Training Camp Battles: Pacific 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 entry: Northeast Division

Current Entry: Pacific Division

luboducks.jpgAnaheim Ducks

Contributor: Earl Sleek from Battle of California.

For the Anaheim Ducks, the biggest questions that will be resolved during training camp will revolve around the defense. Which six players will man the blueline on opening night, and how well can they realistically perform? Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, and Andy Sutton appear safely penciled in the top six, but beyond that it’s a mixed bag of possibility. Sheldon Brookbank played a consistent game for Anaheim last year, Luca Sbisa seems ready for full-time NHL action, Brett Festerling and Brendan Mikkelson have gotten a fair taste of NHL action, Danny Syvret was brought in for depth, Mark Mitera is another year older, Cam Fowler keeps impressing observers, Jake Newton and Mat Clark had solid outings in the recent rookie tournament, and there’s even rumors that the Ducks will sign Paul Mara. (Editor’s note: it seems like it might happen, but isn’t official yet as far as I know.) There’s a load of individual gambles being taken, it seems, but that’s probably a good thing — so long as a couple of them pan out, it could mean the Ducks are in good shape.

I could venture some guesses as to who takes these available jobs in training camp, but it’s not going to be based on very much personal observation, because most of these defensemen played most of last season outside Anaheim. Brookbank played 66 games for the Ducks last season, Festerling played 42, Mikkelson played 28, Visnovsky played 16, Sbisa played 8, and that’s it — there will be a lot of new faces this coming season for sure. Hopefully Anaheim’s training camp and preseason will give the coaching staff ample opportunity to figure out what the best mix will be. I know I’m anxious to see the outcome.

Thumbnail image for jamesneal18.jpgDallas Stars

Contributor: Brandon Bibb from Defending Big D. (Note: this post follows the format of the e-mail, so it’s a little bit different)

Which position battles on the Stars’ depth chart:

* Are most crucial to the team’s success.

Without question, left wing. James Neal, who presently remains unsigned with the opening of training camp nigh upon us, scored 24 goals before the Olympic break in February. After the Olympic break, he only scored three goals. And he’s got Jamie Benn pushing him for a spot on the top line right behind him.

And lest we forget Jonathan Cheechoo, who’s gone from being a key piece going back the other way in the Dany Heatley trade to a non-roster training camp invitee in the span of 12 months. Fairly certain he’ll have something to prove. He’s got a really chance to give the Stars the kind of player they thought they were getting when they signed Fabio. I mean, Fabian Brunnstrom (also affectionately known over at DBD as “Bunny”).

* Are under the greatest amount of competition.

Even with the departure of Mike Modano, there’s still plenty of competition down the middle for the Stars. That will remain so after Joe Nieuwendyk told Mike Ribeiro that he won’t be moved any time soon.

Obviously, Brad Richards is going to be the top center. And you have to figure Ribeiro will be a solid #2. But down the line, you’ve got Steve Ott, Toby Petersen, and Tom Wandell fighting for ice time. Whoever loses out on that 4th center position is still versatile enough to plug into a wing position, obviously.

But Wandell surprised some people with his play last year and was one of the key cogs in the penalty kill before he went down in Vancouver with a season ending knee injury. If he can get back to that level for training camp, it’ll be interesting to see how he competes with Petersen.

* Qualify as the Stars’ biggest weaknesses (or strengths, if your team has an excessive amount of offensive defensemen/defensive forwards/etc.)

No question, it’s on the blue line as Stephane Robidas is probably considered the number one defenseman on this team. Not disrespect to Robidas as he’s the kind of player whose work ethic could be a benefit to any of the other dressing rooms in the NHL. Not to mention, he’s got the most resilient face in the league. But when he’s your # 1 guy on defense, you’ve got serious depth issues. And for the cash-strapped Stars, that issue won’t be resolved until the team gets sold and a new owner uses the extra salary and gobs of cap space to trade for a true # 1 defenseman.

* Any other interesting battles that come to mind.

In season’s past, James Neal and Jamie Benn made such big impacts in training camp that the Stars had no choice but to move them up to the big club. I think the odds of that happening this year aren’t as good.

Still, keep an eye on Danish defenseman Phillip Larsen. During the Traverse City Tournament this week, he was clearly one of the best defensemen, if not the best defenseman, that the Stars had going for them up in Michigan. Mark Stepneski of ESPN Dallas made the trip up north and had this to say about Larsen after the Stars beat the Blues 4-1:

“He looked in command while running the Stars power play from the point. I thought he got targeted with some physical play in both games and never backed down. I think he caught the eyes of a lot of people on Sunday. He was that good.”

Larsen’s only has one season of SEL experience under his belt. But as Patrick Iversen pointed out the other day, he’s the kind of guy who could really push Matt Niskanen and give him a run for his money for his roster spot.

Besides the blue line, also keep on eye on the backup goaltender position. While I think this position is relatively secure in the hands of veteran Andrew Raycroft, whom the Stars signed in the offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if Richard Bachman or Tyler Beskorowany push him a little bit for the job.

After the jump, The Royal Half shares the LA Kings battles, Five for Howling discusses the Coyotes and Fear the Fin snags the Shark bait.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for jonathanberniergoalie.jpgLos Angeles Kings

Contributor: “Chris Kontos” from The Royal Half.

After a successful 101 point season and making it into the playoffs for the first time in 8 years, the Los Angeles Kings head into training camp with only one major position battle… who the heck is going to score besides Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth?

You can talk about which rookie is going to make which bottom 2 lines  … or the fact that Goalie WunderkidTM Jon Bernier is going to steal the #1 goalie spot from American GoofballTM, Jon Quick … but the real battle heading into training camp for the Kings is secondary scoring. When healthy last year, the 1st line of Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams was among the league’s best. But beyond that … yikes. After Kopitar’s 81 points, Sophomore Phenom, Drew Doughty, was second in scoring with 59 points. So unless Coach Murray plans to double shift Doughty at the #1 defense pair as well as 2nd line center … the Kings secondary scoring is in rough shape.

The real problem is that the Kings have a decent 1st line, and 2 really-really good 3rd lines. Many teams would love to have Jarret Stoll or Michal Handzus center their 3rd lines… but the Kings problem is that they have both. Neither one is a true 2nd line center and the only other choice is Brad Richardson, a guy who had a career year last season … with 27 points. Sure there is a chance that rookies Brayden Schenn or Andrei Loktionov may sneak into that 2nd line center spot… but even then their wingers are going to be Dustin Brown and Scott Parse. Not exactly a 2nd line on par with the league’s best.

Apparently the Kings attempted to make a move for a high scoring left wing during the summer that could have helped with secondary scoring, but instead got Alexei Ponikarovsky … a guy who made Sydney Crosby yearn for the days of Petr Sykora at his side. Maybe with the defense corps that GM Dean Lombardi has built, the Los Angeles Kings won’t need much scoring and can win a bunch of 2-1 games. But until the Kings can make some sort of upgrade via trade (since no player of any substance seems to want to sign as a free agent in Los Angeles) the coaches and management will have to look their fans in the eyes with a straight face and say “yes, we do think Scott Parse is a legitimate 2nd line winger.”

bryzgalovandtheyotes.jpgPhoenix Coyotes

Contributor: Travis Hair from Five for Howling.

For the Coyotes, the biggest position battle will be on defense. The team currently only has 5 NHL defensemen ready to play with Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Keith Yandle, Sami Lepisto and Derek Morris ready to go. Kurt Sauer is still out indefinitely with some neurological/balance issue that can’t seem to get fixed so there’s a spot open and a backup slot as well. There are a lot of talented kids looking to break in with first round picks Oliver Ekman-Larsson Brandon Gormly and Chris Summers along with Maxim Goncharov all looking good in rookie camp. The team also invited Shane Hnidy just in case the kids can’t fill the gap. This could be the weak spot if no one steps up big to fill the skates and minutes of Zbynek Michalek who left for a payday in Pittsburgh over the summer.

At the forward positions, there isn’t as much competition. The Coyotes filled a weakness in center depth by signing Eric Belanger which will increase competition for a prospect like Kyle Turris to break into the lineup. Wingers Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov will also need to have a great camp as the majority of the forward positions are locked up with 10 not moving and the other 2 tentatively taken. Basically, they need to show that they can put in the work and make plays at the NHL level because bringing them up to sit in the press box more nights than not won’t help anyone.

In goal there is no competition. Ilya Bryzgalov with Jason LaBarbara giving him a breather once in a while.

youngsharksferrandfrazen.jpgSan Jose Sharks

Contributor: Mr. Plank from Fear the Fin.

The Sharks come into camp with seven NHL defenseman under contract, making a battle for a spot much more difficult for players such as Derek Joslin, Matt Irwin, and Mike Moore (the three likely candidates looking to make the team straight out camp). In the event one of them impresses the coaching staff, it’s a possibility they start the year in San Jose, but with the number of bodies already available at that position, I’d put it down as an unlikely occurrence. A call-up during the middle of the year seems like the most likely route, and will definitely occur if any one of the Sharks current blueliners go down for a substantial amount of time with an injury.

At forward, it’s an entirely different story. San Jose boasts a top-six cast that won’t be challenged by any of the prospects looking to make the team, but the lower two lines definitely have a large amount of openings that are up for grabs. Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, and Scott Nichol are all but locks to make the opening night lineup, meaning there are two forward slots who could be filled by any one of the numerous prospects in the system.

Benn Ferriero, who was a standout player in the AHL, likely has a leg up considering he started the year in San Jose last season. His ability to add scoring pop would be a welcome addition to the third line of McGinn and Couture, especially when one considers they played on the same line together with the Worcester Sharks– the chemistry is already there. Frazer McLaren, who also saw 23 games in San Jose during 09-10, would serve the enforcer role admirably, something that the Sharks lack considering Jody Shelley’s and Brad Staubitz’s departures. After that you run into players general manager Doug Wilson has touted as individuals to look out for– Cam MacIntyre, Tommy Wingels, and others have all been mentioned throughout the offseason. It will definitely be the most competitive position on the ice, and there’s a distinct chance a dark horse rolls out of nowhere and surprises a lot of people (Benn Ferriero last season interestingly enough).

All in all, keep a keen eye on the forward group during training camp. It’s the one with the most spots available and, as is usually the case in matters such as these, should provide for some excellent competition.

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    Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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    NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

    Facing elimination for the second time this postseason, the Stars overcame a third-period deficit and won the first Cup Final double-overtime game since 2014 to deny the Lightning the title and force Game 6. In what was the second set of a back-to-back, two aging offseason signees were the difference for Dallas as 36-year-old Joe Pavelski tied the game with 6:45 remaining in regulation and 35-year-old Corey Perry ended the second overtime game in as many days with his put back 9:23 into the second extra session.

    Pavelski has now scored 13 goals, tied with Brayden Point for the most in these playoffs. He’s one shy of his total in the 2016 playoffs (14) when he led all players in the only other postseason he reached the Cup Final. That series against Pittsburgh, Pavelski had a goal in 6 games – his only point in the series. In this Cup Final, he has four goals in five games (all in last four games).

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    In two games facing elimination this postseason, Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin has stopped 79 of 85 shots, with both wins coming past regulation. With a win in Game 6 he will have the second-most victories in a single postseason in franchise history.

    Lightning head coach Jon Cooper announced Sunday that captain Steven Stamkos will not appear the rest of this series, meaning if Tampa wins the Cup it’ll be the first time since the Flames in 1989 that a team has a captain not play in the Cup-clinching game.

    Historically, a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final has almost guaranteed an eventual Cup victory, with teams converting 33 times in 34 total tries. The only time a team blew a 3-1 lead in the Cup Final was in 1942, when Detroit lost to Toronto after leading the series 3-0.

    WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
    WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
    WHEN: Monday, September 28, 8 p.m. ET
    TV: NBC
    ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
    LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
    Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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    The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

    The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

    Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

    Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

    2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
    Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

    ***

    SECOND ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
    Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
    Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

    ***

    NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
    Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

    Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
    Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
    Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
    Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
    St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

    Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
    Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
    Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
    Flames beat Jets (3-1)

    ***

    FIRST ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
    Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
    Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
    Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
    Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
    Stars beat Flames (4-2)
    Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

    Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stanley Cup Final Game 6
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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have another chance to win the Stanley Cup on Monday night when they take on the Dallas Stars in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, LiveStream) of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

    The Stars were able to extend the series on Saturday night with a double overtime thriller in Game 5 that was capped off with Corey Pery’s overtime winner.

    Will they be able to keep the series going one more game?

    Or will the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history and for the first time since the 2003-04 season?

    We find out tonight.

    Here are the three keys to watch for going into Game 6 on Monday.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    1. Penalties

    It really is pretty simple for the Stars right now. Stay out of the penalty box, give yourself a chance. Keep taking penalties, watch the Lightning skate around with the Stanley Cup.

    The Stars were penalized just one time in their Game 5 win on Saturday, a major shift from what we saw from them in Games 2-4 of the series when early penalty troubles helped put them in a hole they could not climb out of.

    The Lightning power play is too dangerous to keep putting on the ice, and that is especially true for the Stars right now as they are still dealing with injuries to three of their top penalty killing forwards (Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Roope Hintz). The Lightning still have the superior talent throughout their lineup, but if the Stars can keep things 5-on-5 it certainly increases their chances of tying things.

    Even though the Lightning have controlled the possession, scoring chances, and expected goal numbers, the Stars actually have a slight 12-10 goals advantage during 5-on-5 play in the series.

    Special teams have been the difference on the scoreboard.

    2. Tyler Seguin

    The Stars’ top line was under the microscope earlier due to their scoring slump.

    Seguin in particular was having a difficult stretch as he was in the middle of a 12-game stretch where he recorded just a single a point (an assist in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final).

    He still has not scored a goal in 14 consecutive games, but he has started to make a far more noticeable impact over the past two games of the Stanley Cup Final. It is during that stretch that he has an assist on five of the Stars’ eight goals, including each of Joe Pavelski‘s game-tying goals in the third period to send each game to overtime.

    The Stars are getting some big contributions right now from Pavelski and Corey Perry, but getting something from their top players (including Seguin and Jamie Benn) would be a really significant boost.

    3. Lightning top line

    They are one of the keys to the game because they are quite simply a key to every game this postseason.

    Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are both leading the Conn Smythe race, while Ondrej Palat has been a perfect complement to the superstar duo.

    When that trio is on the ice during 5-on-5 play in this series the Lightning are controlling more than 70 percent of the total shot attempts and have outscored Dallas by a 6-3 margin in just over 71 minutes of hockey, and it has not mattered who the Stars have tried to use against them in an effort to slow them down.

    No one has been able to do it.

    Just as no one on any team has been able to do it this postseason.

    Point is tied for the league lead in playoff goal scoring.

    Kucherov is leading the league in total points and has at least one point in 18 of the Lightning’s 24 games, including nine multi-point games.

    At least one of those two has been on the ice for 48 of the Lightning’s 77 goals (62 percent!) this postseason, while the two of them have been on the ice together for 37 of those goals (48 percent), while they have also posted dominant shot and possession numbers.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-2)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Stars 3, Lightning 2 [2OT] (recap)
    Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    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.

     

    Pavelski signing paying off when Stars needed it most

    Joe Pavelski Stars
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    If the Dallas Stars have been known for anything during the Jim Nill era it has been their willingness to make a big splash every offseason.

    Since Nill was hired as the team’s general manager in 2013 they have consistently been one of the big “winners” of the offseason.

    Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Alexander Radulov, and Ben Bishop have been just some of the notable players the Stars have acquired under Nill’s watch. They were at it again this summer when they signed free agents Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski.

    The hope was that they could serve as the missing pieces for what was an incredibly top-heavy team that was one game away from the Western Conference Final a year ago.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Both players have made a significant impact in the Stanley Cup Final as the Stars attempt to pull off another stunning upset in the 2020 playoffs.

    Perry was the Game 5 hero on Saturday night by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner in double overtime to send the series to Game 6 on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, LiveStream).

    Perry’s deal was always a very low-risk move because it didn’t really require the Stars to make any kind of a significant investment. It was a one year contract for $1.5 million, and if he turned out to be washed up it was not really costing them anything. He didn’t make a huge impact during the regular season, but he has been more noticeable in the playoffs, including his Game 5 heroics on Saturday.

    Pavelski was the more significant addition.

    As well as the bigger risk.

    During his peak, Pavelski was one of the league’s top goal scorers and a cornerstone piece in San Jose. Even though he was entering his age 35 season was still coming off of an absolutely massive 38-goal performance for the Sharks a year ago and still seemed to have a little something left in the tank. Even if he did not duplicate that success — and no one should have expected him to — he still figured to add some much-needed balance to a Stars lineup that was only getting consistent offense from one of its lines a year ago.

    The Stars landed him with a three-year, $21 million contract in free agency.

    In the beginning, things were not working out all that well.

    [Lightning vs. Stars: 2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

    In his first 13 games with the Stars Pavelski had managed just two goals, an assist, and was barely averaging more than one shot on goal per game. There was almost no impact. Given the contract and the expectations, he was probably one of the most disappointing players on what had been a wildly disappointing start for the Stars.

    But starting in February he really started to catch fire and play like the impact forward Dallas was hoping to acquire, finishing the regular season with six goals and 12 total points over his final 17 games.

    That improved production has continued into the playoffs.

    Entering Game 6 on Monday, Pavelski is tied with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point for the postseason lead in total goals (13) and even-strength goals (10), and has been especially hot in the Stanley Cup Final. He has already scored four goals in the first five games of the series, including a massive, season-saving goal late in the third period to tie Saturday’s game and send it to overtime. That overall production, as well some of his big moments (a hat trick in the First Round, for example) have helped put him on the Conn Smythe watch list.

    Maybe Pavelski won’t be a $7 million player in the third year of his contract. Maybe he’s not even one right now. But the bottom line for the Stars is this: They were a Game 7 double overtime loss away from being in the Western Conference Final a year ago despite only having one line that presented itself as a serious scoring threat. They needed somebody else to make an impact to help get them over the hump and get closer to a championship.

    They paid Pavelski to make an impact in these games. And he has. Exactly when they needed him to make an impact. If he helps them get two more wins and complete an absolutely improbable postseason run to a championship, through what would be an absolutely remarkable series of teams, no one in Dallas is going to care what the salary cap hit is.

    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.