It may be hard to believe that NHL teams have already reported to training camp. The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have barely had any time to recuperate after their grueling six-game Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks are back on the ice, except instead of being in Chicago; they’re in South Bend, Indiana on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
There are plenty of story lines with camp underway. There are a couple of questions that players are already getting sick of answering. The first being: “How did you spend your summer?” The other: “What’s the long-term status of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane?”
Just before reporting to camp, the ‘Hawks made two somewhat unexpected moves when they were able to sign two players to contract extensions. Goaltender, Corey Crawford, added six years to his deal, while defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, tacked on another four years. As the salary cap hover around the same number, there is a nervousness from parts of the fan base that thinks there may not be enough cash left when the contracts of Kane and Toews expire at the end of the 1014-15 season.
The thing to keep an eye on as camp rolls along and preseason games get underway, is the position battles at the second line center position and on the wings in the bottom six. Regarding the second line center, the team has a fallback option with Michal Handzus, but they want to see if players who have a higher offensive upside can handle it.
Brandon Saad told reporters he hasn’t played center before, but is excited to give it a shot. Brandon Pirri has much more experience in the middle of the ice, but not a whole lot at the NHL level. If I had to make a prediction today, I would guess that the team starts the season with Handzus, keeps Saad on the wing and send Pirri back to the minors. Allowing Pirri to continue his growth in Rockford is probably for the best. As the season progresses, Pirri could be called up when he’s more ready.
Competition will be even heavier along the wing. Gone are Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. There is no shortage of players who are willing to fill their shoes – or skates. Brandon Bollig, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith as well as former first round picks Kyle Beach and Teuvo Teravainen will all be battling for roster spots/playing time.
The biggest headline in training camp so far has been the scuffle that Duncan Keith and Ben Smith got into during an intrasquad scrimmage. Both players as well as their teammates and coaches played it down. Some teams claim instances like these can bring players closer together. As long as there are no lingering issues between the two, there won’t be anything to worry about.