could happen soon.  “We have work to do,” he said. “The committee is going to have to get together at least one [more] time, if not more, and ultimately begin deliberations. There are a lot of issues and questions that are going to have to be answered before any decision can be made.”

The key issue won’t be the ability of the groups to meet the league’s expansion fee, a figure that Bettman said “will start with a five (as in $500 million).” It’ll be the assurance that any new franchise will be self-sustaining over the long-term and not become a drain on league resources.

The next step in the process? “Wait,” said prospective Las Vegas owner Bill Foley.

• Maybe it’s no surprise that the Chicago Blackhawks took the low road with Antti Raanta.

The team’s former backup goalie didn’t win many friends in the organization when he was quoted in a Finnish paper as saying that he'd hoped the Hawks would be quickly dispatched from their opening round series against the Nashville Predators so that he could return to play for AHL Rockford rather than sit in the press box with Chicago’s black aces during last season’s playoffs.

In context, what he said makes some sense. Most athletes would rather play a meaningful game than be a spectator. Still, it was hardly a shock when he was dealt to the New York Rangers just days after the team clinched the Stanley Cup. A player might have those thoughts, but it’s organizational suicide to express them.

That said, the decision by the team to leave Raanta’s name off the Stanley Cup seems vindictive given his contributions during the regular season. Raanta appeared in only 14 games for the Hawks but was dressed—and thus, officially part of the lineup—for 41. That qualifies him to get his name engraved on the old mug. But when the Hawks submitted their list of players, coaches and team officials to the league, Raanta was conspicuously absent. According to Hawks beat writer Mark Lazerus, the team instead petitioned to have two non-qualifying players, Daniel Carcillo and Joakim Nordstrom, included.

Raanta will still get his ring and he’ll know in his heart that he contributed. But he had his rightful place in history wiped away by this petty decision. And that’s not fair.

• Jamie Benn, last season’s scoring champion, returned to action on Tuesday night for the first time since he underwent off-season hip surgery. The results were predictable. While his wheels looked up to speed and there were flashes of his old brilliance, the timing element was clearly missing from his game.

Dallas Stars 2015-16 preview

“I felt pretty good,” Benn said after Dallas’s 4–1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. “My body felt pretty good, but my game was just O.K. for now. It was my first game back (and the first time) in five or six months out there. I was a bit quicker in past skates that I have had but I think it will come back the more I play.”

The Stars have two preseason games remaining on the schedule. Benn will certainly skate in Saturday's finale in Chicago, but the real test will be Thursday’s game in Tampa. If he feels good enough to give it a go after a hard skate on Tuesday, he should be ready to make a real contribution in the season opener against the Penguins next week.

• There's no official word yet on the seriousness of the apparent shoulder injury suffered by Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle on Tuesday night, but early indications suggested the Oilers star could miss a significant stretch. While that would be a devastating loss to the team, his absence would open up a spot for a pair of rookie wingers who have given a good account of themselves in camp. UPDATE: The team has announced that Eberle will miss 4-6 weeks.

Leon Draisaitl has spent some time skating with Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid and looks like the frontrunner to begin the season on Edmonton’s 1A line. The third pick in the 2014 draft, Draisaitl has looked comfortable shifting from his natural center position to the wing, making good use of his size to win board battles and earn space down low.

Connor Brickley among five impressive rookies of preseason

Anton Slepyshev, a third-round selection in 2013, has been equally impressive. He has decent size (6' 2", 187 pounds) and a terrific release, and he has the versatility to play either wing (although, as a left-handed shooter, he appears to be more effective on the right). He’s also skated some with McDavid and has a couple goals to show for his preseason efforts, including a game winner against Winnipeg last week.

There’s a catch, though: While the youngsters have impressed, the Oilers haven’t exactly faced top competition. As Bruce McCurdy accurately notes, the Jets dressed just one player who ranked among their top 18 scorers last season, and that was fourth-line center Adam Lowry. The Wild dressed only three regulars when they met the Oilers. The Flames, just six. So, while the kids have measured up well against the competition they’ve faced, they haven’t been tested by real NHL teams. And that has to leave Edmonton’s brass wondering if either player is truly ready to meet that challenge.

Either way, the door is open for at least one of those rookies to prove he belongs. What happens next is up to them.

• Steve Jobs was a proponent of stealing great ideas, and so are we. Here’s hoping then that the NHL adopts a terrific concept pioneered by HIFK of the Finnish league: the awarding of a jersey star for each 100 games played with a franchise. At a time when easier movement turns some players into mercenaries, this would be a modest but notable tribute to honor longevity with a club (and it’s one more sweater embellishment the teams could sell at the pro shop).

For the record, Shane Doan would be six games removed from earning his league-leading 14th star (accounting for games played both with Winnipeg and Arizona). San Jose’s Patrick Marleau would be next with 13. New Jersey’s Patrik Elias would have earned 12 stars and Vancouver’s Henrik and Daniel Sedin would have 10 each.

Let’s see this happen.

(stick tap to Reddit user Pontus_Pilates for the images)

Hot links

• David Levin, the Israeli-born first pick in the 2015 OHL draft is charting his own unique course to hockey success. Your must-read of the day.

• Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner advertised his need for a roommate on Twitter. You won’t believe who may (or may not) have responded.

• It takes more than a great shot to score goals in the NHL. Nashville’s James Neal breaks down the art of sniping in an amazing first-person piece.

• Another bit of pure greatness: here’s the story of how an infamous bootlegger brought pro hockey to New York.

• Canadian Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau just won a whole bunch of votes in Montreal ... and lost even more in Quebec City.

• The National Women’s Hockey League just published complete salary cap info on their own website. Which is crazy because Gary Bettman said that hockey fans don’t care about that sort of thing, right?

• This Swedish defenseman is on track to win the Norris Trophy.

• Unless this Swedish defenseman beats him to it.

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