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.

Scroll Down For:

    Devils’ Zajac out 4-6 months after pectoral surgery

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    As much as the New Jersey Devils have made gains in trading for Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson, they’ll still need some familiar faces to fight their way out of the cellar.

    It looks almost certain* that they’ll begin the 2017-18 season without one common fixture, as the Devils announced that Travis Zajac will miss about four-to-six months after undergoing surgery on his left pectoral muscle.

    The injury occurred during Zajac’s off-season training; the Devils didn’t share exactly how that occurred, though.

    Zajac, 32, has generally been quite sturdy for the Devils. He played in 80 games in 2016-17, collecting 45 points. He also appeared in 80 games in 2013-14 while playing 74 in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. He also played all 82 games for four straight seasons early in his career, so this must be frustrating for the veteran center.

    * – Yes, four-to-six months would mean missing a significant chunk of the regular season … but sometimes hockey players make downright shocking recoveries. Just saying.

    Lightning join effort to move Confederate monument

    Getty
    5 Comments

    The Tampa Bay Lightning joined the Rays and Buccaneers in releasing a joint statement regarding their efforts to help move Confederate monument Memoria in Aeterna from downtown Tampa following last weekend’s awful events in Charlottesville, Va.

    This effort gained steam as Hillsborough County government officials announced that $150K in private funds would be needed to make the change, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

    The Go Fund Me drive is currently over $50K as of this writing. If funding goes through, the monument would reportedly move from downtown Tampa Bay to a family cemetery.

    Here’s that joint statement:

    As Shutdown Corner’s Jay Busbee reports, it’s likely that former NFL head coach Tony Dungy brought wider attention to the matter, challenging sports teams to contribute while donating $5K himself.

    The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith reports that Lightning forward J.T. Brown has personally donated $1,500. The donation was inspired in part by the birth of his daughter Lily.

    “How would I explain why someone doesn’t like her?” Brown said, via Smith. “Or why is this going on in the world?”

    This is what the monument looks like:

    This isn’t the only case of NHL teams being connected to those tragic events, as the Detroit Red Wings and NHL announced that they may pursue legal action after the Red Wings’ logo was used by white nationalists during the weekend.

    Busbee has more on the Tampa Bay monument situation here.

    Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

    Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

    But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

    What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

    “There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

    If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

    It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

    Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

    In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

    One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

    Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

    But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

    That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

    Things will be different in 2017-18.

    Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

    Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

    Getty
    7 Comments

    John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

    But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

    Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

    It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

    On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

    “The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

    There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

    Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

    “I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

    Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer