Training Camp Storylines

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With training camp getting underway, there will naturally be a lot happening all at once. To help navigate through it we’ll be releasing columns that highlight some of the biggest current storylines and dive into each one. This is the first article in that series.

Don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out NBC Sports EDGE's Player News, and follow @NBCSEdgeHK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

1. The Philadelphia Flyers start training camp with several noteworthy injuries.

The Flyers will unfortunately not be going into the 2021-22 campaign healthy. They announced on Tuesday that several players are injured, with the most notable being Kevin Hayes (abdominal surgery) and Samuel Morin (knee surgery) both expected to miss six-to-eight weeks and Wade Allison (ankle) being sidelined indefinitely. Those are unfortunate setbacks for Morin and Allison, but the one leaving the biggest hole is Hayes, who would otherwise be the team’s second-line center.

If there’s a silver lining though, this is an opportunity for someone else to step up and Morgan Frost in particular is one who might fill that void. Frost had two goals and seven points in 20 games as a rookie in 2019-20, but only appeared in two games last season due to shoulder surgery. He’s healthy now though and will be someone to watch closely during training camp.

2. Some NHL veterans that used to have big contracts are now fighting for jobs on PTOs.

Alex Galchenyuk was traded one-for-one for Max Domi back in 2018, Bobby Ryan signed a seven-year, $50.75 million contract back in 2014, and as recently as last season, James Neal came with a $5.75 million cap hit. They were all UFAs this summer though and apparently they couldn’t find a contract of their liking because they agreed to professional tryout offers.

Galchenyuk accepted a PTO with Arizona, bringing him back to a team where he had some success in 2018-19, scoring 19 goals and 41 points in 72 contests. Since that campaign, he’s often served in a fourth line role, which is a far cry from where he was at his height in 2015-16 when he scored 30 goals. Perhaps a return to Arizona will do him some good, especially given that the Coyotes don’t have much offensive firepower, so there is an opening there.

Ryan meanwhile is hoping to stick with the Detroit Red Wings. He played there last season on a one-year, $1 million contract and did well enough, scoring seven goals and 14 points in 33 games. He’ll be attending their camp as a PTO this time in the hopes that they’ll re-sign him. At the age of 34-years-old, we’re not expecting Ryan to rekindle his former glory, but he could be a solid third-line option and veteran presence for the Red Wings as they continue their rebuilding process.

Neal had the final two seasons of his contract bought out by the Edmonton Oilers, which is how he became an unrestricted free agent. Unlike the other two who are trying to win jobs in familiar places, Neal accepted a PTO with the St. Louis Blues. Of the three mentioned, I’m least confident that Neal will end up getting a contract with St. Louis. He was limited to five goals and 10 points in 29 games last season while averaging 12:06 minutes, so rather than bounce back, he continued to trend in the wrong direction. Still, Neal was at one time a great goal scorer and perhaps he’ll have a strong enough camp to prove that he can still make decent contributions.

3. Brady Tkachuk remains unsigned as the Senators are set to begin their camp.

When the Senators announced their 54-player roster on Tuesday, Brady Tkachuk’s name wasn’t on it. He’s still a restricted free agent. The Senators reportedly offered him an eight-year, $64 million contract, but at the time of writing he hasn’t signed that or any deal. His brother Matthew Tkachuk spoke about the ongoing contract talks and left the possibility open that Brady might hold out.

“He might be pulling a classic Tkachuk right now,” Matthew said, per Sportsnet. “Dad held out, Matthew held out, and Brady looks like he’s on his way right now. So hopefully it can get figured out here. But it’s just a lot of fake stuff out there regarding this. They’re not too close.”

That certainly isn’t encouraging if you’re a Senators fan, but RFA situations can change in a hurry. Plus the Senators have company as Brady Tkachuk is one of seven RFAs still unsigned (eight before Kirill Kaprizov signed while I was writing this) and some of the other names on that list are big too. So it’s premature to panic, but it is also worth noting that the more of training camp Tkachuk misses, the harder it will be for him to hit the ground running at the start of the season.

4. The Maple Leafs have a juicy opening on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

When Matthews and Marner hit the ice, Zach Hyman wasn’t always with them, but he was a common fixture on that top line. He served as a nice compliment to that skilled duo, picking up 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games last season and recording 21 goals in each of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns. Of course, playing with two forwards at Matthews and Marner’s level is a luxury and with Hyman gone, someone new will fill that void.

Back in 2020-21, when Hyman wasn’t on that line, the role was typically filled by Joe Thornton, who also isn’t on the team anymore and honestly wouldn’t be an ideal candidate for that spot even if he was. The Leafs also gave Nick Foligno and Alex Galchenyuk an opportunity in that role last season, but neither of them are on the Leafs anymore either.

Nick Ritchie is definitely a serious candidate after signing a two-year, $5 million deal with the team over the summer, but Michael Bunting is also in the mix for a top-six spot. He excelled in the AHL, but only has 26 games worth of NHL experience at the age of 26, so he’s got lots to prove, but the Leafs are likely to give him a chance to do just that during the preseason. Ondrej Kase is another interesting option. He had a 20-goal campaign back in 2017-18, but he’s struggled since. Still, at the age of 25, he has bounce back potential. The reality is that the Leafs don’t appear to have an ideal successor for Hyman, but that does mean players who might not have otherwise had this kind of golden opportunity will be fighting for it over the camp.

5. Sharks enter camp with the Evander Kane situation still unresolved.

Over the summer there were questions about if Evander Kane would play for the Sharks – or at all this season. With training camp starting, those questions really haven’t been answered. The NHL has an ongoing investigation into allegations that Kane gambled on and conspired to fix his own games. Those are allegations that Kane has denied, but until the results of the NHL’s investigation are released, it’s hard to know what Kane’s status for the 2021-22 campaign will be.

In a scenario where the NHL rules that they haven’t been able to determine any wrongdoing and aren’t taking action against Kane, the question would then turn to what his situation with the Sharks will be. On the ice he was fantastic last season with 22 goals and 49 points in 56 games, but there were reportedly locker room issues that led to players complaining to Sharks GM Doug Wilson. As one source told The Athletic, “Guys were going into Doug’s office all year long, saying Kane had to go. … All Doug would say is, ‘All teams have locker-room issues,’ which just isn’t true. Not the teams that win, anyway.”

So it will be interesting to see what happens here. If the Sharks decide that they do want to part ways with him, it will likely be hard to get market value for him given the reports, but if the NHL investigation clears him then it might at least be possible.

6. The Buffalo Sabres have two big question marks looming over them in Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.

This is expected to be a rebuilding season for the Buffalo Sabres regardless, but they have two big questions entering training camp and the resolution of them will have implications for years to come.

The first of course is their ongoing standoff with Jack Eichel. He needs surgery due to a herniated disk in his neck, but the Sabres and Eichel disagree on what operation he should have, which has led to Eichel being stuck in limbo. His hope is that the Sabres will trade him to a team that will allow him to have the surgery of his preference, but the Sabres want top dollar for him in any trade and so far no team has been willing to provide their high asking price. Eichel is expected to report to the Sabres training camp and fail the physical on Wednesday. The longer Eichel goes untraded or refuses the Sabres’ preferred surgery option, the longer he will remain unable to play.

It’s hard to see how prolonging this situation is going to enhance his trade value and lead to Sabres GM Kevyn Adams getting the pieces he wants in return, but at the same time Eichel is a star when healthy and getting top value from this trade will play a significant role in the Sabres’ rebuilding efforts, so you can see why Adams has taken a hardline stance so far.

On top of that, Adams also needs to sign RFA Rasmus Dahlin. The 21-year-old has the potential to be a superstar defenseman and has already proved to be excellent offensively, but his defensive play is still a work in progress. After a rough 2020-21 campaign – and to be fair, he’s far from the only member of the Sabres who struggled last season – there might be a significant gap between what he sees his value as and what the Sabres are offering. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if the Sabres lock him up to a long-term contract or if he instead signs a bridge deal. Either way, Buffalo is hoping that he’ll be a cornerstone of the team once they’re out from the other end of this rebuild.

7. Columbus doesn’t welcome Zac Rinaldo to their training camp.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently said that just 10-15 players are still unvaccinated and Zac Rinaldo is one of them. While unvaccinated players can play in the NHL, albeit under tougher protocols, the Columbus Blue Jackets want to only include vaccinated players on their team. To that end, they didn’t invite Rinaldo to their training camp despite signing him to a two-way contract back in August. Rinaldo will instead attend AHL Cleveland’s camp and is likely to remain in the minors unless he gets vaccinated.

This news came after the Blue Jackets fired assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre for not being "able to perform the duties required of him given current NHL protocols.” Like Rinaldo, Lefebvre was unvaccinated. They replaced him with Steve McCarthy, who was previously an associate coach with Cleveland.

8. Where will Nolan Patrick fit in with the Vegas Golden Knights?

Vegas inked Nolan Patrick to a two-year, $2.4 million contract, which set the stage for him to be able to report to training camp on time. That’s important because he’s going to be fighting for a job. Patrick was taken with the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he missed the full 2019-20 campaign due to a migraine disorder and played in a limited role with the Flyers in 2020-21.

He’s getting a fresh start in Vegas, but the Golden Knights already have a deep team with star power up front. It’s unlikely that Patrick will get a top-six role unless there’s an injury, but maybe he’ll be able to earn a third-line spot. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the Golden Knights use him during the preseason and how he responds.

9. Kirill Kaprizov signs a five-year, $45 million deal. Will that set the benchmark for Elias Pettersson?

After plenty of speculation, Kaprizov ultimately inked a five-year deal with the Wild, avoiding a potentially lengthy holdout period as an RFA. Kaprizov is getting a massive payday for a forward with only one season worth of NHL experience, but of course Kaprizov is also an emerging star who excelled as a rookie and was excellent in the KHL before that, so to say that he only has 55 games worth of NHL experience, while true, misses the nuance of this particular situation.

Either way, one question is if Kaprizov’s signing is the domino that needed to fall for Pettersson to ink with the Vancouver Canucks. Pettersson was limited to just 26 games last season, but he still managed to score 10 goals and 21 points. Through three campaigns he has 65 goals and 153 points in 165 contests. Like Kaprizov, Pettersson is a former Calder Trophy winner, they’ve produced offensively at the same pace – albeit with Pettersson having a larger sample size in the NHL – and they’re close to the same age. It’s not a perfect comparison, but there’s enough similarities there that you could see how Kaprizov’s signing might influence Pettersson’s talks and help lead to a resolution.

It’s worth adding that the Vancouver Canucks have another major unsigned RFA in Quinn Hughes, so they have some work ahead of them.