Top Storylines from 2013 NHL Training Camps So Far
The tone for an NHL season is often set in training camp.
The issues are myriad, and they are often fluid. Injuries, holdouts and surprising performances can take the focus off the expected stories and change them around.
Some of the biggest stories will remain in place all season, while others may get resolved beforehand.
Here are the biggest training camp storylines with the season less than two weeks away.
Rangers Holdout Derek Stepan
The obvious story with the New York Rangers is the adjustment of the team to life without John Tortorella. That's probably quite similar to the prisoner who gets out of prison and adjusts to life without the jail cell and the bars in front of him.
Alain Vigneault gave his players T-shirts with "Clean Slate" emblazoned on them. The new coach is charged with breathing life into the Rangers offense and creativity into the power play.
However, that is not the emerging story as training camp continues. The Rangers definitely need more offense, but it's going to be hard for Vigneault to help this team reach its potential without restricted free agent Derek Stepan, who is still engaged in a holdout.
Stepan is one of the Rangers' most important offensive players. He scored 18 goals and 44 points last year, and he regularly demonstrated his outstanding all-around ability.
If Stepan is not there, the Rangers are limited in their ability to put together a consistent offense that will help them contend in the Eastern Conference.
How Do Toronto Maple Leafs Respond?
The Toronto Maple Leafs looked paralyzed over the final minutes of the seventh game of their playoff series against the Boston Bruins last year. As a result, they blew a three-goal lead and the Bruins eliminated the Leafs in their first playoff series since 2003-04.
That shock appears to have worn off. The front office was busy in the offseason, signing right wing Dave Clarkson as a free agent and acquiring goalie Jonathan Bernier and center Dave Bolland in trades.
How will the new pieces fit in? You may not get all the answers in training camp, but it was not good news when Bernier left the Leafs' preseason game Thursday night with Ottawa due to irritation in his knee and he did not practice Friday. It may not be serious, but the last thing general manager Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle want is an injury to their prized goaltender.
The Leafs also signed Nazem Kadri to a contract extension, but restricted free agent Cody Franson is still out. The Leafs can act as if they can get by without him, but they need the 6'5" Franson in the lineup because he is one of their defensive mainstays.
Will Red Wings' Second Line Come Through?
The Detroit Red Wings have moved to the Eastern Conference, and they want to show their new neighbors that they are going to make life as tough on them as they did against Western Conference foes for so many years.
Head coach Mike Babcock is not used to fighting for a playoff spot or getting beaten by bigger, stronger and faster teams. He is not going to accept second place, even if his team has to fight the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
But if the Red Wings are going to beat those teams, they can't depend solely on the first line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. He needs consistent production from his second line of Daniel Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen.
Alfredsson and Weiss are newcomers after signing with the Wings in free agency. Franzen is an established star who can dominate with his size, but he has to get used to his new linemates. So far, it is a work in progress.
Babcock told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that the line needs to "get better."
Tim Thomas Back in Uniform
Tim Thomas has a chance to be a difference-maker for the Florida Panthers.
OK, he may be a bit of a strange bird. He took the 2013 season off even though he still appeared to have all his skills and was clearly one of the best goaltenders in the league. Thomas won two Vezina Trophies with the Boston Bruins and one Conn Smythe Trophy when he backstopped the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup title.
Thomas made news when he wouldn't go to the White House because of his political beliefs and then came last year's sabbatical.
But Thomas saw his old team get to the Stanley Cup Final last year, and that inspired him. He wanted to play hockey again. There were no takers for a long time, but the Panthers have decided to kick his tires and give him a tryout.
Thomas is in good shape, and it would be a shocker if general manager Dale Tallon decides to say no. The much more likely scenario is that Thomas makes the team and earns the No. 1 goaltender job for the Panthers. The Panthers' goalies had a save percentage of .877 last year. Thomas has a career save percentage of .921.
While they finished last in the East last year, they were a playoff team in 2011-12. Thomas could help them make a push for a playoff spot this year.
The NHL is testing out hybrid icing during preseason games.
This is designed to make the game safer and eliminate bone-breaking collisions that can occur when a defenseman and an attacking forward are racing to get to a loose puck that has traveled at least 100 feet.
Icing plays often show off the skating ability of both players involved in the chase. Many players have gotten hurt in the icing race, and the threat of an injury exists in nearly every one of these plays.
Hybrid icing stops the race if the player from the defensive team beats the opposing forward to the faceoff dot. If that happens, the linesman blows the whistle and icing is called. If the offensive player is tied or ahead, the play continues and the whistle is not blown.
Many players seem to like the rule, including Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues. “I think it makes sense,” Schwartz told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s a judgment call, but if it’s a tie, usually it goes to the defenseman. If it doesn’t go your way, sometimes you’re not going to be happy. But I think it’s a lot safer for everybody.”
Schwartz played under the hybrid icing rule at Colorado College.
Hybrid icing is being tested in preseason games, and the NHL will decide if the rule will be employed in regular-season games.
Can the Blackhawks Get Off to a Good Start?
The Blackhawks have been celebrating their Stanley Cup championship most of the summer.
They are back in training camp after the shortest offseason in NHL history, and head coach Joel Quenneville wants to avoid the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover that affected them when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
That same Stanley Cup hangover impacted the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings the past two seasons.
However, the Blackhawks started the 2013 season on a record pace, and Quenneville said he wants to prepare the team in a similar manner so the Blackhawks get off to that type of start.
"Going into this year will be comparable to how we started last year," Quenneville told Tim Sassone of the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald. "You want to make sure your depth is important and valuable throughout the year, use everybody and try to get off to the right start."
Interestingly, the Blackhawks got off to that good start despite a very short seven-day training camp caused by the lockout. Quenneville got his message across in that short time, and he hopes to do it again.
John Tortorella Wants It Done His Way in Vancouver
John Tortorella may have worn out his welcome in New York, but he didn't have to wait long to get another chance to coach in the NHL.
The Vancouver Canucks hired Tortorella just days after the the Rangers fired him. Even though the Rangers have been celebrating their old coach's departure, the Canucks are hoping that Tortorella can provide the structure and discipline that was missing in the past.
But playing for Tortorella (or covering him as a reporter) is never easy. Tortorella went through a reflection period after the Rangers fired him and said he wanted to develop a better relationship with his players and media, but few thought he could change his methods.
There haven't been any blowups yet, but Tortorella has decided to limit his players when it come to using their Twitter accounts.
Tortorella said the social network site is "nothing but trouble," via the Associated Press on SI.com, and he wants to keep his players from saying anything that will cause problems for the team or the players will later regret.
Since several Canucks have Twitter accounts, including goalie Roberto Luongo (@strombone1), it could develop into an issue that festers between Tortorella and his players.