The NHL’s training camps are about to kick off – and with them, there will be no shortage of intriguing storylines that begin. For this week’s Top 10, here are the stories most worth watching:
10. THE BRUINS GOALIE BALANCING ACT
After his already-legendary performance last season Tim Thomas doesn’t have to prove he’s Boston’s No. 1 goalie to anybody. But he’ll be 38 in April and is in the second-last season of his contract, so it will be interesting to see how Bruins brass manages his time and eases Tuukka Rask (who played just 29 games in 2010-11) back into his role as the goalie-of-the-future.
9. AHLERS NO MORE
Both Sheldon Souray and Mike Commodore played the bulk of last season in the American League. Now that they’re back in the NHL (with the Stars and Red Wings respectively), can they get back to being contributing factors?
8. SENS NOT FORWARD ENOUGH
Other than the presumptive first line of Jason Spezza centering Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, Ottawa’s forward group is a giant mystery. THN’S depth chart shows the second line as Peter Regin between Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler – and if that’s the way it plays out as the year begins, it could be a very long season in Canada’s capital city.
7. WHO’S ON THE COACHING HOT SEAT?
Let’s face it – very few NHL coaches can maintain their duties if their team gets off to a troubling start. But some can afford it less than others. Bench bosses in three Canadian locales – Calgary’s Brent Sutter, Toronto’s Ron Wilson and Edmonton’s Tom Renney – fall into that group.
6. ROOKIE RACE
A number of recently drafted, cream-of-the-crop prospects – including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau – have a better-than-decent shot to make their NHL team this year. Will they be the Calder frontrunners, or will a young defenseman such as Ottawa’s David Rundblad and/or Jared Cowen prove to be worthy?
5. AN UP-HILLER BATTLE?
Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller says he’s symptom-free after missing most of the second half of last season with vertigo. For the sake of a talented Ducks roster, let’s hope so. The backup option is veteran Dan Ellis, who posted a sub-par .898 save percentage last year.
4. PHILADELPHIA AND PHILADELPHIA WEST
There are a few teams that will regularly be compared to each other this year. The Flyers and Kings are two of them. After having consummated the Mike Richards/Brayden Schenn blockbuster swap, many will be eager to see how L.A. looks with a gritty leader, as well as how the Flyers fare with a younger and better-netminded group.
3. REBORN PANTHERS OR TIRED COUGARS?
Florida has a whopping 10 newcomers in its lineup this season – and a few of them, including starting goalie Jose Theodore and defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell, are at least 32 years old. Cats GM Dale Tallon has drastically improved the franchise’s experience quotient, but given that few teams were really competing for the services of Florida’s newcomers, can they make enough of a difference, or will this be the 11th consecutive year the Panthers miss the playoffs?
2. HOLDING OUT FOR MORE ZEROES
There are three significant restricted free agents still unsigned – L.A.’s Drew Doughty, Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian and Toronto’s Luke Schenn – and if their teams can’t get their names on a contract soon, their absences will be major distractions for teams with big expectations. Most hockey people believe none of them will engage in a protracted showdown with management, but every day that passes without a new deal provides more opportunity for speculation and worry.
1. SHARKS GONE WILD AND VICE-VERSA
Like the Kings and Flyers, San Jose and Minnesota will be judged against each other thanks to a pair of big-time trades between the two franchises this off-season. Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi won’t experience any less pressure than they did in Northern California, while Martin Havlat and Brent Burns will have giant expectations placed on them in San Jose. If either team stumbles out of the gate, you can bet the two summer transactions will be blamed for it in a hurry.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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