Central Division schedule analysis: What Blackhawks, others face in October

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Teams can transcend back-to-backs and road trips. Conversely, it’s common for squads to squander the opportunities that come with long homestands.

Either way, it’s interesting to break down schedules; context can allow cooler heads to prevail. Sometimes you can see something extra-special forming when a team goes on a run even without factors working in their favor.

This is the third of four divisional breakdowns for October. Check out the Atlantic Division outlook here and the Pacific Division one in this post.

Also, click here for PHT’s in-depth season preview for the Central Division.

Blackhawks (won first two games, both at home)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Toronto
Tue, Oct 10 @ Montreal
Thu, Oct 12 vs Minnesota
Sat, Oct 14 vs Nashville
Wed, Oct 18 @ St. Louis
Thu, Oct 19 vs Edmonton
Sat, Oct 21 @ Arizona
Tue, Oct 24 @ Vegas
Fri, Oct 27 vs Nashville
Sat, Oct 28 @ Colorado

After starting with two games at the United Center, the Blackhawks play six of their next 10 games on the road. It’s a fairly away-heavy schedule through late November, overall. None of it seems too outrageous, though.

The bigger issue might be back-to-back sets, particularly with a core that has a lot of mileage on it. Chicago faces three back-to-back sets in October alone.

Avalanche (One win and one loss, both games on road)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Boston
Wed, Oct 11 vs Boston
Fri, Oct 13 vs Anaheim
Sat, Oct 14 @ Dallas
Tue, Oct 17 @ Nashville
Thu, Oct 19 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Dallas
Fri, Oct 27 @ Vegas
Sat, Oct 28 vs Chicago

The Avalanche begin the season with a three-game road trip, which ends on Monday. They face a back-to-back set in mid October and late in the month. Starting with five of seven road games is a challenge overall.

Colorado’s schedule is generally heavy on road games through Nov. 19. The table is set for tough times, which might not be such an issue if the Avs count on “tanking,” anyway.

Stars (Lost twice, one at home and one away)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Detroit
Thu, Oct 12 @ Nashville
Sat, Oct 14 vs Colorado
Tue, Oct 17 vs Arizona
Thu, Oct 19 @ Arizona
Sat, Oct 21 vs Carolina
Tue, Oct 24 @ Colorado
Thu, Oct 26 @ Edmonton
Fri, Oct 27 @ Calgary
Mon, Oct 30 @ Vancouver

Don’t be surprised if there’s talk of the Stars being inconsistent even if they start to get it together.

Tuesday begins a reasonably kind stretch, with four home vs. six road games.

They’ll be rotating home and road runs in more dynamic ways starting on Oct. 24. That visit to Colorado begins a five-game road trip, then Dallas will see three at home and three more away.

With one back-to-back remaining in October, it could be worse.

Wild (Lost two games, both on the road)

Schedule

Thu, Oct 12 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 14 vs Columbus
Fri, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 21 @ Calgary
Tue, Oct 24 vs Vancouver
Thu, Oct 26 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Oct 28 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 vs Winnipeg

The Wild will close off a three-game road trip on Thursday, although their season also starts with three of five games on the road. Some of that is tempered by the big gap in their loss in Carolina on Saturday vs. Thursday’s trip to Chicago. They begin a five-game homestand on Oct. 24, only to follow that with four away contests.

Minnesota’s going to have to grind to keep from a bad start. This isn’t the most extreme schedule, but it’s not the easiest by any stretch.

Predators (two losses, both on the road)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Philadelphia
Thu, Oct 12 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 14 @ Chicago
Tue, Oct 17 vs Colorado
Thu, Oct 19 @ Philadelphia
Sat, Oct 21 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 24 vs Calgary
Fri, Oct 27 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 28 vs NY Islanders

The Predators need to shake off this tough start to the season. With three of four games at home coming up, there’s an opportunity to get back on track (and for boisterous “Smashville” crowds to give this group a little more energy).

Oct. 19 begins a dicey stretch. They play three of five games on the road, but when you check the four-game trip that begins November, that’s seven of nine games away from Nashville from Oct. 19 – Nov. 7.

There are some solid opportunities after that, but the Predators need to keep their cool for the next month or so.

Blues (Won first two games, one at home and one away)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 10 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Oct 12 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 14 @ Tampa Bay
Wed, Oct 18 vs Chicago
Thu, Oct 19 @ Colorado
Sat, Oct 21 @ Vegas
Wed, Oct 25 vs Calgary
Fri, Oct 27 @ Carolina
Sat, Oct 28 vs Columbus
Mon, Oct 30 vs Los Angeles

The Blues begin the season with two straight wins, an especially nice achievement considering all the injuries they’re dealing with.

It’s also useful considering what is ahead. Beginning on Monday, the Blues go on a four-game road trip against East teams, including a back-to-back set. The Blues also play six of seven games on the road (and face two back-to-back sets) from Oct. 9-21. Extending from Oct. 9 – 27, seven of nine games are on the road.

Yeah, not easy.

The Blues then get four straight home games and six of seven in St. Louis. Most of that comes in November, so this next month could be a struggle.

Jets (Two losses, one at home and one on the road)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Edmonton
Thu, Oct 12 @ Vancouver
Sat, Oct 14 vs Carolina
Tue, Oct 17 vs Columbus
Fri, Oct 20 vs Minnesota
Thu, Oct 26 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 27 @ Columbus
Sun, Oct 29 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 @ Minnesota

Not the greatest start to the season or to a three-game Western Canada road trip for the Jets here. The good news is that their schedule is fairly reasonable, with only one back-to-back set and fairly standard home vs. away mixes.

Then again, as fun as probably will be to watch, two games apiece against the Blue Jackets and Penguins might not be the easiest draw.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

Terms of the deal were not released.

The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.