It's the best time of year!
As teams get ready to open training camp this weekend, we asked bloggers around the NHL to take a look at notable camp battles for their respective teams. Today, we begin the two-part series with the Eastern Conference…
Boston Bruins – By Anthony Travalgia, Bruins Daily
When the Bruins veterans hit the ice to open camp and begin their defense of their first Stanley Cup title since 1972, there are not many jobs that are up for grabs. The Bruins lost Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle to free agency, and went on to replace them with Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo, leaving one roster spot available to fill the void left by the retired Mark Recchi.
Last week the Bruins invited former Capitals Captain Chris Clark to camp for a tryout. Clark is expected to battle with Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight for the final Bruins roster spot.
Caron made the team out of camp last season and recorded seven points in 23 games with the Bruins. Spooner and Knight both spent last season in the OHL and had successful seasons. Clark appeared in 53 games for the Blue Jackets last season and had 15 points.
As of now, I give the edge to Caron as the 21-year-old looked good at times for the Bruins last season. If the Bruins and RFA Brad Marchand cannot come to terms on a new deal prior to the start of the season, it’s possible that Clark, Knight, or Spooner could make the team and hold Marchand’s spot until a deal is reached.
Buffalo Sabres – By Zach Zielonka, Die By The Blade
The Sabres training camp battle all depends on who gets moved to make cap space.
If the Sabres go with the plan that all of the fans conclude as the logical choice (waiving Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn), the glut at right wing and defense would be partially cleared up and the depth the team needed would still be a part of the team. If the team makes a trade before the season starts, the battle for a spot will depend on who gets moved.
At this point of the year, I don't forsee any prospects making a charge to get in the lineup.
Carolina Hurricanes – By Bob Wage, Canes Country
The Carolina Hurricanes have two openings at the forward position this fall and a number of talented youngsters will be fighting for those spots in training camp. Newcomers, Anthony Stewart, Tim Brent and Alexei Ponikavrosky will join returnees, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer.
Last season, Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson finished the regular season with the big club, but they will have to earn those spots to start this season, and it won't be easy. Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk are probably the favorites to stay at this point in time. Dalpe has shown good goal scoring ability so far and Boychuk is reaching a "make or break" point in his young career which should push him to the next level. He was the top point producer in Charlotte last season even though he spent part of the year in Raleigh. Still, Bowman and Samson are not to be underestimated and both bring attributes to the table.
Also in the mix is Jiri Tlusty, who has battled injuries through much of his time in Carolina and Chris Terry, another promising prospect who trained with Gary Roberts in the offseason.
The defense should be pretty much set as Joni Pitkanen, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen, Jamie McBain, Derek Joslin and Jay Harrison will be in the top seven spots. Still, number one draft pick Ryan Murphy and another young star, Justin Faulk, will try to impress. Bobby Sanguinetti is now healthy and will be looking to make a case for himself as well.
Florida Panthers – By Donnie Rivette, Litter Box Cats
Though many observers will be focusing on rookie goaltender Jacob Markstrom and Florida's myriad of summer free agent signees, shrewd eyes will be on the performance of 23 year-old forward Shawn Matthias – widely believed a lock for a new contract prior to July – who will be attempting to justify his two-year deal signed just days ago.
Panthers management, at least publicly, held the line on a two-way contract, and given the relative abundance of centers in camp (potentially up to 10 by our count), Team Tallon would appear to have had the heavy upper hand in negotiations. Alas, closing in on the eve of training camp, both sides narrowed the gap by settling on a two-way / one-way contract, which may have effectively removed the performance "carrot" heading into the deal's second season.
Yes, if his numbers in 2011-12 are seen as subpar he can be demoted, but if he is determined not to be in the club's longterm plans a trade could be difficult with that one-way staring down the throat of any potential suitor. As well, what's the likelihood Matthias steals one of four available spots from Stephen Weiss, Mike Santorelli, Ryan Carter, Marcel Goc, etc.? Throw in dark-horse lurkers such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Steven Reinprecht (seriously) and the next few weeks could become rather fascinating.
Matthias should not be easily dismissed, however, as 16 points in each of the past two seasons – centering third and fourth-line plug-and-play stiffs – are most certainly a sign of better days ahead. He's got the quick hands, wheels and experience (126 career NHL games) to become worthy of his second-round draft claim by Detroit in '06… but is the mental game finally up to the billing?
Montreal Canadiens – By Arpon Basu, CTV Montreal
For the first time since the roster purge of 2009, the Canadiens have a legitimate battle among their top-six forwards.
Andrei Kostitsyn has been a player that has drawn far more criticism than he has praise over his career, largely because he was a 10th overall pick in the talent-rich draft year of 2003. However, in spite of the jabs he has drawn, Kostitsyn has essentially been unchallenged for a spot on the top two lines over the last four years. In fact, he has spent little time anywhere other than the Canadiens top line.
The free agent arrival of Erik Cole this season means Kostitsyn will now have to fight for that top-six spot for the first time in his career. Cole being a natural right winger and a prized offseason signing, it would appear as though Kostitsyn’s spot next to Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri should be Cole’s to lose.
It’s entirely possible Kostitsyn would thrive in a third line role facing lesser competition for the first time in his career as he enters his UFA season. But the top-six role that’s been practically handed to him up until now is no longer a given, and his reaction in camp will be interesting to watch.
New Jersey Devils – By Carlos Figueiredo, Speaking of the Devils
For the first time in a while, the Devils actually have some interesting position battles to deal with in camp. With the departure of Brian Rolston and the injury to Travis Zajac, there will be a few forward spots up for grabs. Colin White's departure also leaves an opening on defense.
Newcomer Eric Boulton and Cam Jannsen, who makes his return to New Jersey this season, will fight it out – literally – to see who the team will carry as its enforcer to begin the season.
The other members of the fourth line will likely also be determined during camp. Adam Henrique has a chance to grab the center spot if David Steckel is moved up to the third line. Henrique could battle Rod Pelley, who played in 74 games for the team last season. However, Pelley could also move to wing, which would likely put him in a competition with Vladimir Zharkov for a spot on the team. Zharkov may have a better shot at making the team if someone like Dainius Zubrus moves to center to fill in during Zajac's injury.
Tim Sestito should also get a shot at a center spot, but he is probably a longshot to make the team.
On defense, the top five should be Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador and Adam Larsson. The last spot could go to either Matt Taormina or Mark Fayne. Both did a good job last season filling in last season. Taormina is returning after missing most of the season due to an ankle injury. The spot could go to whichever of the two shows better offense, which the Devils desperately need from the blue-line.
Mark Fraser, Matt Corrente, Alex Urbom and Tyler Eckford could also get a shot, but unless Salvador has issues recovering from the concussion that caused him to miss last season, or Larsson doesn't pick up the game quickly, they are long-shots.
New York Islanders – By BD Gallof, Hockey Independent
The battle that they will make a lot about, but was never a battle, is starring Nino Niederreiter. Nino has been penciled to play this year on the Isles since early this summer, if not last year. They knew what they had with Nino last year, and knew he was ready this year for the big club. They have slotted him to play a line with Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, though the delay in Bailey's signing might force the Isles to make some changes. They see Nino eventually being a first line winger, but he will have to unseat P.A. Parenteau who had 20 goals and over 50 points. The question is not IF, but when for Nino, who is rated very highly by the Isles internal staff. Expect him to make the third line – something I have said since last May.
The real battle that will occur this preseason is on defense by their 2009 first round draft pick, Calvin de Haan. de Haan is projected to be a top-two defenseman. This is why they made so many moves to scoop him up at No. 12 after getting John Tavares at No. 1 in 2009. de Haan was on the young side of the draft, and his body has filled out since.
de Haan can win a spot on this defense in their preseason. IF and WHEN he gains that spot, whether it be at season's start or midseason as a call-up remains to be seen; but anyone who does not think that the Isles future is with de Haan slated as a top D-man is just plain mistaken. He is a key component of the rebuild and their defensive futures, even over Travis Hamonic who is a projected 3rd/4th D-man. Those he will need to usurp are the journeymen D-men that the Isles brought in last year. Everyone will move down a notch, and cusp players like Mike Mottau and even Mark Eaton can easily be displaced by youth being served.
New York Rangers – By Kevin DeLury, NY Rangers Blog
Rangers camp will be the most competitive in years, but to me the most intriguing battle will be for the third defensive pairing.
It's pretty much a lock that the first two pairs will include Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Mike Sauer and Ryan McDonagh. After that there will be an all out war between Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek for the final two spots. I'm assuming the veteran Steve Eminger is probably in line for the seventh defensive spot. The most exciting part of this battle is that none of the players are over the age of 23 and they all bring something different to the table.
Del Zotto, 21, who was sent down to the AHL last season, has unlimited offensive talent and the ability to run the point on the power play. Erixon, 20, a Swedish Elite League player, can also run the point, but is more well rounded defensively then Del Zotto.
Valentenko, 23, will add a booming shot from the point which the Rangers currently don't posses and Kundratek would add a little snarl to the blueline while showcasing an outstanding first pass out of the zone.
If I had to choose the frontrunners it would be Del Zotto and Erixon as they both have professional experience, which could be the difference as the Rangers will be going with one of the youngest defensive corps in the league.
Ottawa Senators – By Peter Raaymakers, Silver Seven Sens
With so few players as sure-things on the Sens' roster, there are going to be plenty of battles in training camp this season. The biggest one, in all likelihood, will be for the second-line centre role.
There are no fewer than four players with a real good chance at nailing it down. Potential rookie Stephane Da Costa and Mika Zibanejad will be in their first training camps, and will be competing with Nick Foligno and Peter Regin mostly to anchor the second line. We could also see surprise efforts from Corey Locke, Jim O'Brien, or Zack Smith, but those are definite dark horse candidates for the roster spot. Regin injured himself during a soccer game last week, and depending on the degree of the injury, that could change the battle significantly. We'll see what happens, though.
Philadelphia Flyers – By Dave Strehle, NHL Hot Stove
It was a busy off-season for GM Paul Holmgren, as the chemistry of the Flyers was altered in an attempt to push his club back to Stanley Cup glory. As a result of the restructuring, there will be battles waged for roster spots when training camp opens on Sept. 17.
Forward - With the departure of offensive leaders Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, there will be many goals to replace. There will also be much more ice time up for grabs for the remaining forwards, as the two averaged nearly 20 minutes of TOI per game.
The top six would appear to be set with Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, along with newcomers Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek. Two more new additions, Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot, should be in place on a third line that will be counted on for more offensive production this year.
The last spot on that line could be contested for by two youngsters. 20-year-old Brayden Schenn would seem to have the inside track. Regarded as the top prospect not playing in the NHL, Schenn dominated at prospect development camp in July. The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 draft will be given every opportunity to make the opening night squad. Schenn could see competition from another young asset obtained this summer in 18-year-old Sean Couturier, as the eighth-overall choice in June’s draft could make his presence felt. The standout two-way center has all the tools, but may require additional time in juniors to develop physically.
Another possibility is Michael Nylander, who is attempting to make a return to the NHL for the first time since 2009. Like Bill Guerin last year, Nylander was invited to attend camp on a tryout basis. He suffered a broken neck in the AHL in 2010 while attempting a comeback, yet the Flyers remember that Nylander was the setup man for Jagr previously in Washington. The organization would like to see if that chemistry can be recaptured, and if the duo could help rejuvenate what was a woeful power play last season. However, the club is at the maximum 50 player contracts, so someone would have to be moved should they ink Nylander, who turns 39 on Oct. 2.
Those competing for the remaining spots up front will be Andreas Nodl, Matt Read, Ben Holmstrom, Eric Wellwood, Tom Sestito, Mike Testwuide, Zac Rinaldo, Tye McGinn, Brendan Ranford and Andrew Rowe.
Defense - Philadelphia's blue line is all but etched in stone, with the exception of the seventh slot. After the pairings of Chris Pronger-Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen-Brayden Coburn and Andrej Meszaros-Andreas Lilja, there will be a fight for the final spot. Management likes Oskars Bartulis, who suffered a serious shoulder injury late in the year. He will face a tough challenge from Erik Gustafsson, who nearly made the club last year, then went on to be Adirondack's top defenseman.
Those with outside chances are Oliver Lauridsen, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall.
Goal - The starting goaltending job was filled with the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. Sergei Bobrovsky remains as backup, but it may become necessary to move last year’s rookie sensation due to cap issues. If that occurs, Michael Leighton and Johan Backlund – both of whom earn less than Bobrovsky – would battle it out to back up Bryzgalov.
Pittsburgh Penguins – By Mike Colligan, The Hockey Writers
The Penguins will be returning their entire defensive unit for the first time in recent memory. With seven defensemen on one-way contracts and a number of others waiting in the wings with promising potential or NHL experience, the battle for the No. 5 and 6 defense spots will be the one to watch in training camp.
Youngsters Matt Niskanen ($1.5m cap hit), Deryk Engelland ($567k) and Ben Lovejoy ($525k) will be the front-runners, but all three struggled at times down the stretch last season. The third pairing was a noticeable weakness in last year’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay and Coach Dan Bylsma is looking for two players to step up and become reliable options for the team.
GM Ray Shero has been quietly surveying the market and if he doesn’t like what he sees, he won’t hesitate to look elsewhere in the organization (Simon Despres, Alexandre Picard) or make a deal for a reliable veteran.
Tampa Bay Lightning – By John Fontana, Raw Charge
For the Lightning, the loss of wingers Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim has shaped the most intriguing battles for a spot among the top-six forwards on the Bolts, as well as the balance of the bottom-six.
While Steve Yzerman has stated he is not going to rush prospects, eyes will be on former first round draft picks Carter Ashton (2009) and Brett Connolly (2010) making a case for roster spots (and potentially that top-six role). Veteran Nate Thompson is also a dark-horse candidate to fill in as a top forward, thanks to chemistry and his strength in head coach Guy Boucher’s system.
As for the bottom-six: It seems free agent signing Ryan Shannon fills Sean Bergenheim’s role on the third line, yet it’ll be a competition between Dana Tyrell, Mattias Ritola, Tom Pyatt, Blair Jones, and other bit players in camp to round out the bottom two lines which were defensive strengths for the Lightning last season.
On defense, the key battle is more likely to be a management choice to keep seven or eight defensemen on the Lightning roster full time. Bruno Gervais and Marc-Andre Bergeron need to show that they both should be carried at all times with the club that often plays games with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.
Toronto Maple Leafs – By Gus Katsaros, Maple Leafs Hot Stove
Brian Burke emphasized the importance of roster battles and competition when he took over duties as the Maple Leafs General Manager. Lacking high-end talent at the time, he added players to create that competition for jobs; no more ‘blue and white disease.’
Time has passed and that competition has dwindled as more players have been airlifted into the lineup producing a burgeoning complete roster. There's stability on the top two lines with Tim Connolly signed to a short-term contract as a bookmark for a first line center. The second line could be arguably one of the NHL’s best in Mikhail Grabovski centering Clarke MacArthur and underrated Nikolai Kulemin.
Battles for spots revolve around the third line with a projected Colby Armstrong flanking Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri on the other side. Kadri – despite potential – is fighting for a spot on wing, while the addition of Matthew Lombardi makes Bozak’s spot less than a lock (health permitting) and creates that competition for the important third line center spot.
With the defense almost set in stone, there are still bottom-pairing spots to lose, while at this point it looks like Mike Komisarek is on the outside looking in. He’ll need a remarkable training camp to change that.
Washington Capitals – By J.P., Japer’s Rink
Heading into Caps camp, the most pressing question is who is going to center the second line. Logic would dictate that sophomore Marcus Johansson has the inside track on the spot (since he’s actually a center and one with offensive upside at that). But when the team re-signed Brooks Laich to a six-year deal with an average annual salary of $4.5 million earlier this summer, Johansson’s hold on the position became a bit more tenuous, as Laich prefers to play center to wing, and Bruce Boudreau tends to like Laich quite a bit.
Nonetheless, the team is better off with Laich centering the third line, and Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom manning the top two pivot spots (don’t be surprised to see Johansson with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom with Alexander Semin some – if there’s one thing we know about Boudreau, it’s that he changes his lines more often than his ties).
As far as roster battles go, there would seem to be more bottom-six forwards than spots available, with Jay Beagle, D.J. King, Mattias Sjogren, Cody Eakin and Mathieu Perreault all trying not to be among the last forwards cut, but at least a couple of them most likely will be.
Winnipeg Jets – By Richard Pollok, Illegal Curve
The Jets do not have much in the way of competition for the team’s top six/seven defense spots, nor is there much competition between the pipes and Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are likely entrenched as the team’s two netminders. The Jets, however, have a lack of offensive depth, which opens up a variety of battles for the team’s third line.
On one hand, some believe the team will run out youngsters in Ben Maxwell, Jason Gregoire, Patrice Cormier and Carl Klingberg. On the other hand, some believe newly signed Kyle Wellwood, Tanner Glass and Tim Stapleton have the edges over the youngsters. It may very well end up being a mix of youngsters and veterans that form the team’s third line.
In any event, it is clear to onlookers that this unit is not going to compare favorably to many third lines across the league, regardless of who forms that line.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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