Nichols: JSG #1; Halak’s workload

September 8, 2010, 4:34 PM

The Toronto Sun reports that Leafs coach Ron Wilson essentially said that the starting goaltender’s job is Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s to lose with promising sophomore Jonas Gustavsson entering the pre-season as his backup.

“I think the No. 1 goalie is Giggy, but he has to perform,” Wilson said on Tuesday. “Whoever plays best is going to play, but I envision it being Giggy right now.”

JSG’s take: “This can change on a daily basis, but I see myself as a No. 1 goalie,” Giguere said. “I want to play as many games as I can. I’m sure Jonas is the same, which good for the Leafs.

“I know that we will work together and push each other as much as we can.”

He sees the Leafs’ tandem as a good thing.

“You look around the league right now and most teams have two very good goalies,” Giguere said. “We want goaltending to be a strength of our team.”

Gustavsson’s reaction: “I don’t think so much about being No. 1 or No. 2,” said Gustavsson, who arrived in Toronto this week. “Of course I know it’s going to be tough with Giggy in net, but I’m happy with that.

“Whatever role they give me, I’ll take it. It’s perfect for me to have Giggy here because he always works hard in practice. That’s just going to help me.”

It seems more likely that we’ll see a time share situation in net for Toronto this year, rather than JSG staking out a clear number one role. It’ll naturally depend on how both guys play and Gustavsson still seems like a good bet to develop into a franchise goalie for the Leafs.

The Sun also had this from Wilson on the subject of 2009 first round pick Nazem Kadri: “I have high hopes for him,” Wilson said Tuesday. “He’s worked out hard this summer. He’s put on some beef, so physically I think he’ll be more prepared than he was last year.

“He understands the importance now of playing away from the puck. He has learned that (from last year’s) training camp. I know he wants to do well and I’m confident he will get the job done.”

QUOTABLE

“We haven’t talked about my role yet at all,” Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis told The Vancouver Province following an informal shinny session at Rogers Arena with a group of vets and prospects on Tuesday.

“We didn’t talk about it at all on July 1 when they were trying to convince me to come here. They didn’t promise me minutes. Talking with other (Vancouver) defencemen, you earn the ice-time you get. If I fit into the shut-down role, I’ve done that in Nashville a lot, and if they want me in a different role I’ve done that at other times in my career too.”

On the possibility of some PP work: “It’s something I played on quite a bit my first few years in the league, but it really tailed off and it was hardly anything last year,” he said. “It was disappointing with that role. It’s a fresh start here and I hope to earn my way onto the power play.”

HALAK’S STARTING LOAD

GM Doug Armstrong told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday that the Blues expect Jaroslav Halak, the team’s starting netminder, to play roughly 55 games this season.

“Davis and (new Blues goaltending coach) Corey Hirsch will work with Jaro to decide how many starts is enough,” Armstrong said. “We would think that the 55-range going into it is a good number. But if he’s a workhorse and he doesn’t wear out, he might get more. Or, if he feels that he needs rest …. I think (with backup Ty Conklin), we have one of the best goaltending combinations in the game.”

And as far as the offence, do the Blues have enough of it to get back into the playoffs this season?

“I believe so; we all believe so,” coach Davis Payne said. “These guys are going to be able to run without tight reins. The leash is going to be there. (But) we don’t expect them to all of the sudden fall once and we’re going to tie a noose around their neck. We feel offensively that we had some guys have some success in the latter stages of last year, and we had some guys who still had to get over some humps, and we feel that the summer has brought that.

“Patrik Berglund, for an example; bigger, faster, stronger getting into training camp. He’s a guy that based on the numbers last year we should see improvement from. A guy like Brad Boyes, David Backes . . . there’s room there. With guys like (Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk) gone, an opportunity has opened up. And so there’s opportunity for ice time. It’s going to go to the guys that earn that opportunity the right way . . . everything that’s done with a team-drive attitude.

“If we go through the process correctly, the right guys are going to get the right opportunities and we’ll score our goals. If you want to put a number on it, we were 24 goals off the Western Conference playoff average. You look at the names I mentioned in particular, if they get back on track, 24 goals is not a huge gap to come up with.”

The Dispatch also indicated that Payne locked into some specific line combinations last season, but said yesterday that he wouldn’t necessarily come out of chute with those same groupings this year.

“Early on, through the first stage of training camp, we’ll probably go through some experimentation on groups of players that didn’t see much action (together) last year,” Payne said. “We obviously saw a lot of Backes-Oshie . . . we obviously saw a lot of Perron-Berglund-McDonald . . . we saw a lot of Steen-McClement. But there’s going to be some moving around of pieces, just to see where these guys are fitting back with each other. Where does Brad Boyes fit into that mix . . . with a guy like Perron, with a guy like Oshie?

“There’s a lot of different combinations that we’ll look at early. But we obviously know that there’s some pretty good comfort in some of the combinations that we used last year … we want to use the early part to take a look at where some of these other guys in the organization fit, and so we’re going to structure our lines through the first (four) exhibition games where there’s going to be opportunities and some new looks for guys that haven’t seen a lot of ice time together.”

The article points out that it might be good to keep an eye on what the Blues do with Backes and McDonald. There’s substance to the idea of moving Backes back to right wing and McDonald to centre.

HALPERN ADDS VERSATILITY

Jeff Halpern signed a one-year, $600K contract with the Montreal Canadiens and The Gazette notes that Halpern’s greatest value to the Habs may be his versatility. While he said he feels most comfortable at centre, he’s a right-handed shot and he was used primarily as a winger last season. There’s a logjam at centre right now with Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez and newcomers Dustin Boyd and Lars Eller. Halpern could see action at centre if Boyd or Eller isn’t ready or if coach Jacques Martin decides to look at Eller on a wing.

Halpern said he was happy to receive an offer from the Canadiens because he likes what he has seen from the outside.

“It starts with the defence corps,” he said. “Some teams are struggling to find six defenceman but they’re solid right down the line. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta and, if you at what (Michael) Cammalleri and (Tomas) Plekanec achieved last year, you have a good one-two punch.”

QUOTABLE

“If Tomas Kaberle doesn’t want to talk, Tomas Kaberle doesn’t have to talk,” Brian Burke told the media yesterday at the team’s charity golf tournament, as relayed via the Toronto Star. Kaberle’s allegedly rocky relationship with coach Ron Wilson has been the subject of much speculation.

“You guys act like this is a big story, that a player might not get along with a coach,” Burke added. “I’ve been at this a long time and this is routine. I’ve had guys who don’t get along. I sit them in a room and say you two guys come out when you’re done. This isn’t a big story.

“Tomas hasn’t told me there’s a problem. All this is coming from remarks made by other people. I’m not worried about it. The two of these guys will sit down and sort it out.”

ROLSTON ON THE BLOCK?

Fire & Ice says that if Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is trying to move Brian Rolston ($5M+ for two more years) to clear salary cap space, he’s keeping the 37-year-old left wing out of the loop right now. The team is around $3M over the cap now with Ilya Kovalchuk’s $6.67M hit and the team will need to clear between $4M-$6M to fill out the roster and have a bit of breathing room.

Rolston’s agent, Stephen Bartlett, said that the Devils have yet to approach Rolston or him about waiving the no-trade clause.

“No, we haven’t had any discussions along those lines,” Bartlett said. “We’ll see how things shake out. They’ve got some work to do. It could be any number of combinations, but I have not had that conversation about anything to do with that with Lou.”

Rolston’s contract was signed at 35-or-older, meaning the cap hit counts for the duration of the contract even if the player retires or is sent to the minors.

QUOTABLE

“It feels good,” Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told The Sun after Tuesday’s informal workout. After having hernia surgery in May, the Swede began skating a month earlier than normal this summer. “It’s nice to be back with the guys.

“I usually don’t go on the ice until the end of August, but because of the surgery I wanted to try and see how I felt. I wanted to start slowly and not push it right away. I probably went on two weeks earlier than I normally do. It feels like it was a good decision because I have been feeling really good.”

On Sergei Gonchar signing with the team: “He always looks good. He’s a smooth skater and he’s great with the puck. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play with him.

“He’s going to bring a dimension that we’ve needed. I’m happy to see him. He’s going to help on the power play and 5-on-5 — breaking the puck out of our own zone and having that shot. Not only is it hard, but he always seems to find a way to get it through. He’s probably one of the best power-play quarterbacks over the last 10 years.”

On being buoyed by the way the club finished the season: “I am excited. We took a big step forward last year after missing the playoffs the year before. We had some really good games in the playoffs and that makes you feel we can go with some young guys that can and will get better as time goes on.

“It looks promising and it’s exciting to start up.”

WELLWOOD’S TRYOUT

The Arizona Republic reports that UFA center Kyle Wellwood, who played the last two seasons with Vancouver, will be at the Phoenix Coyotes training camp on a tryout basis.

BRUINS SKATING

The Boston Globe reports that as part of his recovery from offseason hip surgery, Tim Thomas made his first appearance on the Ristuccia Arena ice this morning and took some shots during goaltending coach Bob Essensa’s camp. Essensa said Thomas looked fine.

“It was a little bit of an opportunity to get out there and get skating,” Essensa said. “Today was actually his first day on the ice since his surgery. So it’s nice for him to get an opportunity to get out here and try some things out. He’s tweaked with some of his equipment to allow for greater range of motion and flexibility. So it’s a nice chance for him to get a little bit of a step in the right direction going into camp.”

The Globe also notes that talk on an extension for Zdeno Chara should resume now that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed upon guidelines on long-term contracts in the wake of Ilya Kovalchuk’s deal. In the meantime, it was all smiles yesterday as the Bruins concluded their first day of informal skating.

“It’s pretty normal that guys like to come way ahead of schedule at the start of training camp,” said Chara. “Get the feel, get a few practices on our own, establish staying here. It’s a good thing that guys come in early. We’re getting used to some new guys and getting used to the city again. I think it’s a pretty good idea to come earlier.”

The article also notes that new winger Nathan Horton enjoyed his first session with his new teammates. Horton said he’s excited about getting to meet everyone and become more familiar with the dressing room. Chara praised Horton for his shot, size, and speed.

Horton, who stands a good chance of playing alongside Marc Savard on the first line, should be in line for a good fantasy season and he should help Savard rebound for one as well.

The Boston Herald also had a piece on yesterday’s activities, pointing out that top pick Tyler Seguin skated before the veterans hit the ice. He spent much of the last month working hard in Toronto with NHLers Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez.

“It’s been all focus, all hockey, all just in the gym and on the ice,” said Seguin. “I’ve been doing my own little training camp to get geared up for this. After the development camp I took a week off and then got right back into it.”

BABCHUK RETURNS

The Raleigh News & Observer writes that Anton Babchuk is back. An All-Star for Avangard Omsk of the KHL last season, he’s married and the father of a 2-month-old baby boy. He also says he has a more mature game; that the year away has made him a better, more seasoned player.

“You never know what will happen,” he said Tuesday. “I never cut myself, mentally, from this organization because I knew they had my rights. If both sides could agree, I wanted to be back.

“I really wanted to be back, to be honest. I’ve dreamed of the NHL since I was a kid. It’s the best league in the world, and if you’re a hockey player you want to try to be one of the best.”

Babchuk, 26, said he enjoyed the up-tempo style of the KHL, saying he felt it made him a better skater. He also said that having more playmakers on the ice made him a better defender.

He and Joni Pitkanen are likely the two best power play options on D for the Canes, although Joe Corvo and young Jamie McBain will be willing and able to step in when needed. It also allows the team to not see much of a drop-off from the first unit to the second, at least on the back end. Babchuk has been prone to stretches of inconsistency in the past too, so that could be when we see someone like McBain step in and seize the opportunity. He was outstanding on that late-season call-up last year.

TANGRADI’S QUEST BEGINS

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that the Penguins are within a month of opening the regular season and top prospect Eric Tangradi’s quest for a roster spot will begin this weekend in London, Ontario.

Tangradi, 21 and a projected scoring-line power forward at wing, will join other prospects — including forward Dustin Jeffrey, 22, and 2009 first-round pick defenceman Simon Despres, 19 — at a rookie tournament against prospects from Toronto, Ottawa and Chicago.

Regular training camp opens September 17. Somebody new will be playing the right side on Sidney Crosby’s line this year with UFA winger Bill Guerin not asked back by the team. Chris Kunitz will likely be in his usual LW slot on L1. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal are expected to team up on the second line.

QUOTABLE

“I’m still working at it, but there is no pain to it,” Vincent Lecavalier told The Tampa Tribune on his recovery from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. “There is still some swelling in there and it’s going to take a little bit of time, but it feels pretty good.”

Now it’s about regaining the strength in the knee while getting back the cardiovascular training he lost while having to rest after the procedure.

“Strength-wise, coming out of the corners, that jump that I usually have is kind of slow,” Lecavalier said. “So it’s just about building it back up. … Hopefully I’ll feel really good coming into camp, meaning by Monday, hopefully I’ll be 100 percent. The sooner the better.”

GUSTAFSSON BUILDING CONFIDENCE

Rookie camp is less than a week away and The Washington Post writes that there will be plenty of eyes on 2009 first-round pick Marcus Johansson (potentially the L2 centre, which would mean setting up Alexander Semin) to see how he follows up his impressive showing in July’s development camp. It’s also a crucial time for Anton Gustafsson, who hopes to finally move beyond his injury-riddled past.

“I came here a week early just to get out on the ice a bit more,” said Gustafsson, who flew to Washington on Sunday with Johansson. “I’m just an unlucky one; when one injury starts getting healthy another comes around. I don’t have the self esteem I should have out there. If I would be healthy maybe I’d try more things, but right now I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of stuff.”

He’s expected to fight for big minutes in Hershey this season.

“My main issue right now is not the injuries; it’s my confidence,” Gustafsson said. “Once I get my confidence back up, I can play in any league.”

The Post also points out that Nicklas Backstrom took the opportunity to relax in Sweden after signing his 10-year, $67M contract extension this summer and added that he’s been working to improve his skating ability.

“I want to keep getting faster and better with my skating,” Backstrom said. “That’s always the first thing I want to do in the summer, but that’s been one of the biggest things I’ve been trying to work on since I came over the first time.”

SHEPPARD BREAKS KNEECAP

Less than two weeks before the most pivotal training camp of his NHL career, The Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that Wild centre James Sheppard was in an all-terrain vehicle accident Saturday in Vail, CO and could miss up to four months and breaking his left kneecap.

Sheppard’s agent Mark Guy said that during a “guided tour” with other NHL players after training, he swerved to avoid a truck on the path and hit his knee.

“Personally, we’re really disappointed in what happened,” coach Todd Richards said. “I met him before he went out. It looked like he was in great shape. It looked like he had done everything physically to get himself ready for this camp, and then something like this happens.

“It’s a huge event in his professional life. We probably won’t get any reads on what this means [for his future] until three or four months go by.”

The Star-Tribune points out that while Sheppard’s injury thins the Wild’s depth at centre; Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, John Madden and Kyle Brodziak were the top four centres anyway. If one gets hurt, right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard could move to centre as long as he returns from post-concussion syndrome.
So as of now, Fletcher said he won’t look to sign another centre.

“I liked our depth better with James Sheppard, but we’re going into camp with four proven NHL guys,” Fletcher said. “It’s almost like I’m speaking off the cuff because I want to digest everything. But probably the prudent thing to do is see what we have in camp before any knee-jerk reaction.

“That’s my gut reaction, but maybe by next week we’ll change our mind.”

WEIGHT LIFTER TO WEIGHT LIFTER

The Atlanta Journal Constitution indicates that Rick Dudley and Barry Brennan speak the same language, one weight lifter to another. So when the Thrashers GM was looking for a new strength and conditioning coach this offseason, it wasn’t long into his interview with Brennan that he knew he found his man.

“My background is exercise physiology,” Dudley said. “When he talks, I understand what he says. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I’m going to guess I spoke to 50 to 60 people about him and it was overwhelmingly positive, especially players. Players, to a man, said this was a great strength coach. It made it easy.”

Brennan spent the previous nine seasons in the Columbus organization; the last five as the Blue Jackets strength coach.

“I spend time tailoring each program specifically for the players’ needs,” Brennan said. “I don’t know if everybody does that, but that’s the way I like it. You get a better response back from the players because they see you are putting a lot of time in to identify their strengths and weaknesses and working on those.”

By using Olympic-style weight training — lifting a heavier weight as fast as possible with fewer repetitions — Brennan aims to alter a player’s muscle fibre.

“It’s very intense,” Brennan said. “It’s very explosive. What you are doing in Olympic-style weight lifting is teaching slow-twitch muscle fibre how to recover quicker. You are actually converting a slow-twitch muscle fibre into a fast-twitch muscle fibre. You are teaching it how to explode when your brain sends a signal.”

Need help deciding on keeper choices for ’10-11? Wondering about someone’s poolie potential after summer moves by the team? The next fantasy Q&A will be coming up before too long, so drop a line to chris.nichols@sportsnet.rogers.com and it may be included. Please include relevant league details like scoring categories, number of teams, etc.

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