The St. Louis Blues weren’t shy about inviting veterans to join their training camp on a tryout basis, but naturally most of them weren’t going to end up making their opening game roster. Stu Bickel is among those that have fallen short, per the team’s website.
The 28-year-old defenseman is a veteran of 76 NHL games, including nine with the Minnesota Wild last season. Along the way he has accumulated 10 assists and been charged with 203 penalty minutes.
Forwards Evan Trupp, Eriah Hayes, Spencer Asuchak, and Zach O’Brien were also released from their tryouts. Between them, only Hayes has any NHL experience.
In addition to shedding some PTO players, St. Louis also reassigned 14 players to AHL Chicago. Although there were no surprises among them, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz stands out on the list given that he’s a former first rounder (25th overall, 2012). Schmaltz, 21, is beginning his pro career after spending three seasons with the University of North Dakota.
Defenseman Tommy Vannelli and goaltender Jordan Binnington are two other prospects on that list that are seen as having the potential to become good players. Vannelli, who was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft, had 35 points and 52 penalty minutes in 44 contests with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers in 2014-15. Binnington, 22, posted a 2.35 GAA and .916 save percentage in 45 AHL games last season.
St. Louis has 33 players remaining on its camp roster.
Patrik Elias will not play in any preseason games, but he doesn’t want to dismiss the possibility that he’ll be ready for the New Jersey Devils’ season opener on Oct. 9.
“I really don’t know. I wish I could tell you more,” Elias told NJ Advance Media. “It won’t be long. I’ll be back soon. I’m just having a little lower body issue. It’s not a big thing.”
The Devils and Elias are erring on the side of caution though to give his lower-body ailment a chance to heal. He has played in fewer than 70 contests in each of his last two campaigns and is now 39 years old, so issues like this could unfortunately be a recurring topic for him this season.
Elias is in the final season of his three-year, $16.5 million contract and it’s not clear what his plans are beyond that. It doesn’t sound like his goal is to extend his career for as long as possible though as he made it clear last season that he wouldn’t be interested in a fourth-line role if it came to that.
In the short-term, that’s likely not an issue. He might not be the offensive force he once was, but the hope is that he can be a key player for the Devils this season.
Even in the context of the Leafs’ brutal 2014-15 campaign, Joffrey Lupul is coming off of a particularly rough season, but he has reason to hope history won’t repeat itself.
Looking to change direction, the 32-year-old forward hired a new trainer over the summer and showed up to camp with 10 extra pounds of muscle.
“I added a little bit of size and more strength,” Lupul told the Toronto Sun. “Hopefully that turns into some more speed and explosiveness on the ice. I had worked with the same guy for a long time and just felt like I needed a change.
“I needed a new program, something to get me excited about training again.”
This season offers Lupul with an odd combination of fresh starts and reminders of his past. When the Maple Leafs hired Mike Babcock to serve as their head coach, they were reuniting Lupul with the man who oversaw him as a 20-year-old rookie with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04. Until now that had been Lupul’s only campaign under Babcock, but he credits the bench boss with helping him develop over that first year.
Since then, Lupul has enjoyed considerable highs, with the most noteworthy being his 67-point campaign in 2011-12, but he’s been plagued by injuries in recent years and struggled to produce even when he could play last season.
“When you work as hard as he did off the ice this summer, you’re way more likely to get more (good) fortune injury-wise,” Babcock said. “He’s tenacious. He works. He looks like a hockey player to me.”
While no one player is likely to single-handedly fill the offensive void left by the Phil Kessel trade, the Maple Leafs can certainly hope to lighten the loss through several players making moderate gains. A bounce back campaign by Lupul would ideally be part of the solution in Toronto.
Shayne Gostisbehere is one of the young defensemen that has the potential to make the Philadelphia Flyers’ blueline a significant strength in a few years, but first he will be spending more time in the minors.
The Philadelphia Flyers announced this morning that Gostisbehere has been cut from their training camp roster along with fellow blueliner Robert Hagg and forward Nick Cousins.
Gostisbehere scored three goals in three preseason games, but those exhibition contests weren’t all good for the 22-year-old. On the defensive side of things, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol felt Gostisbehere showed “some good and some bad along the way. I think he’ll tell you the same thing. There are things he’s learning every day,” per the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Even looking past that, sending Gostisbehere to the minors might do him some good as he was limited to just seven AHL/NHL games last season due to a torn ACL.
It’s also worth emphasizing that Philadelphia has eight defensemen signed to one-way contracts, so Gostisbehere always faced an uphill battle.
Cousins, 22, is coming off of a strong AHL campaign and might be one of the first forwards Philadelphia calls upon in the event of an injury. As for Hagg, 20, 2014-15 was his first full season in North America after making the transition from Sweden.
The Flyers’ camp roster is down to 32 players.
Marek Zidlicky isn’t making any definitive decisions, but for now it sounds like this season could be his swan song.
“I’m happy I can play one more year and we’ll see after that what happens,” Zidlicky said, per The Record. “I said right away after the season it could be possible I will retire or we will see. You never know. It’s tough for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are 38 or 28. That’s the business right now.”
Having said all that, the 38-year-old defenseman is looking at the 2015-16 campaign as his “last chance.”
Sure there are cases of players staying competitive into their 40s — Jaromir Jagr being the most obvious recent example — but Zidlicky views the future Hall of Famer and fellow Czech player as different from him.
Zidlicky and Jagr played together with the New Jersey Devils for parts of two seasons, but were both involved in separate trades during the 2014-15 campaign. Zidlicky spent the summer enduring a particularly tough UFA market, but he signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders on Sept. 18.
At his age, Zidlicky will still probably be leaned on during power-play situations, but he might see his role diminish in other situations.