The Biggest Disappointments in 2013-14 NHL Training Camps
Every team reports to training camp with a high degree of optimism.
Some teams have legitimate hopes of raising the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. Others are just hoping to make the playoffs. Some teams are just looking for improvement.
Progress is the watchword in training camp and the preseason. But it is almost never a steady, uphill climb. It comes in fits and starts, and sometimes there are regressions.
Those moments are disappointing, but the best teams will find a way to overcome those problems as the year moves along.
Here are the most notable disappointments in this year's preseason.
David Clarkson's Suspension
When the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres engaged in a brawl-filled preseason game Sept. 22 that heated up when 6'8" brawler John Scott wanted to engage Phil Kessel in a fight, there was quite a bit of shrapnel that was fired.
Nobody took more than right winger David Clarkson, whom the Leafs signed as their prized free agent in July.
Clarkson was on the bench at the time of the brawl, but he hopped over the boards old-school style to protect his teammate. While there's something admirable about wanting to play a valorous role, there's also something quite illegal about it.
The NHL did away with bench-clearing brawls decades ago, and any player who leaves that area to get involved in a fight is hit with an automatic 10-game suspension. That means Clarkson will miss the first 10 games of the season—he won't see any action for the Leafs until Oct. 25.
Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle was unhappy to lose his new right winger for such a long period, but he blamed himself for setting the whole thing up by putting Kessel out on the ice opposite Scott.
“I made a mistake,” Carlyle told Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun. “I never believed in my wildest dreams that the attack would come directed at that type of player from the opposition, but I was wrong.”
Vancouver Youngsters Start Slowly
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One of the things that John Tortorella wants to do in Vancouver is bring more energy to a franchise that has shown very little life in the last two playoff seasons.
One of the ways to do that is to inject some youth into the lineup. The Canucks have several youngsters in camp who are trying to make an impression on Tortorella and hopefully impact the roster.
Those youngsters include Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce and Nicklas Jensen.
So far, these youngsters have not impressed their coach very much. Tortorella told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun that Horvat, Shinkaruk, Gaunce and Jensen have not done enough and they have "looked tired."
That's not going to win any of those players any jobs, and it's not going to inject energy into the Canucks' lineup.
Sather Calls out Stepan
The New York Rangers and restricted free agent Derek Stepan are at loggerheads over a contract.
Stepan wants a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $7 million, while the Rangers are offering a two-year deal worth about $6 million.
Neither side seems willing to budge at this point, and Stepan has not reported to camp. It does not seem likely that he will end his holdout until he comes to an agreement with the team on a new deal.
General manager Glen Sather doesn't want to pay him any more that he has already offered. However, instead of letting the negotiations play out, Sather took to the airwaves to insult Stepan and his agent Matt Oates.
“It’s unfortunate that Derek has decided to listen to his agent,” Sather told MSG’s John Giannone (through the New York Post. “I hope he starts to get a little wiser about his decision.”
Sather is trying to force his young player's hand and this could lead to bad blood between all parties concerned and exacerbate the holdout.
NHL Holds Ron Rolston Partially Responsible for Brawl
The brawl between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs was ugly for the NHL.
The NHL has deemed that the Buffalo Sabres were the aggressors in the fight, and the evidence was head coach Ron Rolston's decision to send enforcer John Scott on the ice to pay the Maple Leafs back for an earlier fight in the game.
Scott's sole intention was to intimidate the Leafs and start a fight. That never would have happened if Rolston hadn't sent Scott out onto the ice with bad intentions.
The league has fined Rolston an undisclosed amount, according to The Hockey News.
Rolston called the incident unfortunate, but his reputation is going to be impacted by his decision to put Scott on the ice. Is he more interested in helping the Sabres improve or start brawls?
He's going to be known as the instigating coach, and it may be tough for others to take him seriously. His actions were not good for his team or his league.
Maple Leafs Short of Right Wings
If it seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs are having a lot of disappointments during training, you would have a correct assessment.
Many of their disappointments are intertwined with the brawl that took place Sept. 22. As the Maple Leafs were engaging the Sabres, they were running down their supply of right wings.
Not only is David Clarkson suspended for 10 regular-season games, Phil Kessel is suspended for three preseason games for swinging his stick at John Scott.
While that's not much of a penalty for Kessel, it is for his team. Head coach Randy Carlyle wants to establish chemistry between his players, and Kessel can't help when he's not playing preseason games.
Injuries are also playing havoc with the Leafs as Dave Bolland, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren are all sidelined.
As a result of the suspensions and injuries, the Maple Leafs have signed Mason Raymond, who was in camp on a professional tryout. However, that's not enough, and the Leafs are going to need additional bodies just to field lineups throughout the remainder of the preseason.
The fact that the Maple Leafs can't field a decent roster in preseason is a disappointment.
Blues Goaltending Situation
The St. Louis Blues have entrusted their goaltending to Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott the past two seasons.
Sharing the job has worked out quite well in the regular season, as both goalies have played well and the Blues' team defense has been one of their best attributes.
However, when they have gotten to the playoffs, Elliott has struggled to earn victories. He has a 5-8 won-loss record, and the Blues lost in the conference semifinal in 2012 and the first round last year.
This year, the Blues are going with Halak as the No. 1 goalie and Elliott as the backup. While they have every right to make such a move, how will that play out in the locker room over the course of a season?
The two goalies were equals; now there's a clear starter. That could lead to problems that fester throughout the year. That could lead to major disappointment in St. Louis.
Jordan Caron Not Impressing
Jordan Caron has had numerous opportunities to make it with the Boston Bruins.
The 2009 No. 1 draft pick has never embraced his chances and played the way a top draft pick who wants to make the varsity should.
Caron has had another opportunity in training camp this year, but he has been all but invisible. While newcomer Carl Soderberg and youngster Ryan Spooner are playing with hunger and verve, Caron has looked indifferent.
Bruins insider Joe Haggerty said that Caron would have had an excellent chance to win a spot on the Bruins' third line with a good showing, but his play has been uninspired.
Flames Need a Goalie
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The Calgary Flames are rebuilding and figure to have a long year. If they don't have adequate goaltending, their difficult year ahead could turn even uglier.
Head coach Bob Hartley has to decide between Joey McDonald, Karri Ramo and Reto Berra. So far, none of the three has done anything to claim the inside track for the job. He told Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun that each goalie would have to prove himself every day.
That's not good. Goaltending in hockey is like quarterbacking in college football. If you have a clear No. 1, you are in good shape.
If you have two or more who can't distinguish themselves with consistent play, you are likely to have a problem.
That's one issue that the Flames don't need.