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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    NHL On NBC: Flyers Look to stay hot against Capitals

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    Before the city of Philadelphia loses its collective minds on Sunday evening for the NFC Championship game, the local hockey team — which is playing extremely well again! — will be back on the ice when it visits the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon for a 12:30 p.m. ET puck drop. You can watch it live on NBC or on our NBC Sports Live Stream

    The Flyers have been one of the most maddeningly inconsistent teams in the league this season going back and forth between extended winning streaks and lengthy cold streaks. At the moment, they are back on one of the hot streaks.

    After defeating the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon the Flyers have now won six of their past seven and seven of their past nine and enter Sunday’s game just one point behind the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while having games in hand on both teams (one on the Rangers entering Sunday; still three on the Penguins). A win against the Capitals could jump them over both teams and put them just one point back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

    The Flyers are led by the trio of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, all of whom are among the NHL’s top-2o scorers this season. Giroux is currently fourth in the league in total points, while Voracek has four most assists than any other player in the league. Couturier, going through a massive breakout season offensively, has been one of the best two-way centers in the league and has to be one of the front-runners for the Selke Trophy at the halfway point of the season.

    The Capitals, meanwhile, are not quite as dominant as they were the past two seasons when they won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, but they are still among the top teams in the league. They have lost two in a row and three out of their past four heading into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Flyers, but are coming in with a couple of days rest while they get a Flyers team that just played 24 hours ago. So they are catching a little bit of a break from the schedule.

    Alex Ovechkin is once again the driving force behind the Capitals’ offense and enters Sunday as the league’s leading goal-scorer with 28. He is flirting with what could be another 50-goal season.

    There is going to be plenty of star power on the ice on Sunday afternoon with five of the league’s top-35 scorers (Giroux, Voracek, Ovechkin, Couturier, Evgeny Kuznetsov), the top goal-scorer (Ovechkin), and two of the top-five scoring defensemen (John Carlson, Shayne Gostisbehere).

    Do not miss it.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    The Buzzer: Pulock opens it up; Price is wronged

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    Players of the Night:

    • Whoa, Ryan Pulock. The Islanders rookie collected one goal and four assists for an unexpected five-point night. He came into Saturday with nine points in 33 games so far in 2017-18, but maybe this will open things up for the young blueliner. Pulock played a big role in the Islanders pasting the Blackhawks 7-3.
    • John Klingberg collected three assists as the Dallas Stars dominated the Buffalo Sabres 7-1. For more on the Norris Trophy argument Klingberg is making, click here.
    • The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the third period down 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators. Jake Gardiner collected two of his three assists during their rally back, helping Toronto erase that deficit and win 4-3 in regulation. Gardiner had to pick up some of the slack for Toronto with Morgan Rielly sidelined.
    • There were some other strong nights, such as Nick Bonino chipping in three points to help the Predators stay hot.

    Lowlight of the Night:

    You won’t see Carey Price allow many goals as bad as this one. At least, the Habs have to hope not in his later years, as his $10.5 million cap hit won’t kick in until 2018-19.

    More than a few wonder if the Canadiens’ playoff hopes died with a poor showing in three recent games against the Bruins.

    Highlights:

    Patrick Marleau: not too old to essentially shrug off a hit. Nice.

    Nice glove stops from Jimmy Howard

    And Mike Smith:

    Meanwhile, this is comes down to cool editing as much as it was a nice goal:

    Fantastic stuff from the Sharks.

    Factoids

    The Bruins are red-hot, and might start putting the heat on the Lightning:

    While the Avalanche might be even hotter?

    (More on those rising Avs here.)

    An additional Pulock fact for ya …

    Scores

    Stars 7, Sabres 1
    Flyers 3, Devils 1
    Avalanche 3, Rangers 1
    Jets 2, Flames 1 (SO)
    Bruins 4, Canadiens 1
    Maple Leafs 4, Senators 3
    Hurricanes 3, Red Wings 1
    Sharks 2, Penguins 1
    Coyotes 5, Blues 2
    Predators 4, Panthers 3
    Islanders 7, Blackhawks 3
    Wild 5, Lightning 2
    Oilers 5, Canucks 2

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Bruins may give Lightning a fight for Atlantic title

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    For a while there, the Boston Bruins’ excitement was at least a bit muted by lowered expectations. Yes, it would be great to get a round of home-ice advantage, but that’s not as sexy as going for a division title or more.

    Now, it’s important to point out that the Bruins have some work to do, but if you look at the standings after their 4-1 win against the Canadiens and the Lightning’s 5-2 loss to the Wild, it’s not outrageous. The Bruins trail the Lightning by three standings points, and they hold a game in hand on Tampa Bay.

    Lightning: 33-12-3, 65 points in 46 games
    Bruins: 27-10-8, 62 points in 45 games

    The Bruins can also close the gap in more direct ways by getting the best of the Lightning in head-to-head games. The two teams meet three more times this season, with two of those contests coming in Tampa Bay.

    At a quick glance, the Bruins are certainly the hotter team, as they’re among the hottest teams in the NHL. Their point streak now extends back to an OT loss to the Rangers on Dec. 16 (12-0-4), including a three-game winning streak. The Lightning have been stumbling by their standards, with three straight losses and two wins in their last seven games.

    The road ahead is bumpy for the Lightning, too.

    Star defenseman Victor Hedman‘s window of recovery was placed at three-to-six weeks as of Jan. 12. A bye week softens the blow, but the Bolts have to cross their fingers that he falls closer to three weeks than six, as their upcoming schedule puts them in a vulnerable place.

    Mon, Jan 22 @ Chicago
    Tue, Jan 23 @ Nashville
    Thu, Jan 25 @ Philadelphia
    Tue, Jan 30 @ Winnipeg
    Thu, Feb 1 @ Calgary
    Sat, Feb 3 @ Vancouver
    Mon, Feb 5 @ Edmonton
    Thu, Feb 8 vs Vancouver
    Sat, Feb 10 vs Los Angeles
    Mon, Feb 12 @ Toronto
    Tue, Feb 13 @ Buffalo
    Thu, Feb 15 vs Detroit
    Sat, Feb 17 vs New Jersey
    Tue, Feb 20 @ Washington
    Thu, Feb 22 @ Ottawa
    Sat, Feb 24 @ Montreal

    Tonight’s loss to the Wild began what could be a harrowing eight-game road trip for the Lightning. Overall, they play 12 of their next 16 games on the road. The Bruins face their own challenges as the season goes along, but for the near future, it’s a pretty moderate run. It’s also true that the Lightning will enjoy a stretch of home games too, with March holding the ripest opportunities.

    Still, some damage might be done by then considering that tough month and Hedman’s at-least-partial absence, possibly enough for the Bruins to draw even (or close to even). It could be a tough haul even if Hedman can get back soon, honestly.

    The smart money would still be on the Lightning winning the Atlantic, not to mention possibly getting the East’s top seed and maybe the Presidents’ Trophy as well. Either way, this is another reminder of how remarkable this surge has been for a Bruins team that was once 6-7-4 this season.

    The B’s are justified in setting their sights higher than merely securing a playoff spot. For all we know, this could end up being one of the most captivating races down the stretch.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Stars’ Klingberg is building serious Norris argument

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    From Nicklas Lidstrom to Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman, NHL fans are used to Swedish defensemen being involved in Norris Trophy talks, and often winning the award outright. It’s about time that we add another name to the conversation: John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.

    Some might roll their eyes when points come up in the Norris discussion, but how could they not, especially in Klingberg’s case?

    After collecting three assists in the Stars’ 7-1 Saturday squash of the Sabres, Klingberg now has a whopping 46 points in just 48 games. As of this writing, Klingberg leads all defensemen by 10 points. If he maintains that margin for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, it will be tough to deny Klingberg the first Norris Trophy in Stars history.

    Klingberg’s 46 points tie him with Jamie Benn for the team points lead, and place him in a multi-player tie for 18th overall in the NHL.

    About two weeks ago, Jamie Benn told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika that Klingberg deserves consideration.

    “One hundred percent,” Benn said. “He’s such a dynamic player, and a leader on this team. And I think this year he’s taking his game to another level, and it’s showing out there on the ice.”

    It’s not just about the scoring. Klingberg is getting the ice time you’d expect from a Norris hopeful, with an average of 23:33 per game. While that isn’t in the Drew Doughty range, it shows that the slick Swede is a go-to guy for the Stars (he easily leads Dallas in ice time).

    His all-around game is impressive. You can see strong possession stats at a glance at Hockey Reference, and with just 14 penalty minutes so far, he’s not hurting his team with bad discipline. While he’s not a primary penalty killer for Dallas, there’s some trust in that area, as he’s averaging 1:18 PK time per contest.

    Maybe you’d lean more toward Doughty, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban, or Karlsson – it’s a dynamic and deep field this year – but Klingberg deserves consideration, and he’s already drawing favorable comparisons to beloved Stars blueliner Sergei Zubov (without the in-game smoking breaks, one would assume).

    You could argue that Klingberg has been one of the greatest beneficiaries to Ken Hitchcock’s return to Dallas.

    Not that long ago, Klingberg was suffering through healthy scratches as the Stars experienced a wildly disappointing 2016-17 season. Now he’s easily on pace to surpass his career-high of 58 points, and Klingberg might just collect some hardware in the process.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.