As training camps open around the NHL, the San Jose Sharks have two former captains but neither one wearing the “C” and six teams have new head coaches, while the Toronto Maple Leafs have the same one amid promises of a changing culture.
The Boston Bruins are up against the salary cap even after losing winger Jarome Iginla, and the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings don’t know when goaltender Jonathan Quick will be 100 per cent healthy after off-season wrist surgery.
So there’s plenty of drama well before the 2014-15 season gets underway Oct. 8. Here are the top storylines to watch in the coming weeks:
HOW THE LEAFS TURN: Randy Carlyle is still the coach of the Leafs, Dion Phaneuf is still the captain and the core is very much intact from the group that lost 12 of its final 14 games to miss the playoffs. But ever since Brendan Shanahan was named president in April, the organization has talked up a culture change.
Changes in the front office under general manager Dave Nonis—Kyle Dubas and Brandon Pridham in and Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin out—and a new staff under Carlyle have made for a busy summer. But it’s unclear what impact any of that will have on the ice.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who played for the Kings when they won the Cup in 2012, said the difference is how a winning team approaches each game.
“I think that’s the biggest difference that as a group you feel confident, and that’s just a process,” Bernier said. “It takes time. Especially this year, we have a lot of new guys, so it might take a little bit of time to get adjusted all together. But I think that’s the biggest thing is to get that edge as a group that we can beat anybody in the league.”
Carlyle’s camp and the Leafs’ playing style in the pre-season should answer plenty of questions about what’s really different.
SHARKS’ PARTING OF THE ‘C’: Joe Thornton was the captain of the Sharks when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Todd McLellan said last month that his team goes into camp with the captaincy and both alternate spots up for grabs.
With Thornton and alternate Patrick Marleau—a former captain in his own right—displaced, their roles in the locker-room and on the ice are unclear. GM Doug Wilson talked up a “rebuild,” but San Jose is still a legitimate contender and Thornton and Marleau are still great players, who just happen to be starting new contracts.
As the Sharks trumpet a youth movement, 25-year-old Logan Couture could be the face of it as the new captain.
KINGS BETTING ON QUICK TURNAROUND: A summer passing around the Stanley Cup for the Kings turns into an autumn of wondering when Quick will be himself after off-season wrist surgery. The team announced in late June that the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner would be off the ice for 10 to 12 weeks.
GM Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times that Quick only recently starting facing shots again and wouldn’t be rushed back on the ice during the pre-season. The start of the regular season remains the target.
If Quick isn’t ready, the Kings have Martin Jones—who had a .934 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average in 19 games as a rookie—but little depth beyond. Jeff Deslauriers, a 2002 Edmonton Oilers draft pick who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2012, is in camp on a tryout.
“I’m not worried at all,” Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Justin Williams said. “We’ve shown over the last year when Quickie gets hurt or when anyone else gets hurt, we’re able to fill that void because of the depth we have. Martin Jones is a very capable goalie and he showed that last year.”
BRUINS IN A BIND: Even with Iginla gone in free agency to the Colorado Avalanche and centre Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve, the Bruins need new contracts for last year’s all-rookie defenceman Torey Krug and winger Reilly Smith.
That’s a tough spot to be in right against the cap ceiling, even with Savard’s salary set to come off the books. Because of that, Patrice Bergeron admires—but does not envy—GM Peter Chiarelli.
“It’s definitely nice to see that Peter is always trying to keep the same core and the same guys coming back,” Bergeron said. “We know that in the cap world it’s not easy to do and it’s a tough job and I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. …
“It’s definitely different this year. We’re really close to the cap, if not on it, and there’s still two guys remaining to be signed and there’s a few spots for guys on tryouts or young players.”
Smith will be counted on to help fill the scoring void left by Iginla, and either a bottom-six forward will need to step up or the Bruins could give Simon Gagne, in camp on at tryout, a shot. Jordan Caron, Justin Florek, Ryan Spooner and 2014 first-rounder David Pastrnak mean Boston has no shortage of prospects on the fringe of making a difference.
TROTZ LEADS CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT: Barry Trotz is one of six new head coaches and is tasked with trying to get Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals back to the playoffs. One important question in training camp is whether Trotz will get the Capitals to play more defensive hockey or if the former Nashville Predators coach will adapt with more tools at his disposal.
Before arriving in Washington last week, Ovechkin said he had only met Trotz once but heard from other players that he’s a great coach and an “honest man.” Trotz, who is replacing the fired Adam Oates, will the Capitals’ fourth head coach since the start of the 2011-12 season. But Ovechkin said he understands the need for change behind the bench.
“In position where we are, we have to make changes and we did,” he said. “I hope it’s going to work and I hope our team gets better.”
The other five new head coaches are Bill Peters with the Carolina Hurricanes, Gerard Gallant with the Florida Panthers, Peter Laviolette with the Nashville Predators, Mike Johnston with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Willie Desjardins with the Vancouver Canucks. Desjardins is the third coach to start as many seasons in Vancouver.
JOHANSEN, BLUE JACKETS UNDER THE GUN: Among the handful of restricted free agents without a contract, no one is more prominent than Columbus’s Ryan Johansen. After a breakout 63-point season that included 33 goals, the 22-year-old centre has been unable to figure out a new deal.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told Johansen, via the Columbus Post-Dispatch, to “make us pay.” The team wants to see more than one great year from him and might be willing to let him miss camp and/or meaningful games to get the right price.
Others without a contract, beyond Krug and Smith in Boston, include St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, Nashville Predators defenceman Ryan Ellis and Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
CAN BENNETT RAISE THE BAR: Sam Bennett might always be remembered for not being able to do a pull-up at the NHL draft scouting combine, but he could quickly become a building block for the Calgary Flames, if he makes the team out of camp.
Among 2014 draft picks, only Florida Panthers top selection Aaron Ekblad can feel safe about having an NHL job this season. No. 2 Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres and No. 4 Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers also have good chances.
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