Today I was on hand for the opening of training camp at the Boston Garden. The lobby held about 200 people at each the east and west entrance around nine, by about nine thirty five when the doors opened the number was closer to five hundred each side.

Among the most amusing occurrences was the repeated hush that came over the Garden when Claude Julien spoke. I’m not saying everyone stopped speaking but the volume level dropped to about 1/5th the average excited murmur. This happened each time he spoke in both the A and B groups.

Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were paired together on several rushes and drills in the second session. This struck me as an interesting paring that makes me wonder how likely we are to see the five players left from last years top two lines left in the same mix. One of the things that struck me about lines one and two last year was the lack of speed on one and the lack of size on the other. Nathan Horton was hands down the fastest skater on his line and he’s probably not going to be invited to the speed competition at the All Star game. Patrice Bergeron who probably only tips the scale at 200lbs when holding Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head was the largest player by several pounds on his line last year.

Zach Hamill had a solid day. He may have scored on one or two of the rushes, but I wasn’t tracking that quite as much as I would later in the year. What I did notice is he was one of the first forwards to deliver a hit along the boards in a drill. Moments later someone else returned the favor and he showed good strength on his skates staying upright and not shying away.

Tyler Seguin is visibly larger even from the stands. He looks to have filled out across the chest and shoulders. He did not appear to have lost a step in his skating. And yes, the puck bunnies and Tylerphiles were out in full force.

Ryan Spooner continued the trend he showed in this years dev-camp of not shying away from going at the larger (nearly everyone) players. At one point he attempted to skate through Zdeno Chara, physics intervened. On other rushes he had some dazzle.

David Krejci’s skating was some of the best I’ve seen from him. It will be interesting to see how he does entering the season healthy for the first time in recent years. Last year he started off with a bad wrist.  Going back a bit further was an entire season hobbled by a hip injury.

Overall the two sessions had a different flavor. The early session seemed more a “welcome to camp, try not go pull a groin” skate session with a couple drills. The later session had a few more drills and seemed to have more of the forwards who are either jostling for their position on the roster or fighting for an NHL job. Both were interesting, but for those going in with a small kids or new fans group B might prove more interesting of the trend continues.

Alexander Khokhlachev’s skating improved a bit from dev-camp and he may have managed to pack on a few pounds along with crossing over into adulthood about a week ago.  I suspect at least half of the  improved skating is freshness and not a junior season that ran almost directly into the development camp where divine sadist skating instructor Besa Tsintsadze ran him and others into the ice.

While I can’t think of anyone who looked bad there was one standout who looked to have come to camp with more oomph than many. Rich Peverley who was acquired at the deadline last spring and morphed into something of a binkie for Julien was hands down the sharpest looking player on the ice at either session. At one point or another in drills he sponsored equipment sales replete with items formerly belonging to Joe Corvo, Adam Mcquaid, Tuukka Rask and Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara. While practice, particularly the first of the year is just that, you can’t fail to notice he clearly set his mind on being a big part of the team this season.  As one of the ten Bruins contracts set to expire on July 1 it is no wonder he wants to make an even better impression this season than he did across his time in Boston last year.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

If there is a team more in need of a post season cup of coffee than Ohio’s boys of winter I can’t think of who they might be. With their additions since their season ended in early April, and the chance of a sparkling rookie breaking the line up they have a good chance of making it happen. With the new deal that will lower the financial burden of the team and keep them in the city longer they should also have a little more flexibility to retain talent.

High Card:

While Captain Rick Nash is undoubtedly more talented, than Jeff Carter the latter is the key to the season. Jeff Carter has been on high end teams with a legitimate shot at winning the cup. No forward on the BlueJackets has more recent playoff experience, and some have never been on a team that has won a playoff game. Carters experience will need to be passed on to his new teammates and how much how well he does this will affect the teams post season hopes and performance can’t be understated.

Wild Card:

Of all the major deals struck over the summer, James Wisniewski received perhaps the most discussed.  It is easy to see why when you hit the stat sheet. His salary this season will be more than twice what it was last year. Despite having debuted in the NHL in the 05-06 season last season was the first year he played more than 70 games (75), and the only season he’s had more than 31 points. This is also the first multi-year deal since his entry level deal. On the plus side of the ledger when he got the chance to play quality minutes in an offensive role last season it took him just 43 games to equal his best NHL production level previously achieved in 69 games. He also managed to collect points in a hard fought series against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. It’s pretty simple, if last year was the real James Wisniewski Columbus just got a new cannon for the blueline. If last year was an aberration, they may never live his contract down and heads will likely roll.

For the first time in decades there are very few questions to be answered in terms of personnel on and off the ice. We have two time Vezina Trophy winner, and Conn Smyth holder Tim Thomas returning in goal with the well regarded Tuukka Rask backing him up. The defense is nearly as well stocked with the hulking Zdeno Chara and his oft overlooked but indispensable wing-man Dennis Seidenberg as the go to duo. Slated to return was are last years breakout defender Adam Mcquaid, the snarling wolverine to Chara’s loping wolf Andrew Ference, former AHL defenseman of the year and newlywed Johnny Boychuk. The well traveled Joe Corvo is the only new guy likely to be in the top six on October 6 when the banner goes up.  At forward Brad Marchand recently resigned and will almost certainly resume his “I Felt Like It.” behavior along side the teams best skater Patrice Bergeron, and leaving just one forward slot among the four lines in doubt.

With studs like Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner headlining the list of those who hope to turn pro this year, some might just pencil one of their names into the lineup and go back to counting down until the puck drops. That would be a mistake. The biggest question left after Marchand reupping and Savard being down checked for the season is where Seguin will play. This is the question that affects every other decision that will be made this year and going forward. If he is going to play at center going forward, for now that means the third line and likely with one or both Peverley and Kelly. If he’s going play at wing, he could still end up with last seasons late acquisitions, or he could slide up and join Marchand in flanking Bergeron. If he does, as some have speculated land next to the dynamic duo the question become what role the third line will take. If you’re expecting the lines centered by Bergeron and Krejci to carry a hefty percentage of the offense, the third line becomes a checking line by default.

If the third line is to be a checking line with Kelly and Peverley making up two thirds of it, then Pouliot is likely in the lead for the third spot on the line. Another option is to put a rookie who may not be ready to play in all situations on that line and use them sparingly while double shifting other forwards to leverage their capabilities. If that is the case the door is wide, wide open and the list goes well beyond Arniel, Caron, Suave, as front runners and allows for anyone such as Camper, Cunningham or Khokhlachev to blow the doors off management and earn a chance to grow into a well rounded player.

One of the other options that I haven’t seen talked about for Bergeron’s second winger is Peverley. Peverley was used in every situation and on every line during the playoffs last year. He’s a high end skater in both speed and agility, he’s a good passer and has even taken faceoffs on a regular basis. If he’s slotted in on the second line, the third line is possibly even more interesting. Pairing Seguin with Caron to fill out the line with Kelly gives a good amount of size, speed and skill and makes the Bergeron’s line even more effective as a two way production and scoring line. Seguin and Caron would be able to come along at a reasonable pace earning additonal ice timeand give each of them familiarity with a player likely to be in the organization a long time.

On defense the question of who is number seven is possibly more interesting. Steve Kampfer looked great for parts of his time prior to his injury last season, looked good at others, and looked entirely out of his depth on more than one occasion. Still, he played more time among the six defensemen put on the ice last year than any of the other options. David Warsovsky is a possibilty as he’s an offensive specialist and might be looked at to help improve the powerplay. Ryan Button intruiged me at prospect camp with his skating, reflexes and hands and shouldn’t be overlooked when taking notes the next couple weeks. Matt Bartkowski was the other semi-regular member of the Bruins defense last year. While his time wasn’t particularly impressive, it’s hard to lay that entirely at his skates as most of the game he played the club was mired in a funk that made the team painful to watch.

Given how little was done to address the powerplay from outside the team over the offseason, and the cap position of several teams don’t be surprised if the Bruins make a move or two between now and the start of the season. The Buffalo Sabres have heavily retooled since Terry Pegula took over, are currently well over the cap and a very dangerous team, the Calgary Flames are still in desperate need of a center who can stay within shouting range of Jarome Iginla as well. Not to be left off the list of teams yearning for a playoff spot are the recently uptooled Columbus BlueJackets and the Minnesota Wild. Columbus hasn’t made the playoffs in their history, and the Wild have not been in the post season the last two seasons.

There aren’t many questions to be asked about roster spots this year, but what questions there are will keep us all watching.

The ongoing saga of Brad Marchand’s dance with the Boston Bruins brass has reached the level of absurdity. No, I take that back. It passed absurdity a long time ago. Adam Mcquaid was re-signed and his existing deal wasn’t set to expire until next summer. Joe Corvo was acquired a long time ago. Sure forty goal man Benoit Pouliot was signed just days after the cup was raised. And just in-case anyone has forgotten it the 35 year Chris Clark who has a history of knee injuries was invited to training camp. Just today, the team extended Providence Bruins defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who went -8 with one goal last season.

While at least one of those moves was something that could be a serious positive impact on the team. Doing all of these ahead of signing a key forward who’s contract has expired is very much like sliding a chair under the doorknob to your backdoor to keep burglars out while leaving the front door, and every large window open and a trail of hundred dollar bills from the mantle to the curb. When you draft a player who’s somewhere around seventeen, what your drafting is potential and work ethic. The two don’t march in lockstep and one often fails to materialize. In the case of Brad Marchand we saw sports of both two seasons ago. Last season, when no one expected him to make the team, and he started the year in the pressbox before a stay on the fourth line. In January he was key to Patrice Bergeron earning first star in the NHL. In the post season he scored in every round of the playoffs.

So what gives? Are they hoping he might be versatile? Let’s see, he scored short handed, even strength, and on the powerplay. He delivered hits, drew penalties and blocked shots. He produced in the early season, the midseason and the late season. He produced on the fourth line, he produced with and without Bergeron on a production line.  He had two goals in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. He handled the media well. I suspect his jersey and tshirt have been selling quite well too.

So what’s the hold up? We know if they got the extensions for Bodnarchuk and Mcquaid done, a: the nice folks in the NHL offices are still talking to them and b: someone with the authority to sign deals has been sober enough to do so on at least two occasions. Regardless of what the hold up is, a deal could and should have been done by now. In the present day NHL there is no such thing as an unmovable contract. This applies doubly to Stanley Cup champions. If Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell can be moved with contracts that were deemed unmovable when they were signed, I can’t imagine any number that could be hung on Marchand that kept the team near the cap as currently configured.

Did Marchand suddenly become unmanageable? See above. Dany Heatley has been moved and has done far less in the playoffs. Nikita Filatov was made team captain of one of the Russian national teams despite the circumstances with the BlueJackets, then he too was traded to a rebuilding team. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from watching the NHL the last few years it’s that if there is talent there’s a taker. So assuming the number is five million a year. That’s less than Kessel got, and Marchand has proved he’s willing to work hard with and without the puck, and be creative going to the net.

So what’s the worst that happens? With Savard’s cap space even Chara can’t reach the cap ceiling. If the number proves too much exile him to Florida where Dale Tallon is doing his usual bang-up job of cap management. Or ship him out to St Louis where he and Sobotka can shop in all the same clothing stores. Heck, given the biggest trade the Avalanche made over the summer Marchand could probably fetch a first, a second a prospect and the luxury box revenue.

Whatever the reason Marchand isn’t signed at this point, even if it is part of a sign and trade is no longer a good one. Camp opens in days. It is now a distraction to the team as well as fans and management. Why should he go into camp with his usual fire if he’s got no safety net? What about the other players? What about putting lines together, penalty kill use, and all the other roles he played? Then there is the question of how much turnover is a good thing. Given the likelihood Marchand doesn’t return that will be Marchand, Ryder, Recchi off the forward lines. That’s a lot of ice time across even strength and special teams. Essentially it is a whole forward line lost, for a team that struggled on the powerplay, and isn’t over blessed with speed letting Marchand go or having him sit out without a contract is absurd.