All eyes will be on Sidney Crosby and his participation in the Pittsburgh Penguins' training camp. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
Training camps open around the NHL on Friday with medicals and on-ice sessions on Saturday. Here are some storylines to contemplate as the chase for the 2011-12 Stanley Cup begins.
1. Crosby watch
All eyes will be on how Sidney Crosby and his participation in the Pittsburgh Penguins' training camp. He revealed last week he was 90 per cent recovered from his nine-month battle with a concussion, and he was on the ice with teammates for a 90-minute informal skate earlier this week.
We've already witnessed the retirements of Paul Kariya and Dave Scatchard from head injuries this summer. Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Marc Savard won't play this season. How will players like David Perron (St. Louis), Matthew Lombardi (Toronto), Peter Mueller (Colorado), Bryce Salvador (New Jersey), Max Pacioretty (Montreal) and Nathan Horton (Boston) perform this fall after their concussions? The Penguins will have a healthy Evgeni Malkin back from his knee troubles and, along with Pacioretty, the Canadiens will see the return of injured defencemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.
2. King contract
How long will this contract squabble between defenceman Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings last? In three seasons, he has been a force on the Kings blue-line. He's won Olympic gold with Canada and was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2009-10. He has been durable, having only missed six games and has put up impressive offensive numbers with 33 goals and 126 points in 239 games. Yet, the Kings refuse to pay him more than teammate Anze Kopitar's $6.8-million US salary and they want Doughty long-term. The player wants $7-million-plus. The standoff appears likely to drag on.
3. Re-jigged rosters
Dale Tallon was the busiest of the 30 NHL GMs this past summer. He stripped the Florida Panthers roster and then added enough salaries to make sure his club was above the $48-million payroll floor. Almost half (10) of the Panthers roster - Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Kopecky, Jose Theodore, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg - will be made up of players brought in from other NHL teams. Some of this group won a Stanley Cup together on the Chicago Blackhawks, but can a team with so many new faces build enough chemistry in a swift manner to contend for a playoff spot? The Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs are the only clubs who have yet to make the NHL post-season since the 2004-05 lockout.
4. Philly shake-up
Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who is recovering from an off-season bicycle accident, didn't bring in 10 new players, but he sure shook up the team's foundation.
Out went captain Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Daniel Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Brian Boucher and Sean O'Donnell. In have come Ilya Bryzgalov, Sean Courturier, Jaromir Jagr, Andreas Lilja, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Maxime Talbot and Jakub Voracek. Holmgren took a huge risk in rebuilding a club that was only a year removed from the Stanley Cup final, but he will have a healthy Chris Pronger back from injury. The 36-year-old standout was limited to 50 regular games and three playoff outings last season.
5. Pouliot enters the den
The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins set in motion an intriguing scenario when they inked free-agent Benoit Pouliot to a one-year, $1.1-million contract on July 1. The hulking 6-foot-3, 200-pound left wing didn't endear himself to hockey fans in Beantown in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, when with the rival Montreal, he took a run at Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk in Game 3. The dangerous bodycheck attempt into the end boards prompted Bruins television play-by-play man Jack Edwards to lash out and called Pouliot one of the "biggest disappointments in NHL history."
Pouliot, a fourth overall selection in 2005 by the Minnesota Wild, also smacked a non-fighter in Boston's David Krejci with a right hand in a scrap during a wild penalty-filled game between the Bruins and Canadiens last February. Pouliot has made up with Krejci, but what sort of conversation will take place between Edwards and Pouliot?
6. Fresh bench bosses
When there is a new coach in town, there usually is plenty of interest to see how the players respond. Six non-playoff teams made coaching changes this summer. The Dallas Stars brought in Glen Gulutzan from their minor-league affiliate. The Winnipeg Jets ownership group made a similar move with Claude Noel as did the Minnesota Wild with Mike Yeo. Florida hired hot coaching prospect Kevin Dineen from the Portland Pirates of the AHL. The Ottawa Senators lured assistant coach Paul MacLean away from the Detroit Red Wings. Peter DeBoer gets a shot to run the New Jersey Devils after three frustrating seasons in Florida. The last coach to win a Stanley Cup championship in his first year with a new team from start-to-finish was Pat Burns with the Devils in 2002-03.
7. Canucks aim for Penguins' feat
So how will the Vancouver Canucks respond after their disappointing Game 7 loss at home to the Bruins in the final? The Canucks will be without injured second-line centre Ryan Kesler (hip surgery) and his linemate Mason Raymond (back surgery) for at least a month, and likely longer. They also lost free-agent defenceman Christian Ehrhoff to the Buffalo Sabres.
The Kesler and Raymond injuries provide an opportunity for youngsters Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder to impress GM Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault. The Canucks embark on a task of becoming the second team since the lockout to lose in the final only to rebound and win the Stanley Cup 12 months later. The 2008-09 Penguins are the only team to accomplish the feat in a decade.
8. How 'bout those Jets?
Manitoba is excited about the return of the Jets, but just how good they will be is another matter. The former Atlanta Thrashers were 22-16-7 on Jan. 10 last season and in seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. They floundered with a 12-20-5 finish and didn't make the playoffs. The Jets still don't have much depth up front.
There also is the legal and weight problems of defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. A year ago, Byfuglien reported to Thrashers' training camp at 269 pounds and checked out after the season at 288. When he was arrested for suspicion of boating while intoxicated in Minnesota last week, a Minneapolis-based all sports radio station reported that the police report said Byfuglien tipped the scales at 286 pounds.
9. Oilers' fountain of youth
A new season brings a new crop of rookies to watch. Last fall, we watched Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi strut their stuff with the Edmonton Oilers and later in the season Jeff Petry was promoted and looked comfortable on the blue-line. This training camp will bring a new wave of youngsters for the Oilers in forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlik, as well as defenceman Colten Teubert. It also will be interesting to see where veterans Ryan Smyth and Cam Barker fit in.
10. Spitfire Stanley Cup connection
Can either DeBoer or Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice keep the Windsor Spitfires alumni streak going? Joel Quenneville (Spitfires 1975-78) steered the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2009-10. Last spring, Spitfires alum Claude Julien (1978-81) turned the trick with the Bruins. Maurice (1984-88) and DeBoer (1985-89) were teammates in Windsor for three seasons in the 1980s, but they will busy themselves simply with returning their respective teams back to the playoffs.
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