Training Camp Battles: Northeast Division

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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.)

Thumbnail image for tylerseguindraftday.jpgNortheast Division

Boston Bruins

Contributor: Cornelius Hardenbergh from Hockey Blog Adventure.

The position battle most-watched on the Bruins is Tyler Seguin vs. Himself. He’s basically assured a spot on the team this year unless he completely screws it up. There’s not much more there about him but he’s going to be good so I wanted to bring it up for sure. In rookie camp he’s been tearing up the ice on a line with Jared Knight and Jamie Arniel. I can’t wait to see him play in the rookie games.

The positions on the Bruins are for the most part filled out already. The main question is how are we going to get 3.3 million under the cap? Send Seguin back to the O? (ha!) Send Ryder to Providence? Trade? As the season (and Sturm’s return from LTIR) gets closer we get to wonder about just exactly what’s going to happen.

The team’s biggest strength is at center, because we’ve got a ton of them. Also goalie. And we do okay on defense. The team looks good. On paper. Before preseason. Nothing to do now but sit back and see how it goes.

drewstaffordtrain.jpgBuffalo Sabres

Contributor: Marty Vance.

The Sabres’ biggest battle was decided by management; you remember; during that God awful period of time when a 26 point player getting waived was headline news. When the decision came down to waive Tim Kennedy; that opened up a definite roster spot for reigning AHL Rookie of the Year, Tyler Ennis, and gave Nathan Gerbe an open shot to compete this year.

That leaves the Sabres with little in terms of roster competition heading into camp. But if anyone has a right to be worried, it’s Drew Stafford and a couple underachievers on the blue line. At this point, Stafford needs to be worried about his cushy spot alongside Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek; if 26 points can get you waived from this roster, then 34 sounds like free popcorn in the press box. But one has to think the 6’1″ Stafford still has an inside track for that 1st line, presumably because Lindy Ruff won’t want to stock a 1st line (a line annually shut down by more aggressive, more physical checking lines) with the likes of the equally diminutive Ennis or Gerbe. Maybe a kid like Corey Tropp (Michigan St.) or Luke Adam (QMJHL – Cape Breton) could make a run for a spot; but that would have to take one heck of a training camp performance.

But scoring goals isn’t the problem with the Sabres; it’s mitigating the number of 4-on-1’s that Ryan Miller must face each and every night. Chris Butler, entering his third professional season at age 23, will more than likely need to prove himself to Lindy Ruff after regressing in his sophomore campaign. Twenty four year old Slovakian Andrej Sekera seemed destined to move into the role vacated by Brian Campbell almost 3 years ago, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet. Healthy scratches throughout last season, Butler and Sekera will have to fight off the grittier Mike Weber (153 PIMs in 80 GP) and the Portland Pirates transition cog Marc-Andre Gragnani (12 G, 31 A in 66 GP) to retain their roster spots on this year’s overhauled blue line.

That said, it will take a revelation (see Myers, Tyler) for any of the current roster players to be uprooted and overtaken by any of the guys in Portland. But hey, at least the Sabres will have spiffy new sweaters. Right? Right?

(Editor’s note: I do love those sweaters.)

After the jump: Four Habs Fans cover the Canadiens, Ryan Classic takes on the Senators and Eye B Leaf shares the Maple Leafs’ biggest battles.


pksubbantrain.jpgMontreal Canadiens

Contributor: “Panger” or HF33 from Four Habs Fans.

With 17 returning players, including 20 on one-way contracts and 2 hot shot rookies all but guaranteed spots (PK Subban and Lars Eller), you’d think that there was not much in the way of training camp battles in Montreal. Of course, that would ignore the fact that not only do the Habs have to worry about having the right players on the ice, but those players also need to speak the correct language.

Ryan O’Byrne should have a place wrapped up on the blueline given his experience, size and one-way contract, otherwise prospect Yannick Weber has some NHL & Olympic experience, a cannon shot and will make it because of improved defense. Alexandre Picard and Matt Carle are both pretty much one dimensional (and injury prone) offensive D and may take the token French Canadien / PP specialist spot Marc-Andre Bergeron occupied last year, to the horror of Habs goaltenders and anyone with an awareness of defensive zone coverage. But Alex, Matt and Marc-Andre are eligible to play for Quebec at the Jeux de la Francophonie. Too bad there’s no hockey competition.

Up front, Mathieu Darche in on a one-way contract and probably has a spot tied up. But he went to McGill University, so he  forfeited his French status. Tom Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Dustin Boyd ought to earn spots given their experience and NHL contracts. If not, Ben Maxwell, Ryan White and Max Pacioretty have NHL experience and lots o’ potential. But they don’t get Moliere. Gabriel Dumont, Olivier Fortier and Louis Leblanc, are all getting lots of hype in the French media,. But they all need more time in the minors – in Leblanc’s case, junior. Remember how rushing Gui! Latendresse to the NHL worked out? Yeah, us too. David Desharnais has the best shot of the bunch, but at 5’6 he’s a long shot (heh). But they all speak Québécois, which usefulness is obvious for backchecking or goal scoring purposes.

If only Carey’s last name was Prix instead, he might get some respect.

pascaleclaireblinks.jpgOttawa Senators

Contributor: Ryan Classic of Silver Seven Sens.

The Senators’ greatest need – as it has been for the entire existence of the franchise – is a consistent, bona fide number one goaltender. After a horrific season, Pascal Leclaire finally showed some flashes of brilliance in the playoffs, but the jury’s still out on whether he can do it for an entire season. His body’s also more fragile than a Jenga tower, and he’s no use to the team if he’s injured. Brian Elliott put together an excellent 46-26-7 career record, but he’s too streaky to be a number one. The future lies with 19-year old Robin Lehner, but unless something drastic happens, he’ll be splitting time in Binghamton with Mike “Not Martin” Brodeur. 2010-11 looks to be the Leclaire and Elliott show again, for better or worse.

On defense, six one-way contracts and sophomore Erik Karlsson take up all the roster spots. Prospects Patrick Wiercioch and 2009 first-round pick Jared Cowen could make a push for a spot, but if either one makes the team it will likely come at the expense of much-maligned former first rounder Brian Lee. Lee’s on a one-way deal, but fans have grown impatient with him and it would surprise no one if he were put on waivers at the start of the season.

The story is much the same at forward. Twelve one-way deals mean twelve roster spots are taken, with rookie Zack Smith figuring to be the 13th man. If another prospect makes a case for himself – say, college star Bobby Butler or QMJHL MVP Mike Hoffman – the waiver casualty would likely be Ryan Shannon. Most of the competition in camp will be for spots with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL. There may not be many openings on the NHL roster this season, but the groundwork for the future is being laid, and that’s nothing but positive.

tylerbozakhappy.jpgToronto Maple Leafs

Contributor: Navin Vaswani of Sports and the City.

The most important question heading into training camp in Toronto, and into the 2010/2011 season, is this: other than Phil Kessel, who the hell is going to score? The Maple Leafs’ offense, if I may boldly call it that, scares no one. (It probably frightens Vesa Toskala, but he’s turning down NHL contract offers, so you know where his head is at.) Up front is where jobs will be won or lost at camp.

The Leafs are weak up the middle. Sophomore Tyler Bozak and the erratic Mikhail Grabovski are the team’s only two centers with some job security. Prized prospect Nazem Kadri will get every chance to make the big club straight out of junior hockey. He could probably use some seasoning, preferably a full season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, playing 20 minutes a night in all situations. (Which means he’ll definitely crack Toronto’s opening night roster.)

On the bubble from last season are the likes of John Mitchell, Christian Hanson, and Luca Caputi, and you’ll be wise to keep your eyes on Marcel Mueller and Jerry D’Amigo. General manager Brian Burke’s philosophy of top six and bottom six forwards likely means the top two lines are set, with any combination of Bozak, Grabovski, Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and newcomers Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, and Clarke MacArthur being counted on to score goals. If a player brings his hard hat, a lunch box, and some truculence — full disclosure: I loathe that word — to camp, he’s got a chance to play on Ron Wilson’s third or fourth lines.

While the Leafs may be offensively challenged this coming season, their focus as a team must be on defense. And I’ll be watching training camp closely, and praying at the same time, to see if that indeed will be the case. On paper, Toronto’s back end is set. The Leafs have a dearth of NHL defenseman, seven by my count (Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin, Brett Lebda, Luke Schenn, and Carl Gunnarsson), and eight if you count those who are paid as NHL rearguards (Jeff Finger will make $3.5 million while playing in the AHL this season). While they don’t have a chance to make the team, I’ll have my eyes on youngsters Keith Aulie and Juraj Mikus in camp.

Toronto: where goaltenders go to die. Post-lockout, the Maple Leafs’ crease has been in constant disarray, and that will hopefully change this season. J.S. Giguere’s already been anointed the team’s starting keeper, with Jonas Gustavsson serving as his backup. If all goes to plan, this will be a transitional season for Toronto between the pipes. Giguere’s got an expiring contract and the Leafs are hoping Giggy will mentor Gustavsson the way he did Jonas Hiller in Anaheim. While training camp won’t see the two goalies necessarily compete against one another for the starting job, it will be interesting to watch Gustavsson push Giguere, and see what the veteran Giguere can do to motivate, and help, the young Swedish tender.

The Leafs need to know what they’ve got in Gustavsson, as they recently added another two goalies via free agency: Jussi Rynnas, from Finland, and Ben Scrivens, from the college ranks. If we’ve learned anything in Toronto after trading separate first-round draft picks, one being Tuukka Rask (this is where I go and fix a drink), for Andrew Raycroft and Toskala, it’s that you can never have too much depth in goal. But back to Giguere: in 15 starts with Toronto last season, after he was acquired from Anaheim for Toskala and Jason Blake (this is where I pour another – but this time celebratory – drink), Giggy won only six games. But, more importantly, he put up a .916 save percentage. Nine-one-six! Toskala and Raycroft don’t even dream of save percentages that high. And a number like that will go a long way in helping Toronto keep the puck out of the net, and in improving their absolutely horrific penalty killing, something they have to do if they’re serious about making the playoffs. While I know it’s “only” training camp, and that results may not transfer over into the regular season, I’ll have my eye on Toronto’s special teams during the fake games. The Leafs must be better when they’re down, and up, a man. Period.

Injuries exposing Golden Knights’ lack of depth

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We are not even a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 NHL season and it is already clear that things are not going anywhere near as well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they did in their inaugural season.

They enter Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, and have quite a bit of work to do to get themselves back into a playoff position. Regression from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one was inevitable, but this might be even more than should have been expected given just how good they looked a year ago.

Goaltending has been a major culprit in the fall, but injuries and a 20-game suspension to one of their top defenders (Nate Schmidt) have also ruined what little depth the team had.

Even last year when Vegas was rolling through the Western Conference it was a very top heavy team that had some question marks after its top line. The complete dominance of the Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith line, as well as a career year from Marc-Andre Fleury, helped mask whatever flaws may have existed on the roster.

[Related: Golden Knights look to get back on track on Wednesday Night Hockey]

Keep in mind this team a year ago had a minus-17 goal differential at 5-on-5 when its top line was not on the ice (it plus-24 with the the top line on the ice).

But with those top players coming back, and Erik Haula coming off of a breakout season with his first real look in a significant role, and the offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to hopefully — at least in theory — form what could have been a second dominant scoring line, there was plenty of reason think Vegas could at least be a playoff team once again, if not an actual contender.

Things have quickly gone awry from that plan.

Especially as injuries have mounted and the goaltending has collapsed on itself.

Pacioretty missed four games due to injury earlier this month and has yet to make the expected impact when they acquired him from Montreal for a trade package centered around Tomas Tatar (who has been great in Montreal) and 2017 first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki. As of Wednesday, he has just two points (both goals) in 14 games.

Stastny, their big free agent acquisition, has been sidelined since Oct. 8 and has only played in three games this season. In the words of coach Gerard Gallant on Wednesday, he is “not even close” to returning.

He and Pacioretty have spent just 43 minutes on the ice together this season.

As if that has not been enough, they recently lost Haula — 29 goals a year ago — to an ugly looking injury that required him to be stretchered off the ice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a month-to-month basis.

Sprinkle in some additional injuries to the likes of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Deryk Engelland (who was one of the many pleasant surprises on the team a year ago) and the lineup has been consistently depleted this season.

General manager George McPhee was recently on Fan 590 in Toronto and talked about the situation, saying “we aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.”

Via The Sin Bin.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.

If there is any good news on the horizon it’s that Schmidt will be eligible to return from his suspension on Nov. 18, which should give a boost to the defense.

But when it comes to everything else their options may be limited to just simply waiting. And hoping.

They have to wait for Stastny and Schmidt to get back in the lineup.

They have to hope Pacioretty breaks out of this early funk.

They have to hope Fleury’s early struggles are just that — early struggles — and not the beginning of the end for a 34-year-old goalie that just signed a long-term contract extension this summer.

Beyond that, what are the other logical options here? Vegas still has a lot of draft pick capital at its disposal, but at some point there has to be a big picture outlook where it has to remember that even with its year-one success this is still an expansion team building an organization from the ground up. It can not keep shipping away draft picks and prospects and ignoring the future.

All of that salary cap space the Golden Knights had at their disposal in future years has also quickly started to go away with several long-term contracts signed over the past few months (Marchessault, Smith, Fleury, Pacioretty, Tuch, Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller are all signed through at least the 2022 season, while Stastny is locked in through 2021.  Karlsson will once again be a restricted free agent after this season and is currently doing enough to show he, too, is worth a long-term deal).

Everything went right for Vegas in year one, and it produced an incredible, almost too good to be true story. They are going to need everything to go right the rest of the way this season if they are going to come close to repeating because, so far, everything has worked against them. It all has them facing quite a deficit in the standings.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tristan Jarry makes some history with goalie goal in AHL

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Take a break from your work day and enjoy one of the great — and extremely rare! — joys that hockey has to offer: The goalie goal.

This one comes to us from the American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon where Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry became the first goalie in franchise history, and only the 14th goalie in AHL history, to score a goal.

He did it late in the third period of the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, and you can see it in the video above.

Jarry was selected by the Penguins in the second-round of the 2013 NHL draft (No. 44 overall) and has spent most of the past four seasons playing in the AHL. He has also appeared in 27 NHL games during that time, almost all of them coming a season ago. He lost out on the backup job behind Matt Murray in Pittsburgh to Casey DeSmith this preseason.

Some more goalie goal history for you: Jarry’s goal is the first by a goalie in the AHL since Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic scored one in March of this past season.

There have been 11 different goalies to score a goal in an NHL game, the most recent of which was scored by Mike Smith, then of the Arizona Coyotes, during the 2013-14 season. Martin Brodeur (three) and Ron Hextall (two) are the only ones to have scored more than one.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins trade Carl Hagelin to Kings for Tanner Pearson

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Jim Rutherford said changes could be coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins if things didn’t turn around. Things have not turned around yet, and on Wednesday he made his first change.

Just a couple of hours after the team announced that Rutherford had signed a new contract extension to remain the team’s general manager, he completed a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in an effort to shake up his struggling roster.

The trade: Sending Carl Hagelin, a two-time Stanley Cup-winner in Pittsburgh, to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson.

Rutherford said after the trade this could be the start of more changes and that, “with the way things have gone, it’s obvious that we had make a change.”

On the surface there’s really not much separating these two players through the first two months of the season as both have struggled offensively.

Hagelin has just three points in 16 games even though he has spent the bulk of the year playing alongside one of the league’s top players in Evgeni Malkin. Pearson, who is usually good for 15 goals and 40 points over a full season, has just one point in 17 games for a Kings team that has sent offense back to the dead puck era.

But let’s try to dig a little deeper than that and see what this means for both teams.

[Related: Rutherford signs contract extension with Penguins]

First, let’s start with the Kings because this is a tough one to read. Really tough. The Kings are an old, bad offensive hockey team that managed to somehow get older (Hagelin is 30; Pearson is 26) and worse offensively. Even though Pearson is having a miserable year, he is still, in big picture terms, a better offensive player than Hagelin and will probably continue to be in future seasons.

Hagelin has speed to burn, but simply doesn’t have the hands to match it. It leads to a lot of chances that ultimately fizzle out in the offensive zone. That is not what the Kings need. At all.

The key here for the Kings is, most likely, in the dollars. Hagelin is a free agent after this season and has his $4 million salary cap hit coming off the books, while Pearson is still on the hook for $3.75 salary cap hit through the 2020-21 season. If they don’t see Pearson as a long-term fit in what should be an upcoming rebuild, it makes some sense to jettison the salary. Though, it certainly does make you wonder if there was a better return out there than this. It is not that Hagelin is a bad player, because he is outstanding defensively and on the penalty kill and every line he is a part of tends to play better. He just doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose on this particular Kings team or address any of their needs, short-term or long-term. It is entirely possible, if not likely, he gets traded again before the deadline.

The Penguins, meanwhile, needed a boost offensively, especially when it comes to their bottom-six, a group that has been completely nonexistent this season. After their 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night you have to go back nine games to find the last time they received a goal from their third-or fourth-line, and Pearson, in theory, could be an upgrade there.

It is also possible that coach Mike Sullivan could simply slot him into the opening left by Hagelin’s departure.

While he is not likely to be an impact player, he does seem like a pretty good buy-low candidate for the Penguins to take a chance on. His career track record suggests he is significantly better than he has shown this season, and now he gets a fresh start on what should be a good team with top-tier talent around him. It wouldn’t be the first time such a trade worked out for the Penguins.

Remember, they originally acquired Hagelin in the middle of the 2015-16 season when he was struggling in Anaheim in a similar change of scenery swap involving David Perron. Hagelin immediately rediscovered his game in Pittsburgh and played a key role in turning their season around and helping them win the Stanley Cup.

It is not likely to play out that perfectly again for the Penguins, but as Rutherford said on Wednesday, they had to try something.

MORE: Obviously unhappy GM rips Penguins’ slow start

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Skidding Blackhawks odds favorites hosting Blues on Wednesday

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The Chicago Blackhawks will win a hockey game under new coach Jeremy Colliton at some point, but they don’t offer a sterling track record as a slight favorite on home ice.

Despite an eight-game losing streak, the Blackhawks are -120 moneyline favorites against the +100 underdog St. Louis Blues on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with a 6.0 total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Chicago, which is going into its fourth game since Colliton took over as coach after the ouster of Joel Quenneville, is just 5-13 in its last 18 home games as a favorite of 100 to -125 on the moneyline. The Blues, who come into the United Center on two days of rest to the Blackhawks’ one, are 6-3 in their last nine road games against Chicago according to the OddsShark NHL Database.

The Blues are 6-6-3 this season, having won four of their last six games with both losses coming against the Minnesota Wild. Center Ryan O'Reilly helms a strong first line in between wings Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, while the Blues power play ranks fourth-best in the NHL at 27.6 percent. Their penalty killing is also ninth at 82.4 percent.

Believing in the Blues bucking a trend of being 4-11 in their last 15 road games against Central Division teams comes down to trusting their goaltending. Backup Chad Johnson has been picking up the slack for struggling Jake Allen.

The Blackhawks are 6-8-4 overall including an 0-2-1 mark in three games under Colliton. The top line of center Jonathan Toews and wings Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz is coming off a high-chance night in a defeat against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, while their three-line attack might be firmer now that Colliton has created a new third line led by David Kampf, in between Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun. Chicago will also be getting Brandon Saad back after missing two games with an arm injury.

While the Blackhawks might be worth a hunch play – all losing skids end – it would also mean downplaying the fact they are 29th in power-play efficiency at 12.5 percent and are also 25th in penalty-killing efficiency.

The total has gone OVER in four of the Blues’ last five road games against the Blackhawks. The total has gone OVER in five of the Blues’ last seven games against Central Division teams. The total has gone UNDER in nine of the Blackhawks’ last 12 games as a favorite of 100 to -125 moneyline.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.