Nov 192008

– No surprise from anyone that Dustin Penner got benched by Craig MacTavish. The $4.25m man never lived up to expectations and probably never well. Brian Burke felt that the massive overpayment would have ramifications on the free agent market, but it didn’t, but regardless Burke gets the last laugh because now the Oilers are stuck with Penner for a long time. Except the hockey gods are giving Penner another chance, now with Fernando Pisani is sidelined with a broken ankle.

Craig Hartsburg is once again going to re-unite the Pizza Line. I never understood the fascination with breaking them up in the first place, it never went anywhere and the only good thing that ever came out of it was the fact that now everyone knows the Big Three can’t be separated. The Sens have been plagued with a lack of secondary scoring, and they’ve failed every summer to bring in that player, but you have to wonder if spreading around the talent is even an answer to that. Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette need to step up their game for them to be competitive. However, the Sens will continue to have problems if 1) they don’t replace players lost and 2) the players refuse to listen.

– Speaking of linemates, a lot of fans in Vancouver have been frustrated by Steve Bernier‘s lack of production with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but is it really his fault? I think the problem with that line is that the Sedins refuse to play to Bernier’s strengths. That’s not to say they should change their puck-cycling game, but too often we hear “I’m still trying to figure out the twins’ tendencies” rather than “we’re still trying to figure out Bernier’s tendencies.” Canucks management, throughout the years of its revolving door of right wingers, have cemented in their heads that there is a player out there that can perfectly compliment their game. I say that will never happen unless the Sedins do something about it.

– There’s been a clear lack of respect on all fronts in the game, on and off the ice. Off the ice, we’re seeing insubordination and a lack of respect for coaches. Case in point, Barry Melrose. Players have complained about his lack of preparation, but I really feel the players weren’t ready to listen to him since day one, and the writing was on the wall for him. There are grumblings from Ottawa that the same thing is happening. When the players dictate how management and coaches handle their duties, that’s when you know you have a problem. On the ice, I don’t think there’s been more head shots, hits from behind, puck-chasing, and board-crashing related injuries in a span of a month.

Nov 142008

The Lightning are seemingly trying their best to become the laughing stock of the NHL taking the crown away from the New York “lets promote our backup goalie to General Manager” Islanders. Just 16 games into the season the Lightning have fired head coach Barry Melrose. This comes just a couple days after Melrose skipped out on practice and rumours of part owner Len Barrie stepping into the dressing room to draw up power play tactics earlier in the season.

It is becoming apparent that the Lightning’s new ownerships management style is better known as a revolving door. Matt Carle was acquired from the Sharks in the off season and has been traded. Barry Melrose was hired in the off season and has been fired. Rumours are off season free agent Radim Vrbata is on the trading block.

And maybe the icing on the laughing stock cake are the rumours that the current ownership group may be having a cash flow problem and may not be able to make payments to previous owner Bill Davidson and if they can’t Bill Davidson may once again take control of the team again. I have no idea if this is true or not but from revolving players to revolving coaches, why not revolving owners. Maybe then Jay Feaster and John Tortorella can be brought back. At least Tortorella was mildly entertaining with his vocal criticisms of his players, particularly goalies.

Nov 082008

Everyone knew that the Lightning’s defense would have a hard time keeping up with the rest of the league. After a poor offensive start, the Lightning did a little shake-up by swapping the tougher Shane O’Brien for Lukas Krajicek to get more mobile on defense. It was assumed that Andrej Meszaros, Paul Ranger, and Matt Carle, one of the key pieces in the Dan Boyle deal, would handle the puck-moving duties. However, the three of them have only combined for 9 points and a harmless -1 rating. Meszaros has yet to score this year, and Ranger and Carle both have one each. Tampa’s third-last 27 GF total is embarrassing, especially after the amount of offensive talent the Lightning horded this year – Boyle (9 points in 14 games) and the Sharks, on the other hand, have almost double that total with 50 GF.

While the problem on defense remains, it doesn’t help when your offense can’t get going either. Vinny Lecavalier has a pedestrian 10 points and Martin St. Louis has 9 – even if these two get going there’s still no indication of how well the rest of the team can do. Highly touted Steve Stamkos has started off slow, while Ryan Malone has only 3 points, all of them goals, in 12 games, and Gary Roberts has yet to register a point. Ironically, it’s Jussi Jokinen, who was planned to be dealt over the summer, and the forgotten acquisition Mark Recchi that are the ones chipping in offensively.

So, figuring that their offense requires an extra boost in (only) just 12 games, the Bolts decided to give up on the promising Carle in exchange for a chippy Steve Downie and less-mobile Steve Eminger. Eminger and Carle are both already on their second team this year. First, this is a great trade for the Flyers, because they got rid of a prospect they don’t need and who has a checkered history and a depth defenseman for a young player that could turn out to be really, really good. Carle will immediately take off some pressure off Kimmo Timonen (he’s averaging in the high-20s in ice-time) on the puck-handling duties, while I don’t really see how either Eminger or Downie are supposed to make the Lightning any better.

The Lightning are actually a modest 4-4-4 on the season, and there’s no indication that they’re in for a free fall either, considering the play of Mike Smith and how Stamkos is finally getting some quality ice-time to showcase his abilities. The only reason I can theorize is that Brian Lawton (probably under orders from Len Barrie and Oren Koules) pushed the “panic” button. There’s no upside in giving up on a young player just 12 games in to the season, especially if the players you get in return don’t have half the potential of Carle’s.

Considering how early this trade went down I would not be surprised if the Lightning made even more moves regarding their defense, but judging by their roster moves I can’t help but think the next one will be yet another sideways step. Already we’ve seen three new faces in twelve games which mathematically speaking means that we’ll be seeing 20 different defensemen to wear a Lightning jersey this year. This team needs more time to gel, and every time they acquire a new player it’ll set them back. The Lightning are becoming, if not are, the laughing stock of the league.

Congratulations to Mark Parrish, who successfully makes his comeback to the NHL with a hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Ducks. The former Minnesota forward is the second player this year (the other being, surprise, teammate Fabian Brunnstrom) to make his season debut with a hat trick. The Stars have been one of the worst teams thus far this year and scoring isn’t a problem, but if Marty Turco can’t pick up his play they’re not going anywhere fast, although it should help when Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov come back later next week.

EDIT: Just giving both teams a quick cap space run through and it amazes me how Philly continues to pile on the salaries even they have less a million in cap space. How are they going to fit Carle in? Is Randy Jones headed toward the LTIR? With Carle it’d put the Flyers roughly $2m over the cap.

Oct 132008

No team in the league went through as much turnover as the Lightning this summer. Spearheaded by a new ownership group led by Oren Koules and Len Barrie, who have made many headlines this summer, the Lightning have promised their fans an exciting brand of Lightning hockey and a replication of success they enjoyed in 2004. The Lightning enter the season with much intrigue, as many fans and experts are wondering what sort of Lightning team that features as many as five new key players and a coach that hasn’t worked in the NHL for a decade, will show up.

It wasn’t too long ago that John Tortorella realized he made a mistake naming Vincent Lecavalier as captain and took the ‘C’ away from him. Now that he’s more mature (and really there really isn’t anyone else as qualified), new coach Barry Melrose has returned the captaincy to him. Make no mistake, Lecavalier is one of the top five centres in the league. His size and scoring ability makes him dangerous offensively, and along with Martin St. Louis they form the best scoring duo in their division. The re-addition of Vaclav Prospal and being able to land some of this summer’s best free agents in Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata, and not to mention Steve Stamkos (who surprised me with his defensive plays), the Lightning have a lot of firepower. How well the new additions will mesh with Jussi Jokinen and Jason Ward will be interesting, as it’s hard to believe the locker room isn’t suffering from loyalties to the old and new regime. However, it was a great move to bring in both Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi, whose veteran (and perhaps intimidating) presence may keep the Bolts in line. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem, but if Stamkos can’t put up the numbers or keep up, the Bolts will find themselves without a legitimate number two centre. Depth on the wings is a luxury the Bolts have, but with Barrie and Koules’ spending this summer it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, positively or negatively.

The Lightning forwards will do fine with Lecavalier and St. Louis. However, if the Lightning want to win the division, they’ll have to do more than put pucks in the net. They’ll have to do a damn good job of keeping the puck out in a high-scoring Southeast Division… and with the current corps they have, it’s going to be a battle. When Andrej Meszaros is your best defenseman, you know you have a problem. That’s not taking anything away from Meszaros though – he’s talented and will be a good defenseman for years to come, but it speaks volumes about a team’s six-man group when Meszaros is your alternate captain and minutes eater. Matt Carle, acquired from the Dan Boyle trade (which I believe was an awful move on their part), is still young and still has tons of room to grow. In fact, the Lightning defense was so bare that they had to sign journeyman Jamie Heward just days before their opener in Europe. The Bolts’ puck-moving abilities and responsibility were so awful that the Lightning have already pulled the trigger and opted for a more mobile Lukas Krajicek over the tougher Shane O’Brien. One defenseman that can really surprise, however, is Janne Niskala. The smooth skating defenseman potted 19 goals in the AHL last year and judging by his play early on could supplant Meszaros or Carle as the new powerplay quarterback. Considering that the Lightning don’t have a particularly strong tandem in net, signing Marek Malik, which they are rumoured to do, would give this defense a much-needed boost.

Mike Smith played well in the season opener, but when your defense is average you’re going to have to steal a lot of games to remain competitive. Olaf Kolzig didn’t relish his job as backup in Washington, but seems okay with it for now. The Lightning have gotten off to a bad start, but the goaltending has remained fairly solid with a porous defense and snoozing offense. The Lightning will most likely continue to split duties, perhaps 60/40 between the two. Kolzig seems happy to play second fiddle for now, but I wonder if that’ll change once the losses start to pile up (and they will for stretches). Kolzig was enjoying a much deserved success last year in Washington and feels a bit better they aren’t including him as part of their plans going forward.

Perhaps all these inconsistencies and holes can be plugged with Melrose, but I hardly think so. The Rangers weren’t great in Europe either, but the Bolts as a whole looked slow, a bit ironic considering the Bolts’ website advertises Melrose as the “Coach to Ignite Us.” Judging by Melrose’s first press conference, in which he indirectly called out his forwards, is strangely reminiscent of Tortorella’s. A lot of Tampa’s success will hinge on Melrose’s adjustments during the season, and it’s hard not to assume that he’s still shaking off a lot of rust after being more than a decade away from the game. The series against the Rangers definitely showed that the Lightning have much work to do – so much so that they may not gel as a team until it’s too late.

Ryan Malone – Vincent Lecavalier – Martin St. Louis
Vaclav Prospal – Steven Stamkos – Radim Vrbata
Jussi Jokinen – Evgeny Arthyukhin – Mark Recchi
Gary Roberts – Chris Gratton – Adam Hall

Vladimir Mihalik – Andrej Meszaros
Matt Carle – Lukas Krajicek
Janne Niskala – Jamie Heward

Mike Smith – Olaf Kolzig

Coach: Barry Melrose
GM: Brian Lawton

Predicted finish: 3rd Southeast, 10th East

Oct 132008

Marian Gaborik‘s name will be a fixture in the rumour mill from now on, and I can safely say that at least 10 teams are seriously interested in his services. The sniper has recently rejected a multi-year contract (6+ years) at around $8m/season (although the folks at Hockey Central don’t believe this rumour). The Gaborik camp is reportedly looking for a contract that will pay him $10m/season, or somewhere close to that neighbourhood. Doug Risebrough isn’t a man who just throws money around – he did lose Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston this summer after all – but if there’s any player he should throw money at, it’s at Gaborik. The franchise player is the key to the Wild’s offense, but growing frustration with management and coaching strategies means that Gaborik may bolt at the first sign. I don’t think the Wild will deal him anytime soon, hoping that a good season may help Gaborik change his mind. I think the earliest Gaborik will be moving is at the deadline.

Brendan Shanahan continues to work out at the Rangers’ facilities, but the Rangers are currently on a tear and is not too keen on moving bodies right now to accomodate him. Shanahan has voiced a strong preference to re-sign with the Rangers, and reportedly has had other offers from around the league and KHL but he doesn’t seem too interested. It’ll be awhile before anything new pops up, but as of now Shanahan has a better chance of returning to the NHL than Mats Sundin.

– I wrote earlier this year about the Bolts’ inexperienced and below average blueline. It looks like they’ve finally caught on and Marek Malik, a former Ranger, is expected to practise with the Lightning on a tryout basis. Rumour is that there is a 1-year, $1m contract on the table, but nothing is for sure. If signed, Malik will bring experience, stability, and leadership to the squad, all three of which are unsurprisingly lacking on the Bolts’ blue line.

A Coach to Ignite Us

 Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks  Comments Off on A Coach to Ignite Us
Oct 062008

Over the summer months I lambasted the Lightning for owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie‘s handling of the team, and the hiring of Barry Melrose, amongst other things.

On the Lightning’s official website, Melrose was advertised as the “Coach to Ignite Us.” Okay, I’ll bite, a coach who hasn’t been in the league in a decade could provide a new voice, direction, and more importantly, a breath of fresh air. However, after two straight losses against the Rangers to open the season, Melrose didn’t hold anything back:

“I hope our guys were embarrassed by that second period.”

Sound a little familiar? John Tortorella may be gone, but it seems like Tampa’s players aren’t going to safe from public criticism anytime soon. Melrose may get a point because he didn’t mention anyone in particular, but it’s obvious that he’s pointing towards new captain Vincent Lecavalier and veterans Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone. That’s fine, but here’s the kicker:

“I’m sure our ownership and management were [embarrassed].”

Seriously, Melrose? By making comments like those it really shows you how much ownership is in control of this team. Since Jay Feaster‘s departure, which was less than amicable, the Lightning have actually never officially named a new general manager, although it is assumed that former player agent Brian Lawton has taken over in that capacity, but remains Koules and Barrie’s puppet.

A lot of people are rooting for the Bolts to fail for various reasons. Count me in that bandwagon.

EDIT: And a shake-up follows. The Bolts deal Michel Ouellet and Shane O’Brien to the Canucks for prospect Juraj Simek and Lukas Krajicek. The Lightning get rid of one of their excess forwards and a replaceable defenseman with the under-performing Krajicek, who will be considered a “veteran” on a young Lightning blueline.

Oct 042008

Mike Smith proved that he can handle the load. And it also proved that the Lightning need more time to gel together, after their choppy game. Speaking of turnovers, Andrej Meszaros played one of his more subpar games. I still question whether or not he deserves the ‘A’. The Lightning couldn’t get anything going, and none of the lines other than the top line showed any real chemistry. If it wasn’t for Smith the game could’ve been a blowout had the Rangers not been so rusty.

– The Rangers’ top line looks good, but the second line, other than Brandon Dubinsky, were relatively soft. Nigel Dawes was caught standing too still on the powerplay and failed to really connect on any of his passes, and Nikolai Zherdev once again showed that he has the talent but he’s never really quite “there.”

– From what I saw, Janne Niskala could be a major gamebreaker for the Lightning this year. He’s got great poise with the puck, good patience, and like Marc Crawford said (who provided a good commentary), 19 goals in the AHL is quite something.

– I noted in the Rangers’ preview that they need to work on their powerplay. And they still do. Even with Paul Mara‘s rocket shot and the addition of Wade Redden, their powerplay was still an abysmal 1-7. The Lightning took a lot of dumb penalties and were often caught hooking and tripping when a much smoother Rangers team controlled the tempo. The Bolts have some work to do.

Steve Stamkos looked great. He didn’t figure in the scoresheet and played only a little over 8 minutes, but he made a key defensive stop on Naslund and showed off some great speed. He could’ve had a goal but a rolling puck was quickly snatched by Henrik Lundqvist, who had a relatively quiet game.

Matt Carle led all skaters with 29 minutes. He sure didn’t look like a guy who deserved 29 minutes out there. Look for Barry Melrose to use him a lot, and judging from the shift charts and ice times Melrose doesn’t give too much work to his bottom feeders.

Martin Gerber wasn’t as sharp as the Sens would’ve liked, but they were outplayed in two periods by a better Penguins squad. The Sens were caught way too flat-footed and had Sergei Gonchar or Ryan Whitney been healthy the Pens wouldn’t have struck out 7 times on the powerplay.

– The Sens’ penalties means they played much of the first period with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza on the bench. A couple of months ago, I posted that Henrik Zetterberg is a better player than Alexander Ovechkin because Zetterberg is the more complete player. He is talented enough to play in all situations of the game, a sign of a true superstar. The Pens started to deploy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their PK, and it showed. The Sens then followed suit on a shorthanded marker by Spezza. No team will ever win the Stanley Cup if their best players can’t play in all situations of the game.

– The HNIC crew, especially Mike Milbury, say that Spezza needs to stop showboating and being too fancy if he wants to be a truly elite player. While this is true, some players just have to be that flashy. They’re good enough to pull off their moves, but if you restrain them you really take away that aspect of their game. I think that’s what happened with Jacques Martin and Spezza. Some players, you just have to turn them loose. Turnovers will be a key aspect of their game, but don’t let the opponent dictate what weapons you employ.

– The stadiums were awfully quiet. Reports say sold-out crowds, but the game in Stockholm looked liked the fans totaled less than a thousand. Definitely not a regular season opener atmosphere, and it really showed for the Sens and Lightning, both of whom were the designated home teams.

Oct 022008

Much ado has been made about the Canucks making Roberto Luongo their captain. The move was very surprising, considering goalies are not allowed to wear the traditional ‘C’ on their jersey and there hasn’t been a goalie captain since Bill Durnan in the 1940s. One of the reasons it became illegal was because of the inefficiency of being both a captain and a goalie. Captains are designated by their respective teams to provide an on-ice voice for the team with the refs, and because the game is so fluid and the refs are constantly moving, it made it very difficult for goalies to talk to them, in part because of the very small area on the ice the goalie patrols. They can’t wander the length of the ice as most players do, and if the referee was at the other end of the rink it would be impossible to talk to them, since goalies cannot cross the red line.

I can’t help but think this move by the Canucks is a ploy to show Luongo that this is his team. Willie Mitchell has been named as the guy who would talk to the refs on a nightly basis, but the Canucks still elected to give Mitchell an ‘A’, even though he would be fulfilling the traditional duties of a player wearing the ‘C’. It goes without question that this is Luongo’s team – no one else in the league is as crucial to their team’s success as Luongo. By officially naming him captain is a mere formality that really doesn’t carry much substance, other than re-affirm the fact that Vancouver wants Luongo to stay, and will do anything to please him and accomodate his needs. But it also means that no one in the Vancouver locker room has really stepped into the captain’s void left by Markus Naslund, which has led to a committee of three players wearing A’s on a nightly basis: Mitchell, Ryan Kesler, and Mattias Ohlund.

Perhaps at the end of the day the letters don’t quite mean anything – Mitchell will talk to the refs and Luongo continues to stop the pucks. The world keeps spinning.

EDIT: The Lightning have named Martin St. Louis and, surprisingly, Andrej Meszaros as their alternate captains for this year. The Rangers have yet to name a captain, although all signs point towards Chris Drury and Mike Richards is the front-runner in Philadelphia. The Wild and Sabres are expected to continue their rotating captaincy. The Panthers, Kings, Thrashers, and Leafs have yet to name their captains for the upcoming season.

EDIT #2: The Rangers have officially named Drury their captain, while Markus Naslund and Scott Gomez will serve as the alternates. May I also add that all three players may potentially play on the same line?

Sep 272008

Old news, but Mathieu Schneider is now a Thrasher, pending physicals on Brad Larsen and Ken Klee, the players going the other way. Klee and Larsen are in the last years of their contracts and were not part of the Thrashers’ plans going forward. Schneider makes the Thrashers defense better, but they won’t be making the playoffs anytime soon. It also means that perhaps Atlanta isn’t too interested in finish first in the draft sweepstakes. Don Waddell was not interested in Schneider through waivers saying he was too expensive and wasn’t the right fit. The Thrashers’ payroll increased by about $4m in the deal. So much for Waddell’s explanation.

It looks like David Bolland has an uphill battle to get the coveted second line centre spot behind Jonathan Toews, and coach Denis Savard has noted his current top six are Toews, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, Martin Havlat, Dustin Byfuglien, and Patrick Sharp. Savard put Kane at centre for a couple shifts but didn’t like what he saw, and the Hawks may end up with either Ladd or Sharp at centre. Kyle Beach made a good impression in his pro debut, but the hot-headed junior star will be hard-pressed to stick around. Keith Carney might also make the team.

Ken Hitchcock
is really liking what he sees from Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard. The Jackets were absolutely dangerous offensively against the Predators last night, and more impressive were the plays of Fedor Tyutin and Kris Russell. Russell, still listed at a paltry 165 lbs., needs to put on more bulk to play in a tougher West. Courtesy of Michael Arace, the Jackets’ strategy for the season. Nothing too special, but have a gander anyway:
1. Keep the tempo high
– short shifts
– fast changes
2. Make the goalie work
– funnel the puck
– real traffic
3. Outwork the opposition
– on contact, our 2nd before their 2nd
4. Manage the puck the right way
5. Pack mentality
– 5 up, 5 back
6. Check to score
– the harder we check, the more we score

In Florida, on a radio poll Peter DeBoer was voted as the coach who would do the best job this season. Todd McLellan of San Jose finished second, Scott Gordon on Long Island third, and Jon Anderson in Atlanta fourth. There’s definitely a hometown bias there, McLellan will be blowing the other three out of the water by virtue of having a very good team.

In a very un-Nashville like move, the Preds may be giving the second line right wing spot to Patrick Hornqvist, who has spent the last three years in the Swedish leagues. Alexander Radulov‘s defection and Steve Sullivan‘s injury history means that there are a lot of holes to fill up front.

Forget about having two all-star centres on separate lines. Like the Sharks who are putting Patrick Marleau on Joe Thornton‘s wing, the Rangers have followed suit and have lined up Chris Drury on Scott Gomez‘s right wing, despite the fact that Drury had a better face-off winning percentage. Markus Naslund is the third of the trio. This means that Brandon Dubinsky, who had a lot of success last year on spot shifts with Jaromir Jagr, will have to step up after being pegged as the team’s number two. He will have Nikolai Zherdev and Nigel Dawes as linemates.

The Blues absolutely destroyed the Thrashers, scoring 9 goals. The Blues aren’t supposed to a high-scoring team this year, but they got production from all four lines. This might be a preview of what’s to come this season:
Stempniak – McDonald – Boyes
Kariya – Berglund – Perron
Tkachuk – Oshie – Backes
King – McClement – Porter
As noted before, Patrick Berglund is set to centre Paul Kariya and the pair has looked good. Keith Tkachuk seems to have moved back to his original left wing position and Jay McClement may be ill-suited for a fourth line role considering his offensive game is better than his defensive game.

Barry Melrose likes what he’s seeing from Evgeny Artyukhin (I think it was a mistake letting him go in the beginning) and may see himself on Steve Stamkos‘ line. Jussi Jokinen, who has been the subject of many trade rumours this summer, has moved to centre on the third line and is making it hard for management to cut him. Radim Vrbata has apparently been invisible and is dropping on the depth charts.

Sep 202008

The Thrashers were interested in Mathieu Schneider, but felt that given the veteran’s price tag and current skill set it was just too expensive. Don Waddell claims that Schneider’s age was not a factor in the decision.

Nikolai Khabibulin is looking forward to the start of the season, but admits he was surprised when the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet to a multi-year deal. He also admits that even though he hasn’t been at his best, he didn’t have a “championship calibre” team in front of him either. Not exactly the words management wants to hear, but Khabibulin has to make do with what he’s got in front of him (and it’s not bad) and hope to land another fat contract. Meanwhile, veteran Keith Carney has been invited to camp.

The Jackets are prepared to possibly enter the season with rookie Derick Brassard as their new number one centre. Ken Hitchcock reportedly liked Brassard and Kristian Huselius on the top line with Rick Nash, while the second line consisted of rookie Jakub Voracek, RJ Umberger, and Fredrik Modin.

The Stars have also tinkered with their lineup, with Mike Modano lining up to the left of Brad Richards and Sean Avery. It gives Modano some playing time in the top six and getting him away from the checking line role that’s better suited for someone else.

Marian Gaborik certainly isn’t helping his own case after being listed as day-to-day with a pulled right quad. The sniping winger is expected to land a lucrative contract this summer – whether it’s with the Wild or someone else remains to be seen. The injury-prone winger has to have another healthy season if he wants to cash in big time.

It’s obvious, so don’t expect Martin Brodeur to play 77 games like he did last year. Both Brodeur and Brent Sutter admitted that the games took a toll on the veteran goalie, and that Avery didn’t help in that department either. Look for Kevin Weekes to do a little more than usual last year to collect his six-figure paycheque.

Tom Renney and the Rangers remain mum on Brendan Shanahan, and says that his focus is now on training camp.

Derian Hatcher‘s career seems to be in jeopardy due to a bum knee, and Wayne Fish believes that it’ll really hurt the team’s chances this year (I beg to differ), but claims that with the addition of Ossi Vaananen and camp invite Bryan Berard it should lessen the pain (Fish is comparing the “irreplaceable” Hatcher to two journeymen? Okay.)

The Sharks are ready to open up their camp with the following lines:
Marleau – Thornton – Clowe
Michalek – Pavelski – Cheechoo
Goc – Mitchell – Grier
Plihal – Roenick – Setoguchi
Ron Wilson also had Patrick Marleau on Joe Thornton‘s wing in order to get his game going last year, but it didn’t last.

The Blues kicked off their training camp with a snooze, and I daresay that the rest of the season wouldn’t be too different. Coach Andy Murray suggested that the Blues could start the season with rookie Patrick Berglund on the top line with Paul Kariya. Murray also acknowledged that the losses of Ryan Johnson, Jamal Mayers, and Bryce Salvador, all three great locker room guys, means that veterans Kariya and Keith Tkachuk, neither been known as vocal captains, will need to step up.

Move aside “Seen Stamkos.” It’s time for “WWGRD?” in Tampa. Now that wunderkind Steve Stamkos is officially signed the focus moves to training camp. For the Lightning, who had a major overhaul in its front office staff and approach to the new season, it’s a chance to capitalize on a resurgence of interest in Lightning hockey. Just ask yourself, What Would Gary Roberts Do?

The Caps are excited and raring to go. So much so that they had to ask sophomore Nicklas Backstrom, who was early and the first on the ice, to get off after half an hour for precautionary reasons. When your rookies are that excited, you know your team is in good spirits, and for the Caps, why shouldn’t they?