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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    Mumps outbreak hits Canucks, five players to miss Sharks game

    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Troy Stecher #51 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on February 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    The mumps are back.

    Three years after a league-wide outbreak sidelined a slew of players, the Canucks have announced that d-man Troy Stecher has been diagnosed with mumps, while four other players — Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund — have presented symptoms.

    More, from the club:

    The team has worked from the outset with the Vancouver Health Authority, NHL, NHLPA and BC Centre for Disease Control to minimize transmission of the illness.

    In keeping with BC Centre of Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health guidelines, players presenting symptoms are immediately being tested and quarantined in isolation for a five-day period from the onset of symptoms or until test results prove negative.

    Vaccines are also being administered to minimize further risk of contraction along with universal preventative hygiene measures as recommended by Vancouver Coastal Health including disinfecting all dressing room areas.

    Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week. Saturday’s home date against the Sharks will be its first since a 3-2 loss to Philly on Sunday.

    Given that Stecher’s out and the other four are being quarantined, the Canucks project to be severely undermanned tomorrow. There was no immediate announcement for AHL recall plans, or emergency roster replacements.

    Following Saturday’s game, Vancouver is back in action again on Tuesday, when it hosts Detroit.

    Stars trade Patrick Eaves to Ducks

    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The Anaheim Ducks have acquired winger Patrick Eaves in a trade with the Dallas Stars. The cost was a conditional second-round draft pick in 2017.

    Eaves, 32, is enjoying a career year with 21 goals in 59 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, his cap hit is just $1 million. It was expected that he’d be traded prior to next week’s deadline.

    Eaves join a Ducks team that could use a few more goals. Of note, Corey Perry has struggled offensively, scoring just 11 times in 62 games.

    Below is the condition on the draft pick, which could turn into a first-round selection.

    Based on draft position, Dallas will receive the middle pick of Ottawa, San Jose or Toronto’s second-round selections in 2017 per the conditions in which Anaheim acquired the pick from Toronto in a previous trade. Should Anaheim advance to the third round of the postseason and Eaves plays in 50% or more of their games in the first two rounds, the selection becomes the Ducks first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft.

    Related: The Wild have options in search for forward depth

    Bickell to play first game since MS diagnosis

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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    RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell is expected to skate in his first hockey game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

    The Hurricanes assigned Bickell to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte on Friday and say he’s expected to play for the Checkers on Saturday night.

    The move came a day after he was placed on waivers in a procedural move that allowed the team to send him to the minors.

    Bickell, 30, has been out since October, was diagnosed with MS in November and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11.

    The three-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago has been practicing with the Hurricanes for the past month.

    Rutherford says Schultz extension ‘definitely a priority’ this summer

    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    Justin Schultz‘s career has done a virtual 180 since joining Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline, and the Pens have made it clear they’d like to keep him around beyond this season.

    “We have not [discussed an extension with Schultz],” GM Jim Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “But he will definitely be a priority for us in the offseason.”

    Acquired for a third-round pick last February, Schultz proved to be one of Rutherford’s best moves (part of the reason why Rutherford captured NHL GM of the Year). The former Oilers rearguard had seven points through 18 regular-season games and then thrived once getting into the playoff mix, helping Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup.

    He was signed to a modest one-year, $1.4 million extension last summer, which has turned out to be another Rutherford masterstroke.

    Schultz has been vitally important for a Pittsburgh defense decimated by injury. His TOI is way up — 19:15 per game — and his offensive contributions have been outstanding. The 26-year-old has nine goals and 39 points through 56 games, putting him tops among all Pens d-men (and tied for seventh among all NHL blueliners).

    Schultz is a pending RFA, and in line for a pretty big raise. The Post-Gazette suggested it could cost Pittsburgh $4-$5 million annually to keep him around, meaning Rutherford will have his work cut out. Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley are all pending UFAs, while fellow d-man Brian Dumoulin is also restricted come July 1.

    Rutherford will also need to deal with the Marc-Andre Fleury issue, specifically how to mitigate Fleury’s $5.75 million cap hit.