Ryan Lambert

What We Learned: NHL's under the radar training camp battles

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Ah, training camp. So much intrigue.

How do the new guys look? Which youngster is poised for a breakout season? Is the coach really that incompetent?

But the most interesting part of any camp is the battle for the bottom slots in the lineup. Veterans who might've been counting on a third- or fourth-line role can be edged out by a precocious couple weeks from rookie no one thought would make the team. Or a hotshot kid can lose his role to a cagey journeyman on a tryout, and get sent back to juniors to get more ice time rather than stifle his development.

It gets particularly hairy when you factor in the salary cap. All kinds of guys are getting muscled out of jobs because they signed a contract that wouldn't fit with the team's cap hit two years down the line. It's the nature of the business these days, and while it may not be fair, that's just how it goes.

But there are more battles than just those for roster spots. Sometimes they're a lot bigger than that. Such as ...

Rangers fans vs. Inevitability

I know it's a difficult truth to wrap one's head around, but there's almost no way Wade Redden(notes) sets foot in Hartford this year, unless Madison Square Garden burns to the ground two hours before a scheduled game.

(Coming Up: Ted Leonsis takes on the New York Times over Ovechkin; why we may have all been wrong about the Buffalo Sabres third jerseys; bad break for Filip Kuba(notes); Red Wings in love with Modano; just desserts for Cormier; that Sheldon Souray(notes) for Mike Commodore(notes) rumor; Brad Richards(notes) plays for a raise over a ridiculous contract; DiPietro's still fragile; Niemi gets grief from Sharks; the Oilers earn their pancakes; and how Craig Conroy(notes) made an impression on Patrick Roy ... literally.)

The Rangers rumor mill, which always specializes in a particular brand of wishful thinking, heated up this summer as several emerging defensemen appeared poised to at least compete for a spot with the big club. This, many decided, was the year Redden's contract -- which has for so long hung around the club's neck like Coleridge's albatross -- got muscled out of the lineup and down to three years of bus-riding.

But this isn't going to be the year for Ryan McDonagh(notes) or Matt Gilroy(notes), at least not at Redden's expense. He's owed $6.5 million for each of the next four seasons, and while ownership might have been able to justify burying that much in the minors for one season, the term and money are both too long to stuff it in the minors.

Whether or not you find the idea repulsive (and you should), Redden is going to be a part of the Rangers' blue line for the rest of his comical contract. You may as well start dealing with it now.

Half the Calgary Flames vs. Fan Sentiment

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In recent weeks, the outrage over personnel moves of the spring and summer has subsided into a sort of amnesic cautious optimism I'm not sure anyone can really explain.

Perhaps Flames fans figure that a team so close to the salary cap can't possibly be so terrible as they were last season two years in a row. (They'd do well to ask Rangers fans about that.) But the fact remains that, at the time they were signed or acquired, nobody wanted at least of the four guys on the current roster wearing a Flaming C.

Excellent case in point: Steve Staios(notes). This guy was so bad last year he couldn't get decent minutes for Edmonton, but Darryl Sutter gave up a third-round pick and took on salary to acquire him, and he promptly put up a minus-8 in just 18 games. Similar stories can be told of Ales Kotalik(notes), who's still around despite attempts to send him literally anywhere he wouldn't have to collect a paycheck from the Flames organization.

And obviously signing Olli Jokinen(notes) was intended by Sutter as some sort of cruel joke directed toward the people who actually care about this team. And while the Alex Tanguay(notes) signing seems a bit of a bargain and a chance for a nostalgic mulligan for both parties, it also reeked of desperation for all involved.

It's up to these guys to not only prove they belong on a team short on depth and long on questionable salary commitments, but also to play well enough that their cars, along with Sutter's, aren't torched in the parking lot on a nightly basis.

Tyler Seguin(notes) vs. Impossibly high expectations

Open any old Boston-area sports publication this week and you're going to see something about the Bruins opening training camp. But you won't see the face of Tuukka Rask(notes), goalie of the future. Nor Zdeno Chara(notes), Bruins captain playing for a contract. Same goes for Marc Savard(notes), star concussion-addled playmaking center nearly sold out by his organization in the summer.

The only guy you see is Tyler Seguin. And what that says about the city he's playing in may not be the best sign of things to come.

Certainly he's deserving of all the hype he's getting, at least as far as the raves from teammates and management are concerned. Rookie campers who would know have already compared him to Steven Stamkos(notes) and seen-it-all vets like Mark Recchi(notes) have sworn he's got the goods to be a superstar. Media wags have told everyone he plays beyond his years, and draped him with laudatory nicknames like "The Black and Golden Child."

People will swear up and down that expectations for the kid are tempered -- and that Taylor Hall(notes) is the only rookie that needs to perform big time -- but they aren't and he isn't. The Oilers can be garbage and Hall can put up a respectable Tavares-like rookie season, and no one will cast any aspersions his way.

But the much-improved Bruins probably have the juice to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals if no one gets himself seriously injured; and if Seguin isn't everything everyone has promised he would be pretty soon out of the gate, then he's going to catch a lot of the blame.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks love new acquisition Andy Sutton(notes). He got in front of twice as many shots as Anaheim's best shot-blocker last year (204 to James Wisniewski's(notes) 102). Anaheim blocked the second-fewest shots in the league last year at just 943. That's bad!

Atlanta Thrashers: Speaking of blocked shots, one of those broke Patrice Cormier's(notes) foot on the first day of camp. Said he, "It's not the end of the world." Yeah, it's not like the puck came off the bench and elbowed him in the foot away from the play. No big deal. He'll start the season in the AHL.

Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas(notes) really wants to play well this year. He's finally been medically cleared to participate in training camp and is going to try to win the starting job back from Tuukkahahaha of course he won't.

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Buffalo Sabres: Up close, it is revealed that the Sabres' new thirds are the new worst jerseys in the league. The stitching across the letters is just hideous.

Calgary Flames: How can you not love Craig Conroy? His first day of camp ever, back in 1994, he was playing for the Habs, and hits Patrick Roy in the head with a shot. "And I'm on HIS team, if you can believe it. So we get into a little fight. Me, a sixth-round draft pick. And Saint Patrick. My first day. I'm lucky they gave me a second. Can you imagine? Very first shot I take on an NHL goalie. Patrick Roy. In the head. Oh, brother. Yeah, I got noticed.'' Connie's the best.

Carolina Hurricanes: Paul Maurice ordered the team to play physical hockey on the first day of camp, and boy did they ever deliver. The photo accompanying this article is the best of this young season so far. The reaction from the old lady in the front row just says it all.

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey deems himself too cool to have his picture taken with the Stanley Cup. "Cool" was his word, by the way. Put on your hazmat suits: This is holier-than-thou pap cranked to 11.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs plan to honor the 1995-96 Stanley Cup winning team on opening night. The hottest ticket in the building that night will be the one farthest away from a weepy Denver Post writer Adrian Dater telling everyone who will listen about the time Peter Forsberg(notes) gave him a piggyback ride and how much he hates the god damn Red Wings who are all jerks, by the way.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets might trade for Sheldon Souray. But if they did it they would have to send Mike Commodore to Edmonton. How do you justify making that deal if you're Howson?

Dallas Stars: Brad Richards in a contract year. Oh man he's gonna be good. The real question is if he can turn this season into a raise over the $7.8 million he's been making since the lockout. I sincerely doubt it, but stupider things have happened, and any improvement over the 91 points he picked up last year would be valued highly.

Detroit Red Wings: Hoo boy the Red Wings all have pictures of Mike Modano(notes) glued to pink construction paper hearts in their lockers already. That could get insufferable real quick.

Edmonton Oilers: The bad news: Oilers opened camp with a day that involved nothing but drills and systems-teaching. But at least their fans got free pancakes. Might I suggest keeping that promotion going all season?

Florida Panthers: Rusty Olesz needs to do well this season or else Pete DeBoer's going to kill him with his bear hands.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are counting on Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) to fill a third-line role. They're paying a third-line wing $3 million this year. Outstanding stuff.

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Minnesota Wild: The kid who designed Nicklas Backstrom's(notes) new mask this year was the fifth Beatle.

Montreal Canadiens: Click this link for the interesting feature Jeff Halpern(notes). Stay for the photo of a trainer touching Jeff Halpern's butt like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Nashville Predators: Mark Dekanich(notes) is currently the favorite to be the Preds' backup goaltender, but just slightly. The only thing he's competing against is the threat that David Poile will bring in a proven backup. So no pressure or anything, kid.

New Jersey Devils: Henrik Tallinder(notes) on his approach to the game: "I'm more of a Swedish-orientated defenseman. You play the angles. You try to be in the right position. I have decent mobility, decent puck skills. I'm kind of all-around - not too good anything and not too bad at anything." Translation: "I don't hit and I'm mediocre."

New York Islanders: Rick DiPietro's(notes) getting handled with kid gloves already. Scheduled days off means the ways he can pick up a season-ending injury increases exponentially. Strained neck from watching a scrimmage. Scraped roof of the mouth from too much Cap'n Crunch. The possibilities are endless.

New York Rangers: Glen Sather made a rare appearance in front of the media, and said, "I don't feel any different now than I did 10 years ago. I guess I would work until somebody doesn't want me to work, or I don't feel like working." Poor Rangers fans.

Ottawa Senators: Filip Kuba has a broken leg. Out 4-6 weeks. Good news for that one Sens fan who wanted to see Brian Lee(notes) and Eric Gryba(notes) stick with the big team, and his dear team give up 4,200 goals this season as a consequence.

Philadelphia Flyers: The SEPTA stop at Broad St. and Pattison, the one Philly fans use to take the subway to Flyers, Eagles and Phillies games, has been renamed "AT&T Station." At least it's orange, right?

Phoenix Coyotes: Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic says three things went right for the Coyotes last year: goaltending, hard work and personnel moves. They'll need all three to keep on competing for home ice in the West, and they might need another 10 shootout wins or so as well.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are really counting on the fact that they added some grit to get them over the hump and allow them to advance past an underwhelming eight seed in the second round.

San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi(notes) took a bit of crap from his new teammates as camp opened because he hasn't gotten his Sharks pads yet, and was playing in Chicago colors.

St. Louis Blues: One of the pressing questions for the upcoming season in St. Louis is how many goals Brad Boyes(notes) can net. If 30's the baseline, I don't think that's too crazy.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Real nice buildup on the play that led to Simon Gagne's(notes) first training camp goal for the Bolts. I've got him down for 40 this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now this is a great question: "These Leafs are different...But are they any better?" Only nine of last year's 23 starting-day Leafs are still with the club, and while the goaltending benefits immediately from being Toskalaless, the offense doesn't look especially, umm, passable.

Vancouver Canucks: If Cory Schneider(notes) plays well enough in his backup role this year, he's almost certainly going to get traded in the offseason. Lucky him.

Washington Capitals: While the rest of the Caps were looking to improve this offseason, Ted Leonsis has made it his personal mission to ridicule anyone who dares denigrate anyone on the team. In the crosshairs this week? The New York Times, which called Alex Ovechkin's(notes) 2009-10 season "disastrous." The temerity!

Gold Star Award

Real live hockey! It's back!

Minus of the Weekend

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It's about 20 years too late, but thanks to this list from Sportsnet on how every NHL team got named, I just learned the Sharks were almost named the Rubber Puckies. Wow.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

I'm not sure user 'killerbruinfan' is either of the things his or her account name would have us believe.

Souray to Boston

Williams + pick to Edmonton

Savard to LA

wonder if this would be a good trade for the Bruins?

No, no, no it wouldn't.

Signoff

I believe work should be fun, and you try to crush people's spirits.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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