Absences of unsigned players and others stick out as NHL training camps open

As players arrived for the start of NHL training camps, the bigger focus was on those who didn’t report.

In St. Louis it was defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, in Toronto defenceman Cody Franson, in Ottawa defenceman Jared Cowen, and in New York centre Derek Stepan, all restricted free agents without contracts. Those players aren’t holdouts but nevertheless their absences were noticeable.

“Talks between the Blues and Alex’s camp have broken off for now and Alex will not be reporting for our camp today,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a team statement Wednesday morning.

Cody Hodgson went into Buffalo unsigned, but the centre announced his new six-year contract in a video message posted on the social media site Vine.

The Maple Leafs got a last-minute deal done with RFA centre Nazem Kadri, but they couldn’t sign Franson in time for the start of camp.

“At this point there’s nothing to report,” Toronto general manager Dave Nonis said. “We’ve made him an offer that we want him to take. He’s declined to take it.”

Sometimes the situation isn’t that simple. The Philadelphia Flyers expect Dan Cleary to report to training camp Thursday after agreeing to a professional tryout contract, despite a report that the left-winger would not be signing.

In Carolina, the absence of Joni Pitkanen was more troubling. The defenceman who suffered a broken heel bone during an icing play in March will miss the entire season, and the fear is that his career could be over.

“Any time someone has an injury like that, especially what Joni did with a broken heel, it can be never mind starting the season, it can be career-threatening,” captain Eric Staal said last week.

The Senators were dealing with more than just Cowen not reporting. They were dealing with life after the departure of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings after 17 seasons in Ottawa.

“It’s been talked about so much and I know I’ve talked about it so much that it doesn’t really seem like today has any impact on him not being here,” centre Jason Spezza said. “It will be different a little bit, but in hockey you’re used to guys moving on and having lots of change.”

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As the Calgary Flames embark on the next chapter of their rebuild, they’re doing so without both former captain Jarome Iginla and veteran netminder Miikka Kiprusoff for the first time in 11 years. The battle to be the Flames No. 1 goalie is expected to be between Joey MacDonald of Pictou, N.S., Karri Ramo of Finland and Swiss native Reto Berra.

“Most years coming to camp, most teams have their clear-cut number one,” MacDonald said. “Being in Detroit for so long, you always had an old guy there that you had to battle. This year, it’s going to be exciting. The opportunity is there and it’s going to be an exciting team.”

In other places, arrivals were the cause for conversation, like Montreal, where the Canadiens welcomed Daniel Briere.

“I’m really happy he’s here,” forward Brendan Gallagher said. “It is hard to find a guy in the NHL that’s scored more clutch goals at bigger times than him right now. So any time you can add a piece like that that will show up in big moments, you’ll take that any time.”

The Winnipeg Jets’ focus was at least in part on prospects Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, both of whom are expected to make the team. Coach Claude Noel doesn’t need either player to do anything special to accomplish that.

The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers ushered in new coaching eras with John Tortorella and Dallas Eakins, respectively. Eakins may do some experimenting at training camp, which includes trying Taylor Hall at centre.

“Don’t make too much of that,” Eakins cautioned. “I want as many options as I can.”

—With files from Bill Beacon, Donna Spencer, John Korobanik and Lisa Wallace.