Hickey on hockey: Human wrecking ball Xhekaj a surprise for Canadians

The rookie was seen as a prime candidate for a demotion to Laval when Mike Matheson returned in December, but his stock has been steadily rising.

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The Canadiens’ defense got a boost with the highly anticipated return of Joel Edmundson. He recorded a team-high 21:07 of ice time in 27 shifts and contributed four blocked shots in a 3-2 overtime loss at Winnipeg on Thursday.

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It was a solid performance for a defender who missed training camp for the second year in a row and last played on April 29.

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But the big story on defense was Edmundson’s defense partner play, rookie Arber Xhekaj. When you have two left-handed shots, the veteran is usually tasked with playing on the right side. But head coach Martin St. Louis has a reputation for thinking outside the box, and he lined up Xhekaj on the “wrong” side.

Although there were a couple of times the human wrecking ball was out of position, Xhekaj played a career-high 19:02 and even saw some power-play action. He moved the puck with confidence and established his physical good faith with 10 hits.

At the start of the season there was speculation on which defenders would go to Laval for seasoning when Edmundson and Mike Matheson were healthy. Xhekaj, who was not drafted as a junior or in the NHL, was considered a prime candidate, but his stock has steadily increased. With Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic and Xhekaj playing well, St. Louis will face a tough decision when Matheson returns in mid-December.

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Xhekaj wasn’t the only player to step up in Winnipeg. Alternate Goalkeeper Sam Montembeault made 33 saves to save a point. The 26-year-old, who suffered a wrist injury last season, is 2-1-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. These are the best numbers of his career and it gives St. Louis confidence that he can give the No. 1 goaltender Jake Allen the rest he needs be at the top of your game.

No hope for Quebec: The For Sale sign was posted on the Ottawa Senators this week and the only surprise is that there hasn’t been a flood of suggestions that the struggling franchise better move to Quebec with its fanbase enraged and Videotron ready for the NHL Centre.

That may be because there are potential owners who believe there is a future for this team in the nation’s capital despite five years of declining attendance. An Ottawa-area promoter has shown interest, and People magazine says Vancouver-born actor Ryan Reynolds is on board, though he may struggle to make the down payment. The asking price is likely to be in the region of $700 million and Reynolds’ net worth from the Deadpool movies and peddling Aviation American Gin is $150 million.

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But the main reason there hasn’t been a groundswell over a move to Quebec City is that the city’s chances of landing an NHL team are the same as Shane Wright’s chances of winning. the Calder Trophy.

While Quebec government officials regularly consult with NHL executives to inquire about Quebec’s chances of returning to the NHL, the reality is that Quebec will not get a franchise as long as Pierre Karl Péladeau is the potential owner. .

NHL owners in the rest of Canada view Péladeau as a separatist who wants to break up Canada – a not unreasonable assumption since Péladeau was once the leader of the Parti Québécois. They convey these concerns to their brothers in the United States.

The other Canadian owner, Montrealer Geoff Molson, is in a delicate position. He and his associates do business in the province and cannot denigrate any effort to revive a franchise in Quebec. But, while Molson may get nostalgic for the good old days and the modern Battle of Quebec, does anyone think Canadians would welcome the idea of ​​splitting the market for $385 retro reverse jerseys?

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I’m surprised the NHL Players Association didn’t get into the debate. Players are entitled to 50 per cent of hockey-related revenue and a Quebec franchise would generate more revenue than a team in Ottawa, Buffalo or New Jersey, as well as Arizona, where the Coyotes play in a 5,000 varsity arena. spaces while awaiting approval for the construction of a new facility to be built on the site of a toxic waste landfill.

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