Yet another NHL offseason is coming to a close and training camps are beginning to open across the continent. Coaches are trying to determine how to solve the Stanley Cup puzzle, returning veterans are trying to find chemistry with recent acquisitions and highly touted youngsters are fighting for playing time and roster spots.
However, some training camps are more critical than others. For teams that have undergone massive offseason changes, camp is the first real chance for players to build camaraderie and coaches to develop effective line combinations.
Which training camps should you be watching? Read on to find out.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
In case you haven't heard, there are quite a few serious concerns about the health of young Superstar Sidney Crosby.
While I realize the Penguins were able to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season sans Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin, it won't be easy to do it again. That said, the Penguins were able to go 23-13-5 in their final 41 games (all without Crosby).
Regardless of Crosby's situation, the Penguins are likely to be a playoff team. However, their legitimacy as a Cup contender is up in the air, to say the least. Training camp for the Penguins will be the first chance for the organization to see if there is anyone on the roster capable of playing a larger role and offsetting the probable loss of Crosby.
The Penguins need a few young players to step up and fill the shoes of Crosby as well as departed veterans Alex Kovalev and Max Talbot.
There is no question the Florida Panthers underwent a massive offseason facelift.
New GM Dale Tallon has already begun working his magic, acquiring former members of the 2010 Blackhawks Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky along with veterans Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore, Ed Jovanovski, Matt Bradley and Sean Bergenheim.
Tallon was also busy at the draft, picking up uber-talented youngster Jonathan Huberdeau with the third overall selection this season. Former first-round picks Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden and Nick Bjugstad also figure to receive serious looks at camp.
All in all, this Panthers' team could have as many as 15 new faces on its 22-man roster. Training camp will be the first chance to see how all of the newbies get along.
While the Sharks did make a few major splashes this offseason (landing Brent Burns, trading away Danny Heatley), they make the list for a slightly different reason. It's not a secret that the Sharks have a ton of offensive talent on their roster. It's also not a secret that, for all of their talent, the franchise has never hoisted the Stanley Cup.
The aforementioned offseason changes were a clear indication that management expects a serious Cup run this season. I'm wondering if the players currently on the squad (I'm looking at you, Joe Thornton) are capable of stepping up (or stepping down) and doing what is necessary to help the team.
The first chance to see what the new-look, new-attitude Sharks are really like will be training camp.
Since the retirement of Joe Sakic and the departure of Peter Forsberg, the Avalanche have struggled to remain a bona-fide playoff contender.
However, the 2011 offseason may well be the end of their new beginning. The franchise traded away a considerable sum of picks for other-worldly talent and maddeningly inconsistent netminder Semyon Varlamov. They also selected the draft's Mr. Everything in Gabriel Landeskog with the second overall pick. They traded away John-Michael Lilies and Adam Foote in order to clear the way for the plethora of young defensive prospects who have been waiting in the wings.
Are the Avalanche a playoff team this year? Probably not. Next year? I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes. And that is why this should be one of the most entertaining training camps this year. It is the end of the Avalanche's new beginning, and there will be quite a few young guns auditioning to play the role of "franchise savior".
The New Jersey Devils' training camp will be one to watch, not for the players on the ice, but for the man behind the bench. For the third time in one year, the Devils will have a new head coach. Last season, it was John Maclean. Then it was Jacques Lemaire. Now it's former Panthers' head coach Peter DeBoer.
How will this group of solid veteran players respond to their new head coach? Will they play like they did under Maclean last season, struggling to win games left and right? Or will they play for DeBoer like they did for Lemaire?
The Devils have the talent to be a contender in the Atlantic. I don't believe they'll win it, but if they play for a full season under DeBoer like they did for a half a season under Lemaire, they'll certainly be in contention.
Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette has his work cut out for him.
Over the past few months, the Flyers have cut ties with at least ten players from a season ago, including their captain (Mike Richards) and one alternate captain (Jeff Carter). The rest of the list is as follows: wingers Kris Versteeg, Ville Leino and Nikolay Zherdev, defensemen Sean O'Donnell and Nick Boynton, goaltender Brian Boucher, and fourth-liners Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe.
The Flyers brought in talented youngsters Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, veterans Andreas Lilja and Max Talbot and future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr.
Needless to say, it's going to be an interesting few weeks in the City of Brotherly Love.
Oh, one more thing: Chris Pronger is now the 18th Captain in Flyers' history.
Peter Laviolette has quite a bit of work to do.