Training Camp Battles: Atlantic Division

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With training camps starting late this week or early next, we at Pro Hockey Talk couldn’t help but wonder: what are the biggest position battles going in? To give you the most specific answers possible, we asked team bloggers to give their take. After all, these men and women follow their teams almost as much as general managers, so they would know better than us.

(Actually, some of them might watch their teams more closely than GMs, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Previous entries: Northeast Division, Pacific Division, Central Division, Southeast Division.

Current entry: Atlantic Division

Thumbnail image for patrickelias1.jpgNew Jersey Devils

Contributor: Chris Wassel from The Program

Which position battles are most crucial to New Jersey’s success?

Oddly enough there could be battles at Left Wing, Center, and Right Wing. The Devils have a bit of excess in riches going into this season on offense. Also coach, John MacLean has made it clear he is willing to experiment with players out of position a bit. Already Patrik Elias has been tested at Left Wing and even Right Wing. This means that the bottom six positions are wide open for a bevy of players. Depending on who is left after trades, a guy like Adam Henrique could find himself on the squad as a 4th line center with some scoring touch. His battle with 2009 1st round pick Jacob Josefson has the potential to be the highlight of camp. Also, the third line battle for RW between Dainius Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby (2008 1st round pick) could be very intriguing. These two positions are ones most crucial to the team’s success and also happen to be the greatest source of competition as well.

What Are New Jersey’s Biggest Strengths And Weaknesses?

Well to be honest, they have a quite a few forwards who can put up some points. That is the team’s biggest strength. There is some balance on this squad with the addition of Jason Arnott and the resigning of Ilya Kovalchuk. If guys like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner can lift their games a hair, the Devils could be very proficient offensively. The potential big weakness could be the lack of a true, speedy puck moving defenseman. Andy Greene is steady and can score some but he is far from the most swift. Another potential weakness of this team could be age as the Devils rank once again in the Top 5 in terms of age. That could have an affect later in the season on the team and may explain the early playoff exits somewhat.

Who could come out of nowhere to surprise and maybe make camp more interesting?

Look for the tryouts to spice things up a bit. Adam Mair and Marcus Nilsson could make a potential 4th liner’s job very uncomfortable. If Vladamir Zharkov can find his scoring touch, then it could be another surprise battle for that 4th line Right Wing spot. However, if a few trades are made, then some of these battles are quite honestly moot. The surprise of camp could be Adam Henrique, who has the potential to be a perfect two way player for the New Jersey Devils with a little more scoring touch than Jacob Josefson. Needless to say, the Devils will not have to look outside the organization for any positional players for a change unless some defensemen are moved but that is another story.

(Note: John Fischer of In Lou We Trust also wrote a post on this subject.)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mattmoulsonscores.jpgNew York Islanders

Contributor: Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey.

Most congested battle: On defense, the Isles have eight NHLers on one-way contracts, with a couple of promising prospects pushing from the rear. If the physical Travis Hamonic or the cagey puck-moving Calvin de Haan are somehow lights-out at camp, then a veteran like Bruno Gervais or Milan Jurcina might get squeezed. Andrew MacDonald is still waiver exempt though, so despite his promising rookie year he could always be a roster-management casualty.

Most interesting and wide-open battle: At left wing, Matt Moulson is a lock to try to prove 30 goals was no Rob Brown Incident. If the Islanders stand pat at center with John Tavares-Frans Nielsen-Rob Schremp-Zenon Konopka, then Doug Weight remains a winger and Josh Bailey (who was drafted as a center) gets more time there before returning to his natural position. That leaves a wide-open battle among veteran Jon Sim (re-signed to a two-way deal), enforcer Trevor Gillies, big-bodied AHL prospects Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu, and last summer’s 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter. Of the Islanders’ three previous top-ten picks, two made the team during their draft year and one was pulled from college early, so it would not be a shock to see Nino stick with the team past nine games.

Most Father Time vs. Human Will-like battle: In goal is incumbent starter Dwayne Roloson, who turns 41 in October, and incumbent IR resident Rick DiPietro, who is said to be fully healthy after yet another knee setback late last season. (Sound familiar?) If Nature decides the body of either man shall hold up no more, the Isles have prospects Nathan Lawson and Mikko Koskinen ready to step in from AHL Bridgeport.

After the jump, we have Scotty Hockey’s take on the Rangers, Flyers Goal Scored By throwing logic batteries at Philly and an entry from the Pensblog that is no joke.


Thumbnail image for seanaveryagitates.jpgNew York Rangers

Contributor: Scotty Hockey.

It is a difficult topic to discuss – the position battles on the Rangers depth chart. Glen Sather’s actions have rendered John Tortorella’s words seemingly baseless. He spoke of making room for the Future Blue but Glen went out and added Alex Frolov, Todd White, Tim Kennedy and Steve Eminger. And you can’t forget the camp invites he extended to Ruslan Fedotenko, Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.

All of that leaves two big battles that I will be watching.

1 – Sean Avery vs. the world. Avery needs to play with the edge he had before Tortorella’s castration during the DC series in 2009. He regained a bit of it near the end of last season but he was injured right when they needed him most. And now Sather has brought in Torts’ Tampa crutch Fedotenko so the pressure really is on Avery. Everyone outside of NY may hate him – Tortorella may very well hate him too – but when Avery is Avery, the Rangers are winners. As an well-acknowledged fanboy, I’m pulling for him.

2 – Defense. The top four spots are filled with Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Michal Rozsival, and Marc Staal. That leaves three openings, as it appears the team is willing to look at carrying a seventh defenseman. So who gets them? Eminger, Exelby and Semenov will be going against Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh and Wade Redden … yes, Wade Redden. Everyone sees his banishment a foregone conclusion but I wouldn’t put it past the Blueshirts to keep him around if he shows even the smallest signs of skill. That being said, I see Gilroy and Eminger getting the five and six spots initially with Exelby getting seven and McDonagh being the first call-up the second Gilroy falters for the first time.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jeff carter.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers

Contributor: Flyers Goal Scored By.

Position battles that are most crucial to your team’s success.

This is at first going to come off as conceited, but then as conceited. We have 5 centers already blooded in on our roster. Baring injury they’ll all be in the lineup. One of them has no choice but to play center (Blair Betts) and the other 4 could be All Stars. No joke. I’m not saying that they’re all going to be, we’re not the Yankees. But if Danny Briere starts off this upcoming season the way he played off (wink emoticon wink!) – All Star. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards obviously could be All Stars. If Claude Giroux plays like all Philly fans and all edumacated hockey analysts think he can he could very well break out this year – in the good way, not the Proactiv way.

The competition to stay in the middle is going to have a huge impact on who starts the season in a position he’s comfortable in versus who starts off on the wing. And who knows how the impact of that decision affects us in the standings when all is said and over.

Positions under the greatest amount of competition.

The Flyers are in a peculiar position, one that most teams would envy. Coming so close to winning the Cup, their depth is virtually intact from last year’s run. The Flyers boast arguably the best defense in the entire league. Pronger and company are basically set at the blueline, but expect a battle for the #6 defensive spot. Up to four guys are fighting for the 5 minutes of ice time left, and some, like the newly acquired Matt Walker, could be a very expensive suit in the press box. I do think at the end of camp it will be Walker who gets inked into the 6th spot, although John LeClair’s stunt double Sean O’Donnell and “Latvian Nightmare” Oskars Bartulis will be pushing everyone to perform at their best.

As far as forwards go, recent developments have raised a lot of questions regarding who will be on the Flyers opening night roster. Ex-Penguin Bill Guerin has been skating at the Flyers Skate Zone for the past month, finally earning a tryout offer… AND a locker next to Jeff Carter(!). Guerin is going to be 40 soon, but those hands are as soft as James von Riemsdyk’s babyface. If Guerin earns a contract look for Bartulis to be sent down and Jody Shelly to be scratched more than poison ivy. For the Flyers, the placement of their talented forwards is where the camp’s competition will play out. This camp will be more about tinkering with the lines and deciding which wingers will play with which of the team’s All Star (yeah, said it again) centers.

Positions that qualify as your team’s biggest weaknesses (or strengths, if your team has an excessive amount of offensive defensemen/defensive forwards/etc.)

People please, this is the Flyers we’re talking about. If there is anywhere you need to look for a weakness it’s between those pipes. Simply go past the Pronger Forest and over the Timonen Mountains. Hang a right at Coburn Point and you’ll see the shantytown known as Flyers Starting Goalie. This year it’s journeyman and recent playoff stud Michael Leighton in net, backed up by perennial backup Brian ‘Backup’ Boucher. Michael Leighton is no Henrik Lundqvist, but what he is is a determined, hard working, meat and potatoes type of goalie. Paul Holmgren has put this club in a position where they’ll live and die by team defense. Playing behind this Flyers back line corps, Leighton will simply need to be good and use the blueliners in front of him to help block shots, clear the zone and keep the crease area full of rumbling bumbling tumble weeds. Still, it’s a dangerous pastime being a Flyers starting goalie..one that claimed Marty Biron, Antero Niittymaki and Ray Emery in the same calendar year. We believe in Leighton, but for how long?

Any other interesting battles that come to mind. Could a player come out of nowhere to make an impact?
Will a savvy veteran need to worry about getting cut for a prospect? Will that first round pick make the big club?

No. Not a chance. We could lose 2 forwards and 2 d-men to a summer bobsledding accident and a young prospect would still not be in uniform to open the Consol Energy Center for Arron Asham and his Penguins fans. Maybe up in the press box if we needed bodies, but there is no prospect that is ready for the NHL, much less to beat out Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski, or David Laliberte on a team that needs to come out of the gates strong.

There’s some talk around Philly of newcomer Mike Testwuide pushing for a spot but the kid only had 31 points in 36 games last year against college kids. And he got a B- in Social Studies, which tells me he’s just not ready. Maybe in January or February if he’s tearing up the A and we need to spice it up a bit, but no chance this Fall.

tylerkennedycamp.jpgPittsburgh Penguins

Contributor: Adam from The Pensblog.

Last season was a great ride, with the Pens bowing out to the Canadiens in seven games. But you can’t win the Stanley Cup every year. It was an exciting year. People want to immediately point to the Penguins’ lack of “wingers for Sid and Malkin” as the glaring weakness for the Pens’ shortcomings last season. The Pens went to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa, two big-name wingers. The Penguins lost in those Finals and then lost both Hossa and Malone in the ensuing offseason. The next year, the Pens won the Cup, essentially replacing Hossa and Malone with Guerin and Kunitz, while Petr Sykora also ended up disappearing. Pens can win without top-flight wingers. They won the Cup in ’09 because their team defense came together and Malkin exploded in the playoffs.

And now, with Pens GM Ray Shero going to town this past offseason in order to solidify the blue line, the battle for spots in the Pens’ top 12 forwards is under the magnifying glass just because nothing else is going on. Shero brought in Arron Asham and Mike Comrie late in the offseason, filling in some holes in the four lines.

Kunitz-Crosby-Comrie
Dupuis-Staal-Malkin
Cooke-Talbot-Kennedy*
Asham-Adams-Rupp

There are the lines for the Pens opening night. The Pens have an army of young and capable forwards waiting…in the wings…in their minor-league system. The arrival of The Big Dog, Eric Tangradi, in Pittsburgh is highly anticipated. If there is one player to watch early on this season, it will be Tyler Kennedy. If he isn’t putting some pucks in, things will get interesting.

At season’s end, Holland will ‘plot a plan’ to deal with Red Wings’ goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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“As we wake up today, obviously Petr Mrazek is our number-one guy.”

That was Detroit GM Ken Holland today on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa, when asked about his goaltending situation.

“Obviously” was the right word to use.

Mrazek, 23, has been brilliant this season, going 20-10-4 with a .933 save percentage. Without him, it’s fair to wonder if the Wings would be in a playoff spot.

But Mrazek, a pending restricted free agent, has also created a problem of sorts for Holland. That’s because 31-year-old Jimmy Howard is already locked up through 2018-19 for a cap hit of almost $5.3 million — and that’s a lot of money to pay a backup, especially one with a .904 save percentage.

Holland said he isn’t focused on that now.

“When the year’s out and I’ve got all the information, I’ll sit down and plot a plan heading into the offseason,” he said. “But for now, we’ve got a top, young goaltender in Petr Mrazek and we’ve got a guy that’s in the prime of his career, Jimmy Howard, that’s been the number-one guy here.

“It’s been tough for [Howard] recently; every time he plays a game he seems to play the second game of a back-to-back. … He’s had some real tough games against some real good teams, hasn’t had a lot of puck luck. Our team really hasn’t played very well for him when he’s been in there, but he keeps battling and he keeps competing.”

The challenge for Holland might be to sell that story to another GM, because Howard’s save percentage has been below the league average the past three seasons.

Related: Howard pulled again, calls his performance ‘unacceptable’

With 1967 expansion, the NHL ‘spread the game from California to New York’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 04:  Los Angeles Kings fans gather outside of the arena prior to Game One of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on June 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s “great expansion” of 1967 delivered hockey to California, led to the “Broad Street Bullies” and legitimized the league as a major force in North American professional sports.

Fifty years ago this week, the owners of the Original Six teams unanimously approved doubling in size by awarding franchises to Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul. No other pro sports league had ever doubled the number of its teams and the move was considered a gamble.

It proved to be one of the most important decisions in hockey history, and helped convince many that the NHL was for real.

“It had a major impact on the league because thereafter there was almost a lineup for other cities to want to join the league,” said Brian O’Neill, the league’s former director of administration who oversaw the 1967 expansion draft and scheduling. “That was a key to the expansion, to spread the game from California to New York. … It convinced a lot of people that hockey was a major sport now and it was coast-to-coast and that selling franchises would not be difficult.”

From 1943 to 1967, the NHL was a stable, six-team league made up of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The move to expand came in the league’s 50th season amid plenty of internal debate.

Owners considered adding two teams at a time, but at their Feb. 7-9 meeting in New York they unanimously approved what President Clarence Campbell later referred to as the “great expansion.” Hockey had some catching up to do: Major League Baseball had 20 teams, the National Basketball Association had nine and the National Football League had 14, with more on the way.

The MLB, the NBA and NFL all had a presence in California, too, something the NHL needed.

“The big issue, of course, is television,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “They wanted to get national. That’s why it was important to have L.A. and at that time Oakland, and then all the others followed in.”

Owners each paid the $2 million expansion fee, and the Los Angeles Kings and California Seals joined the fold along with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars. New owners needed the draw of facing traditional opponents while the old guard owners wanted to make sure their teams could still win, so the expansion teams went into the new West Division with the champions of East and West meeting for the Stanley Cup.

The goal was to help the new teams but not hurt the old ones.

“When they made expansion, they took the players that were expendable, put them on a team and called them a team,” said Bob Kelly, who was part of the early Flyers teams. “We didn’t have the real identity that an Original Six team has or the history behind that. (We were) just happy to be in the NHL.”

It worked in most places, as an Original Six team won the Cup the first six years before Kelly and the Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” teams broke through with back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

“Really, the Original Six was kind of who we were, and then all of a sudden here we are an expansion team and seven years later we were able to win the Cup,” Kelly said Wednesday. “That’s what you dream about as a kid.”

Despite the Oakland-based Seals never catching on and moving to Cleveland before folding in 1978, the NHL expanded to such places as Vancouver, Buffalo, Long Island and Washington, and reached 21 teams with the integration of the World Hockey Association in 1979.

Hockey returned to the Bay Area with the San Jose Sharks in 1991, and after the North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993, Minnesota got the Wild in 2000. The NHL returned to Atlanta (which didn’t work) and Denver (which did) and has landed in nontraditional markets like Phoenix, South Florida and Tampa.

The league stands at 30 teams and is considering expanding once again to either 31 or 32, with Las Vegas and Quebec City under consideration.

Goalie nods: Coyotes turn back to Domingue for key game against Vancouver

Arizona Coyotes' Louis Domingue waves to the crowd after the Coyotes' NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Domingue earned his first NHL shutout as the Coyotes won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Tonight is a big game for the Arizona Coyotes, as they host Vancouver, one of the teams they’re jockeying with for the final wild-card spot in the West.

If the Coyotes can beat the Canucks in regulation, they’ll move to within two points of Colorado for that final wild-card spot, with three games in hand on the Avs. Not only that, Vancouver’s playoff hopes would be dealt a significant blow.

Of course, that’s a pretty sizable “if” the way the Coyotes have been playing. The Desert Dogs are winless in their last four, with 21 total goals surrendered.

“We have to shore up some things and our goaltending has to be better,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters, while confirming that Louis Domingue would get the start versus the Canucks.

Domingue, the NHL’s rookie of the month in January, has struggled of late, allowing five goals in each of his last three starts. In the Coyotes’ last game, they turned to Anders Lindback, only for Lindback to surrender five goals himself in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim.

For the Canucks, Ryan Miller is expected to start, after Jacob Markstrom got the win last night in Denver.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers in Pittsburgh, where Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for the Penguins.

Craig Anderson for the Senators in Detroit, where Petr Mrazek will make his third straight start for the Red Wings.

Sabres recall Justin Bailey, son of former Bills linebacker

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Justin Bailey, drafted #52 overall by the Buffalo Sabres, looks on after he was drafted in the second round during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres have recalled forward Justin Bailey from AHL Rochester.

It’s the first time Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013, has ever been called up to the NHL. The 20-year-old joins the big club after piling up 11 points (5G, 6A) in his last eight games for the Americans.

Most Sabres fans will know that Bailey is from Buffalo (technically, Williamsville), the son of former Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey. (To learn more, click on this Buffalo News story from July.)

The Sabres play Thursday in Philadelphia, where Bailey will reportedly make his NHL debut.

To make room for Bailey on Buffalo’s roster, Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.