James O'Brien

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 28: Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks keeps his eyes on an airborne puck against the Washington Capitals at the United Center on February 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Duncan Keith expects to be ready by regular season

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Cynics might snicker about players who bowed out of the World Cup, yet it might pay dividends for the likes of Duncan Keith.

As both the star defenseman and Chicago Blackhawks staffers noted to CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers, there’s a lot of optimism that he’ll be ready to go for the regular season.

“It was disappointing I wasn’t ready to go for the World Cup,” Keith said. “But maybe I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I didn’t take the time to let it rest and not start skating again until a couple of weeks ago.”

Keith underwent knee surgery last October and dealt with some setbacks this summer. While it’s a situation for Chicago to watch – he’s going to be withheld from certain preseason activities and likely games – it sounds like he made the wise move.

Knee issues can be tricky, so you never know if this story will end up being something that people remember wistfully if the veteran blueliner struggles to stay healthy in 2016-17.

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Yes, it’s true that the Blackhawks have some defensive storylines to follow before the season begins.

They must monitor Keith’s health and also determine a role for long-time defenseman Michal Rozsival. Getting Brian Campbell back in the mix is a pretty big deal, too.

Still, after defense was under the spotlight last fall, now it’s about filling some holes on offense. Check out this post to get acquainted with some of the prospects jockeying for playing time or even jobs as Blackhawks training camp gets into full swing.

Boudreau’s already a breath of fresh air for Wild

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks on the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Bruce Boudreau era has begun for the Minnesota Wild.

For the players, the demands will be many. The expectations will be as straightforward as can be. The experience also promises to be a lot of fun.

“Sometimes he doesn’t even know what’s coming out of his mouth when he’s talking,” forward Charlie Coyle said.

The rotund new head coach, well-regarded for his regular-season success, well-known for his profane rants and well-liked for his down-to-earth and self-deprecating manner, formally took over Friday for the first two practices of training camp. The squad split into two groups and, in addition to plenty of time with the white board picking up Boudreau’s defensive scheme, went through a grueling conditioning test during which skaters had to complete several laps around the rink under certain times.

The drills were no joke, but Boudreau made sure to keep the mood light even while barking encouragement to the participants.

“We’re huffing and puffing,” Coyle said, “and he’s still making us laugh.”

NHL training camps began about a week later than usual because of the World Cup of Hockey, and six Wild players were given a break for the first three days in their transition back home from competition: forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter from Team USA, forwards Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula of Team Finland and forward Nino Niederreiter of Team Europe. Only Niederreiter’s team is still alive in the tournament, so he could be delayed further.

The learning process won’t wait, though.

“We want to ramp it up as quick as we can. We want to have a lot of pace in our practice. It’s a real mixture, because we have to teach at the same time. It’s not going to be like a practice in December,” Boudreau said. “At the same time, we don’t want anything slow. We want a lot of moving parts.”

The first exhibition game is on Monday against Buffalo in State College, Pennsylvania, and the season opener is Oct. 13 at St. Louis. That’s less than three weeks away. Hence the hard work on the first day, even though players train year-round these days and don’t typically need to get back into shape.

“Everyone’s just excited to get this thing going and start playing some real hockey,” defenseman Matt Dumba said.

There will be differences in style, for sure.

“I think they’re still trying to figure me out. `What’s this guy like? He seems to be smiling a little too much.’ Or, `He’s joking around with me. Is he really joking or is he sarcastic?”‘ Boudreau said. “I think it takes a little bit of time for guys to get to know me.”

Impressions are there to be made for the players, most of whom have never played for Boudreau before.

“Everyone’s here to get a job and knock people out of their jobs, so everyone came prepared,” Coyle said. “It’s good to see that intensity and that competition right away.”

Niklas Kronwall wonders if knee will ever be pain-free

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04: Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Every now and then, there’s an article that pops up that makes you a little worried about the Detroit Red Wings’ record playoff streak.

Maybe the biggest issue is the “D” in Detroit. Far too many important blueliners seem to be dealing with nagging injuries that may never go away.

(Let the bleakness of that thought sink in for a moment.)

Not that long ago, Jonathan Ericsson acknowledged his ongoing hip-related struggles. Fellow Swede and Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall spins a similarly sad story.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be pain-free, but hopefully, I’ll be able to be out there in a position where it doesn’t bite as much,” Kronwall said to the Detroit Free-Press.

“The surgery that was talked about was something that probably wouldn’t be the best idea if I wanted to play again.”

Yikes.

To recap, Kronwall and Ericsson both seem like they’re adjusting to the reality that they’ll rarely – if ever – feel “100 percent.” That’s $10 million in cap space wrapped up in banged-up defensemen … and Mike Green‘s injury history doesn’t inspire much optimism, either.

Combine those issues with all the mileage Henrik Zetterberg has accrued and the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, and you start to wonder how long Detroit can keep this up.

Don’t take this as a burial by any means; betting against the Red Wings is a foolish gamble.

(Just watch Dylan Larkin speed around the ice for a few shifts and it’ll be a lot easier to find positives.)

Still, it’s not the greatest sign when Kronwall and Ericsson aren’t even providing the usual positive spin during the off-season.

Russia squeaks by North America in thriller

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 19: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of Team Russia reaches out to try to stop Johnny Gaudreau #13 of Team North America during the second period during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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If Russia’s eventual 4-3 win against North America doesn’t stand as the most thrilling game of the World Cup, then we’re in for some special hockey.

The Air Canada Centre was rocking tonight, especially during North America’s bid for a third period comeback.

From that beautiful Connor McDavidAuston Matthews goal to a wave of dangerous chances, the North Americans carried much of this contest. Sergei Bobrovsky kept that under-23 group at bay just enough for Russia’s first win of the round-robin tournament.

Ultimately, it came down to a second-period collapse where Matt Murray allowed four troubling goals before John Gibson took over:

The remarkable thing about this tournament is that, all of a sudden, North America is in a tougher spot after this loss. They face quite a challenge in Sweden on Wednesday while Russia’s next game comes against an up-and-down Finnish squad.

For many hockey fans, it’s difficult to accept the possibility that Team North America may not last much longer.

Thanks a lot, Bob.

Jackpot: Vegas expansion team sells out season tickets

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Owner Bill Foley of the new Las Vegas NHL franchise attends the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It still feels a little surreal that there’s really going to be an NHL team in Las Vegas, but Bill Foley & Co. continue to hit some significant milestones.

They’ve already put together a big chunk of their front office, bringing in experienced executives including GM George McPhee.

Of course, money talks, and they’ve been showing promise in that area as well. The [Blank] Knights have already sold out the 16,000 season tickets made available, as the team announced.

“This is a truly historic event for the Las Vegas community, the NHL and all of our fans,” Owner Bill Foley said. “I would like to thank everyone who has supported and continues to support our efforts to make the Las Vegas NHL franchise a success.”

Well, they still have a ways to go to be an on-ice success, but it’s tough to beat up Foley too much for tooting his horn here.

So far, so very good for the NHL in Sin City.

Aside: did the headline get this song in your head?