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Return of Kane, Smith uncertain as Oilers look to build on promising season

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EDMONTON — Time will tell if winger Evander Kane and goaltender Mike Smith will still be in orange and blue when the Edmonton Oilers begin their training camp this fall.

Neither player offered any real hint about where they’d be in September when speaking to the media Tuesday at Rogers Place, a day after the Colorado Avalanche completed a Western Conference Final sweep of the Oilers.

Where Kane will play in 2022-23 will be a hot topic in pub chats and on talk radio until the free agency open season begins in mid-July. Kane came to Edmonton after the San Jose Sharks voided his contract, and signed a deal until the end of this campaign.

He scored 22 times in 43 regular-season games, and still leads the playoff goal-scoring race, with 13. He is a true power forward, unafraid to deliver big hits and get under the skins of opposing players.

“I thought it went really well, probably better than I expected it to be, to be honest,” Kane said when asked about his time in Edmonton.

But he didn’t speculate too much on his future.

“I go back to when I was in a similar but very different situation months ago,” Kane said. “I had the opportunity to pick where I was going to go, Edmonton was interested in me and I was interested in them. The way I looked at it was, you had two of the best players in the world (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) and you had a team that wants to win now, is trying to win now. You go into it as a great opportunity to win. I’m happy to say we had some success.

“But, moving forward, there’s a lot of things that factor into the decision, and I’m very happy with my time here and the fans have been phenomenal. This has got to be the best organization I’ve played for. No complaints. Just like everybody else up here, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Kane said that there are “variables” that need to be addressed before a decision can be made. One of them is that a grievance with the Sharks over the termination of his contract still needs to be settled. So, his free agency is not as clear-cut as other players heading into UFA territory this July.

Draisaitl made it clear that he and his teammates want Kane to remain.

“First of all, we’re very happy with how he came to our team and what he brought to our team, obviously, on the ice,” said Draisaitl, who finished the playoffs with 32 points in 16 games. “But, off the ice, he was amazing and a great team guy. He put the team first. He helped our team in a big, big way. I think we’d love to have him back; I can’t say more than that.”

Smith is another variable. The goaltender posted a 3.37 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage through the post-season but was swamped at times, including being pulled in Game 1 goal-fests in Calgary and Colorado. He also gave up three goals in less than six minutes in the third period of Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Avalanche in Game 4.

The 40-year-old admitted that this was his most challenging season, as he played through various injuries.

Will he come back to fulfil the final year of his contract, or retire? Smith said he needs time to think.

“It’s hard to see where you’re going to be in the next two days, let alone four months from now,” Smith said. “There are a lot of things to deal with, mentally and physically.”

Backup Mikko Koskinen’s contract is set to expire. Stuart Skinner looks to be Oilers goalie of the future. But, if Smith doesn’t return, Oilers general manager Ken Holland could need to dip into the market.

Draisaitl, who would not go into detail about the ankle injury that he played through in the post-season, warned that the Oilers need to learn from 2017. That year, the team made it to the second round of the playoffs. The players thought they’d made significant strides — and then missed the playoffs the next two seasons.

And, recent history is not on the Oilers side.

The losing conference finalists from 2021 — the New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights — both missed the playoffs in 2022. Instead of making those important next steps and learning from their defeats, they regressed.

“I think we did take a step this season,” Draisaitl said. “But we also took a step in 2017 and we missed the playoffs the next season. That shows you how hard it is in this league to do it consistently, year after year.

“It’s a hard league, and the playoffs are even harder and tougher. So we have to come in next season and learn from what we accomplished this season, but come back next season and be hungry for more.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Judge sides with Enbridge Inc. in Michigan’s latest effort to halt Line 5 pipeline

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A judge in Michigan has ruled in favour of Enbridge Inc. in the company’s long-running dispute with the state over the Line 5 cross-border pipeline.

In her ruling, Judge Janet Neff says the case belongs in federal court — a blow to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s bid to shut down the pipeline.

It’s the second time in nine months that Neff has sided with Enbridge on the question of jurisdiction.

Whitmer has been trying since November 2020 to shut down Line 5 for fear of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac, where the pipeline crosses the Great Lakes.

Proponents, including Canada’s federal government, call Line 5 a vital and indispensable source of energy for Ontario, Quebec and several Midwestern states.

Environmental activists fear an anchor strike or technical failure could trigger a catastrophe in one of the area’s most important watersheds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

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Alberta

Reports: Flames closing in on signing UFA forward Nazem Kadri

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The Calgary Flames are closing in on a deal to sign unrestricted free agent Nazem Kadri, according to multiple media reports.

Sportsnet reported the deal is for seven years at US$7 million per season.

The Flames, according to Sportsnet and TSN, are moving forward Sean Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens to create salary cap space for Kadri’s contract. Details of that trade have not been released.

The 32-year-old Kadri was one of the biggest names available in free agency after an All-Star season with Colorado that ended with the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup.

Kadri had 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 games for the Avalanche in 2021-22.

He added 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 16 playoff games, including the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final against Tampa Bay. That was his return to action after being injured in Game 3 of the Western Conference final after being hit from behind by Edmonton forward Evander Kane.

Kadri’s signing would be the latest chapter of a chaotic off-season for the Flames.

Calgary lost leading scorer and Hart Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets early in free agency, then was informed that star forward Matt Tkachuk would not sign a contract extension after the upcoming season.

The Flames dealt Tkachuk to Florida for a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who had 115 points last season, and defenceman Mackenzie Weegar.

The Flames then locked up Huberdeau long-term with an eight-year, US$84-million contract extension.

Monahan, selected sixth overall by the Flames in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has played nine seasons in Calgary. The three-time 30-goal scorer tallied just eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 65 games last season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 222.

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