Training Camp Battles: Northwest Division

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, Atlantic Division.

Final entry: Northwest Division

Thumbnail image for craigconroyskates.jpgCalgary Flames

Contributor: Kent W. from Five Hole Fanatics.

There are two main position battles on the Flames right now: defense and center ice. Both are caused by excessive depth.

At center, the Flames have Langkow, Stajan, Jokinen, Conroy and Mikael Backlund, a former first rounder many think is ready for the NHL. Langkow remains the best two-way center on the club while Stajan and Jokinen aren’t quite as balanced. Conroy is around to babysit the kids and goons on the fourth line as well as kill a few penalties. Backlund will likely sub in whenever there’s an injury, although a quantum leap forward by the kid could make one of the other guys expendable.

The battle down the middle will be for who ends up playing in a favorable, offensive role and who gets stuck checking the bad guys. There’s a good chance that Langkow and Conroy are going to be the guys doing the dirty work, freeing up Jokinen and Stajan to score the points and win the praise.

The Flames back-end is their greatest strength and weakness: a strength, because they have a lot of depth that extends from the top of the roster (Regehr/Bouwmeester) all the way down to the farm (Pelech/Negrin). A weakness, because the team has too many NHL caliber defenders making too much money on a cap heavy roster. With guys like Cory Sarich and Steve Staios pulling down more money than their worth, the club may have to demote one of them to the farm (expensive) or deal away a more valuable player (Regehr) for a lesser return in order to get the club under the cap. On top of all that, former first rounder Matt Pelech is no longer waiver exempt, meaning he can’t be sent down or recalled without passing through the waiver wire. As a result, if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, it’s unlikely the organization will risk losing him for nothing by calling him up during the season. It’s all or nothing for Pelech in October – a tall order considering the fact there are currently eight guys with one-way deals ahead of him on the depth chart.

Up front, there’s little chance of Backlund making the club absent some help from the injury fairies. On the blueline, though, it’s a good bet one of the more expensive guys will walk the plank so Pelech has spot on the roster when the season opens.

adamfootebattles.jpgColorado Avalanche

Contributor: David from Mile High Hockey.

The Avalanche were essentially dormant this offseason and most of the core roster from last year returns, meaning there’s not going to be many hotly contested battles. Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj will again be the netminders with Jason Bacashihua waiting in Cleveland and ready for ball cap duty in case of an injury to either. Up front, everything appears to be similarly settled except for one forward position that likely will go to either Kevin Porter or Ryan Stoa. Other players like Justin Mercier, Greg Mauldin and Michael Carman could factor in as well or be on the list for mid-season recall but this battle shouldn’t have any major implications on the makeup of the roster. 2010 first-rounder Joey Hishon will not make the immediate jump that Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly made last year.

The Avs struggled defensively last year but GM Greg Sherman is focusing on rebuilding from within and chose not make improvements here with a veteran addition. Incumbents Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey, John-Michael Liles, Kyle Cumiskey and Ryan Wilson are all returning, with Wilson being the only one without an absolute lock on a roster spot. The departures of Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei to free agency opens up a couple of depth positions to one of several promising young defensemen with the most likely candidates being Kevin Shattenkirk, Jonas Holos and Cameron Gaunce (but there are others who could creep into the mix here). This battle for what likely amounts to the 7th and 8th defenseman spots is the most compelling of camp. Not exactly an epic battle, but still one worth watching.

(Jibblescribbits also contributed an Avalanche entry, which can be found here.)

Training camp battles for the Oilers, Wild and Avalanche after the jump.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for eberlehallpaajarvi-edmontonjournal-macwilliam.jpegEdmonton Oilers

Contributor: Jason from Low Key Hockey.

It’s hockey season in Edmonton one again. Oilers training camp is set to open and will open with one notable name not included. Sheldon Souray has been told to stay away from camp this year by GM Steve Tambellini. The situation with Souray has caused much debate in Edmonton on what to do with the star defenseman. The most likely solution will be to put Souray on re-entry waivers where there is a good chance Souray is picked up by another team with Edmonton eating half of his salary.

There are high hopes with the youngsters in Edmonton. Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi are the main focus of the team and fans alike. Hall is thought to be the “savior” of the team but out of the three he is the least NHL-ready. After watching the rookie tournament it was easy to see that Hall will have to learn to position himself better and get into the right places on the ice. If Hall can adapt quick we should see a very exciting player this year. After these three I do not see any other rookies making the team this season.

Defense is going to be a major concern for Edmonton. The departures of Visnovsky, Grebeshkov, and now Souray will hurt. Goaltending may be the biggest weakness for the team. The Oilers have a surplus of C-grade goaltenders but all will depend on what happens with Khabibulin. Brought in this summer was Martin Gerber (a respectable back-up) witch could leave both Deslaurier and Dubnyuk on the outside looking in. My guess if Khabibulin plays with Deslaurier backing him up and Gerber sent packing.

Omark is another player to watch for in the future. Omark has amazing offensive ability and I’m sure will make the team next season with a few call-ups this year.

Thumbnail image for cullenmatt.jpgMinnesota Wild

Contributor: Daniel Chan from Hockey Wilderness.

The Minnesota Wild will have a few interesting choices to make for the 2010-2011 season. In previous years, the Wild suffered from the lack of options, especially throughout the center position. However, this season the Wild have an overabundance of centers for the first time in team history in Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, John Madden, Kyle Brodziak, James Sheppard, and Casey Wellman. Fans are anxious to watch the success (or failure) at the center position. For as long as any Wild fan can remember, center has always been a weakness of the Minnesota Wild. Fans longed for an experienced second-line center, only to be given depth players such as Dominic Moore and Eric Belanger. This season, the Wild signed center veterans Cullen and Madden, the injured Sheppard, and have Brodziak, Wellman and possibly Pierre-Marc Bouchard all fighting for a spot (as was planned before last season). The odd man out at center could end up as the extra forward.

The Wild will also have to figure out who will fill out the 7th defensemen spot as the Wild typically carry seven defensemen on their pro roster. Players like Nate Prosser, graduating junior players Marco Scandella and Tyler Cuma, and Maxim Noreau coming from Houston are all looking to make the pro roster. Prosser and Clayton Stoner both brought in solid performances in a limited amount of games, Noreau had an all-star season in the AHL and Scandella and Cuma are both having an excellent pre-season showing both in development camp and the Traverse City tournament.

The Wild roster is mostly set, and should make for a rather boring camp when it comes to the NHL level. However, the battles between forwards and defensemen for who gets top billing in Houston should be fierce.

Thumbnail image for alexburrows1.jpgVancouver Canucks

Contributor: Dani Toth from Benched Whale.

The Canucks prospects find themselves with a minor opportunity due to the winger vacancy caused by Alex Burrows’ injury. He’s currently rehabbing his shoulder and is not expect to come back to the ice until November, which opens up a spot on the top six if any of the youngins can prove themselves.

Shirokov – who was the toast of the town early last season – will attempt to try to come back from an underwhelming Canucks debut and compete against the speedy nineteen year old Jordan Schroeder who is looking to be this year’s feel good story. Cody Hodgson may also provide some competition if he is finally cleared to play from his back injury. This is the first chance for one of the young prospects to show the Canucks that they have the ability to crack the roster, but they’ll also be up against veterans like Raffi Torres who’ll look to move up into a top six spot.

The Canucks don’t really have a lot of glaring weaknesses except the holes created by the injured players who won’t start their season until a couple of months. Besides the winger spot that we already addressed, the biggest weakness that the Canucks face right now will be the lack of right handed shots on defense. With Sami Salo out with an injury, the only right handed shot right now is Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks will look to have either Edler or Ehrhoff switch sides to balance out the pairings.

I hate to think that my team is boring, but I don’t know if we will see any interesting battles play out in the next couple of weeks. I think that fans are waiting patiently right now to see Cody Hodgson get the medical clearance to play with contact. He’s been left off of the training camp roster and there is a good chance that he’ll miss the pre-season as well. Fans have heard so much about him being the possible future of the Canucks that they are hoping for him to make a complete recovery with his back problems. Whether he will or not, and if he does, whether he will be able to live up to the expectations will be an interesting story to follow.

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    Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

    CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

    Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

    In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

    “I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

    “I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

    He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

    Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

    The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

    Related:

    Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

    Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

    Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

    TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

    Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

    “It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

    “I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

    The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

    With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

    Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.

    ‘We were awful’: Duchene calls out Avs after latest shutout loss

    DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers at Pepsi Center on December 19, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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    The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.

    They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.

    But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.

    Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.

    It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.

    Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.

    “Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”

    Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!

    One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.

    No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.

    Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.

    “We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.

    “We’re not playing good hockey right now.”

    With Corey Crawford out, ‘Hawks recall goalie Lars Johansson from AHL

    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.

    With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.

    On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.

    Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.

    In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.

    His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.

    The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.

    Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.

    The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.

    Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.