And we’re back.
NHL training camps started on Thursday and we got a first look at some players in new jerseys. Guys were available to the media and some took to the ice for scrimmages and practices.
Here’s a running recap of news and notes from the first day of training camp:
Everyone was wondering: would Matt Duchene report to camp or not? The Avalanche forward had missed a couple of optional pre-training camp events and reportedly wants to be traded from the Avs. The whole team struggled through a miserable 2016-17 campaign and Duchene was especially frustrated with a career-low in points. The team has been shopping him for a hefty price tag since before last season’s deadline, but so far there’s no resolution.
So what happened on the opening of camp? Duchene was in Denver with his team and had a short meeting with the media. He didn’t exactly looked pleased to be there.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
It was the first day of an optimistic new season in Toronto. All eyes are watching this young team and the city is wondering if the Stanley Cup window is opening. We wonder if there were more reporters here than at San Jose’s camp opener. Anyway, welcome to your new reality Patrick Marleau.
There were a couple pieces of news on the Leafs’ first day back. First was the confirmation from GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock that the team would not name a new captain this season. “With the number of leaders we have in that room, we don’t feel it’s necessary. It’s as simple as that,” Lamoriello said.
So we’ll wait another 12 months or so for the letter to be added to Auston Matthews’ jersey.
In perhaps a little less surprising news, both Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul failed their medicals and will again be put on the LTIR. Nobody was expecting either player to return this season.
There remains no timeline for Erik Karlsson‘s return to Ottawa’s lineup as he recovers from off-season surgery, but the captain was there for the opening of camp, going through the media exercises.
In some disappointing news Clarke MacArthur, who was one of the feel-good stories of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, failed his physical.
The 32-year-old has dealt with multiple concussions in his career and has played a total of eight regular season games over the past two seasons. But he returned to the playoffs in 2017, played 19 games and scored nine points. His overtime-winner in Game 6 against Boston moved Ottawa into Round 2.
Winnipeg fans are expecting nothing less than a playoff berth this season and the players are setting that same bar. Almost the entire roster is in its prime, and with the goaltending seemingly steadied, there are no more excuses here.
“It’s gotta be this year,” captain Blake Wheeler said about the playoff outlook two weeks ago.
Sophomore Patrik Laine seconded that opinion on Thursday.
Before the players met the media, it was announced that Bryan Little had signed a six-year extension that will kick in next season. The 29-year-old is a productive second-line centre, a role he moved into after the emergence of Mark Scheifele.
“I’m really excited. I knew when we first started talking this summer that I wanted to stay here for a long time, and if possible maybe even finish my career here,” Little said. “I’m really happy things worked out, and we were able to get something done.”
Laine was asked about Little’s extension and, as you’ll see at the start of this video, it seems the media broke the news to him.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Last season the Blues came in with a succession plan at head coach. Ken Hitchcock was still the lead man, but it was assumed assistant Mike Yeo was there to take over whenever the former departed. They probably thought that would happen smoothly over an off-season.
Of course, it wasn’t so clean. Hitchcock was let go mid-season in an emotional decision for GM Doug Armstrong. Yeo took over and got the team into the second round of the playoffs and continues in that role in 2017-18. It’s Yeo’s team now.
Except there was a bit of a curveball on the first day of camp, when it was revealed that ex-Coyotes and Stars head coach Dave Tippett, a respected member of the fraternity, would join the Blues at camp as a consultant.
“He’s gonna come in for the first five or six days of camp and just sorta talk to Mike (Yeo) and evaluate our team, evaluate practices,” Armstrong told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Share ideas with Mike. It’s a great time ’cause he’s a really good coach and it gives Mike someone different to talk to.”
Before we get too ahead of ourselves and start wondering about Yeo’s security (although I suppose that’s inevitable), consider the two have a history.
New arrival Ryan Strome (acquired for Jordan Eberle) got his first exposure to the Edmonton media. A natural centre, Strome may end up sliding to the right wing in a top-six role. Or, when Leon Draisaitl takes a turn back on Connor McDavid’s wing, Strome could move back to centre for a time. He said he spoke to head coach Todd McLellan about his position, and the coach liked the fact he was a versatile player. Expect a bunch of movement on those top two lines this season.
Moving from the Islanders, who are dealing with arena and John Tavares uncertainty, to the on-the-rise Oilers is an exciting change for the 24-year-old, who never hit the offensive expectations of a fifth-overall pick in New York. Some might say he never got the right opportunity there, but that should come with the Oilers.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Watching these guys last year and how close they were and how good they were is really exciting for me. And just by being around this group I can tell there’s a lot of winners, a lot of leaders, and I think this team is going to have a great year. To be a part of it is very humbling and I’m very excited and with that comes greater responsibility for myself.”
Jesse Puljujarvi will be another player people are watching closely, as the hope is that he’ll crack the roster as a top-two line forward.
“I want to see a player who’s more confident and feels like he belongs here,” McLellan said.
A difference this year is that fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen is now part of the team, and part of the reason for his acquisition is to work with Puljujarvi. Jokinen talked about that at training camp and recalled how Jere Lehtinen did the same for him in Dallas.
Finally, Drake Caggiula is another forward battling for a top-six spot and the coach said he indeed would start camp on the right side.
The West champs are back and as you’d expect, P.K. Subban made a noticeable entrance.
As is the case for pretty much any team that outlasts the competition and reaches the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators ended last season as a banged up squad. Ryan Johansen‘s post-season ended suddenly with emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome; Kevin Fiala played just five post-season games before breaking his leg; and newly acquired Nick Bonino (who played for the champion Penguins) broke his tibia against the Preds in the final.
Two of those three guys said they were 100 per cent while Bonino, signed as a free agent, is “close.”
As much pressure is on the team as a whole to live up to expectations, you imagine those pressures are ten-fold on Mike Smith, acquired from Arizona with the idea he’d be an upgrade in net. Brian Elliott started and finished slow last season, but a lot of the work he did in between saved Calgary’s season.
Smith has missed the playoffs each season since 2012, when he led the Coyotes to the Western Conference final. It will be a totally different environment for him now, but the 35-year-old showed up on Day 1 fresh and “rejuvenated.”
Over the years, captain Mark Giordano has made a name for himself as one of the better defencemen in the NHL, but at training camp he’s the fitness king. As each player went through their medical tests, Giordano again took the spotlight.
Gio, the king of fitness testing pic.twitter.com/rGMYwvZuFe
As we mentioned in our training camp primer, the Canucks’ season is all about the kids: who gets a shot or a cup of coffee. Well, they got their first chance to do something of note in scrimmages on the opening of training camp, and there wasn’t a lack of physical play — even a couple of the vets got in on it.
Virtanen and Juolevi both have outside chances at making the team — Virtanen went backwards in his development and is now more likely for a bottom-six role, while Juolevi had a rookie camp of mixed reviews. If either sticks out of camp, they will have to stand out in the pre-season.
The first scrimmage ended in a 0-0 tie.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Okay, so the team hasn’t played a real NHL game yet, but they too have some injury questions. James Neal projects to be one of the team’s top scorers in their inaugural season — at least until the trade deadline when it’s expected the team will ship him off for whatever combinations of picks and prospects they can get.
Neal broke his hand in Nashville’s Stanley Cup Final run last spring and played through it until the bitter end. He had surgery over the summer and although he said it’s getting better, he’s not yet sure when he’ll practice.
Mikhail Grabosvki came to camp hoping to pass physicals so he could play. David Clarkson might be more of a long shot. General manager George McPhee said he didn’t expect either to be ready right away, but that it was “up to the doctors.”
And then there’s the face of the franchise, Marc-Andre Fleury. Different jersey, same beaming smile.
The Smile is here pic.twitter.com/maRR5EMtHH
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) September 14, 2017
The Arizona Coyotes may be in tough to qualify for the playoffs this season, but they have one of the most promising young cores in the league and they will be all over the opening night roster this season.
They made a few moves over the summer, though, that helps give at least a little hope. General manager John Chayka brought in a few key veterans to play big roles and lead the kids, from Antti Raanta, to Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Speaking of Hjalmarsson, here’s a first look at the shutdown defender in his new jersey.