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:

    Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

    Getty
    1 Comment

    Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

    The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

    Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

    Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

    Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

    The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

    The same could be said about Jason Demers.

    MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

    As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

    Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

    The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

    Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

    This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

    Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

    Related

    Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

    Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

    2 Comments

    There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

    If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

    Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

    MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

    As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

    Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

    “Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

    Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

    Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

    Getty
    6 Comments

    Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

    Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

    Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

    This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

    /waits

    Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

    Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

    The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

    Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

    Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

    Getty
    1 Comment

    Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

    “It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

    Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

    MORE on the trade here

    Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

    Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

    Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

    Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

    Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

    ***

    When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

    Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

    Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

    And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?