The Top 10 Storylines to Follow During 2014 NHL Training Camps
As NHL training camps open this week, there will be a number of interesting storylines worth following as teams prepare for the upcoming season. Some could have significant consequences on the upcoming NHL season.
Promising young players will be evaluated to determine those with NHL potential. Stars who moved on to other clubs during the offseason must adjust to new teammates in different cities. Unsigned free agents seek out new contracts before the season begins.
New coaches and general managers will attempt to succeed where their predecessors failed. Rebuilding clubs will look for any notable signs of improvements. Teams perched over the salary cap will attempt to become cap compliant when the season opens.
Here's a look at the top 10 notable storylines during this year's NHL training camps.
10. NHL Rule Changes
On September 11, the NHL unveiled several rule changes for the upcoming NHL season. Though the changes are minor for the most part, some could force players to adjust their styles.
One notable change is the elimination of the "spin-o-rama" move in penalty shots or shootouts. While entertaining for the fans, there were complaints the move violated the rule stressing a shootout goal was invalid if a player stopped his forward movement.
The other is an increase in fines to more seriously punish players and teams who repeatedly engage in embellishment (like diving) to draw penalties. Players and coaches could receive fines up to $5,000 for multiple offenses.
9. Management and Coaching Changes
Several NHL teams enter training camp with either a new head coach, new general manager or both. Their decisions in evaluating and coaching their respective rosters could have far-reaching effects upon their teams' performance this season.
The Carolina Hurricanes promoted Ron Francis to the general manager position and named former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters as head coach. Former Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins to head their management team while Mike Johnston takes over as their new bench boss.
Former Boston Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning took over management of the Canucks while Willie Desjardins is their new coach. The Washington Capitals promoted Brian MacLellan to GM and hired former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Former Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette takes over behind the Predators bench. Former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant is now head coach of the Florida Panthers. Brad Treliving, one-time assistant general manager with the Arizona Coyotes, became general manger of the Calgary Flames.
8. Free Agents Seeking Contracts
As NHL training camps open, a number of notable players remain unsigned. Most are unrestricted free agents while a handful are promising restricted free-agent players.
The notable unrestricted free agents (UFAs) include Martin Brodeur, Daniel Alfredsson, Ray Whitney, Tim Thomas and Dustin Penner. Of these, Alfredsson could return with the Detroit Red Wings depending on the status of his ailing back. The rest are waiting for positions to become available during training camp.
Several UFAs have accepted invitations to training camps on a tryout basis. Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle and Ruslan Fedotenko are attending the New Jersey Devils camp. Ville Leino and Simon Gagne are skating with the Boston Bruins. The Detroit Red Wings extended an invite to defenseman Aaron Rome. Jamie McBain accepted a tryout with the Arizona Coyotes, and Paul Bissonnette accepted an invite from the St. Louis Blues.
Several restricted free agents have yet to re-sign with their respective clubs. Among the noteworthy are Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug and right wing Reilly Smith, Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen, Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper, Nashville Predators blueliner Ryan Ellis and St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz.
The possibility exists for one or more to either stage contract holdouts, sign offer sheets with another NHL club or accept contracts with European clubs.
7. Stars on the Rebound
Some NHL stars enter training camp hoping to bounce back from subpar performances last season. Several notables will be worth watching throughout training camp and preseason play.
Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal tallied only 21 goals and 61 points in 2013-14. Those were his lowest totals since his 2003-04 rookie debut. New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash managed only 26 goals and 39 points as injuries limited him to 65 games.
Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards will try to regain his form after dropping to the fourth line last season. Philadelphia Flyers center Vincent Lecavalier hopes to rebound from last season's woeful 37-point effort.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will attempt to overcome the health issues that limited him to only 37 games last season. Winnipeg Jets left wing Evander Kane will attempt to rebound after injuries limited him to 41 points in 63 games.
6. Status of Injured Stars
Several NHL players enter training camp still recovering from injuries or ailments suffered last season.
The Los Angeles Kings aren't rushing goaltender Jonathan Quick's return from offseason wrist surgery. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said Quick hasn't suffered any setbacks, and the team is hopeful he'll be ready for the start of the regular season in October.
Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Ben Bishop is also still recovering from offseason wrist surgery. The Tampa Bay Times' Joe Smith reports Bishop, like Quick, hopes to be ready for the start of the season.
Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic is also returning from wrist surgery. ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald reports Lucic will be careful to avoid any setbacks during training camp.
Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo reports an ankle injury has sidelined Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding. It's expected he will miss the start of training camp.
Dallas Stars winger Rich Peverley is slowly recovering from a heart condition that felled him during a game last March. The Dallas Morning News' Mike Heika reports Peverley's been working out off-ice, but there's no timetable yet when he'll be tested for a return to action.
5. Status of Rebuilding Teams
Every NHL team enters training camp with hope for the future, especially the rebuilding clubs. For those teams, training camp provides the early signs for management, coaches and fans of potential improvement for the upcoming season.
Several teams are in the midst of rebuilding their rosters, primarily with promising young players. Some recently started their rebuilds while others have been at it for several seasons.
The Buffalo Sabres began their rebuild toward the end of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and stepped up the process last season, changing management and coaches along the way. The Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers started their reconstruction in earnest last season.
Since 2010, the Edmonton Oilers have been rebuilding around youngsters Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz. The New York Islanders spent the past several years building around franchise player John Tavares.
It will be interesting to see if these clubs are heading in the right direction or simply spinning their wheels.
4. Salary-Cap Issues
Most NHL teams enter training camp with payroll beneath this season's $69 million salary cap. A handful, however, are either above the cap ceiling or possess limited space to open the season. How these teams address their respective cap problems could affect their performances this season.
Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman must trade or demote a player as a cost-cutting measure prior to the season opener in October. His club currently sits over $2.2 million above the cap ceiling.
The Boston Bruins are above the ceiling by nearly $810,000. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli will place center Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), but that cap relief won't leave sufficient room to re-sign restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Chiarelli could move a player to create more cap space.
Teams with less than $1 million in cap space include the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. That could affect potential roster moves if the need arises during training camp.
The Philadelphia Flyers are over $4.9 million above the cap, but they'll address that issue by placing defensemen Chris Pronger (post-concussion symptoms) and Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) on LTIR. The Tampa Bay Lightning (over the cap by $1.8 million) will do the same with defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who's sidelined indefinitely by knee injuries.
3. Possible Preseason Trade Bait
Several teams could make trades during training camp to free up salary-cap space or to address other roster needs before the season begins.
The Hockey News' Rory Boylen published his top 10 trade candidates for this season. Among the notables are San Jose's Joe Thornton, Carolina's Eric Staal and Cam Ward, Winnipeg's Evander Kane and Edmonton's Nail Yakupov. It remains to be seen if any of these players are dealt during training camp or early in the regular season.
The Boston Herald's Steve Conroy reports the Bruins have an overage of nine defensemen, and one could be dealt to create additional cap room. Johnny Boychuk ($3.367 million cap hit) is frequently mentioned as a trade option.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports Chicago Blackhawks defensemen Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy could be possible cost-cutting trade candidates. Friedman also notes the St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators possess defensive depth which could be used as trade bait.
2. Stars Adjusting to New Homes
Every offseason sees some NHL stars change teams via trade or free agency. This summer was no different. Several notable veterans begin this season adjusting to different teammates on new NHL teams.
After years with the Ottawa Senators, center Jason Spezza now finds himself as the likely second-line center with the Dallas Stars. He could be reunited with former Senators linemate Ales Hemsky, who joined the Stars as a free agent.
The Anaheim Ducks acquired center Ryan Kesler from Vancouver to bolster their second-line depth. The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, brought in sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh to improve their offense.
The St. Louis Blues believe the addition of former Colorado Avalanche star Paul Stastny addresses their need for a top-line playmaking center. The Avalanche, meanwhile, signed aging right wing Jarome Iginla to provide additional offense and leadership.
By signing Thomas Vanek, the Minnesota Wild hope to bolster an offense that last season ranked 24th in goals per game and 29th in shots per game. The Washington Capitals look to former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to stabilize a blue line that gave up the fourth-most shots per game last season.
1. Prospecting for Gold
NHL training camps provide the first opportunity for general managers to determine which of their promising prospects could be ready to make the jump to the NHL. The NHL's next great superstar could emerge from among this year's prospects.
This year features several notable prospects worth watching. NHL.com recently unveiled its ranking of its top 60. Topping the list was Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin, followed by Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart and Chicago Blackhawks pivot Teuvo Teravainen.
Other notable goalie prospects include Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy, St. Louis' Jake Allen and Boston's Malcolm Subban.
Florida's Aaron Ekblad (2014 first overall pick), Buffalo's Nikita Zadorov, Pittsburgh's Derrick Pouliot, Edmonton's Darnell Nurse and the New York Islanders' Griffin Reinhart are among the noteworthy defensemen.
Calgary's Sam Bennett, Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl, Detroit's Anthony Mantha and Nashville's Filip Forsberg are also among the top forwards.