We’re still eagerly awaiting the start of the 2011-12 NHL season, but there have been plenty of training camp storylines to tide us over in the interim. This week we’ll be highlighting some of the stories you need to be aware of before the puck drops on October 6th.
Where’s the deal with Drew Doughty?
Breaking news: Doughty has signed an eight year/$56 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
As bizarre, at the time of writing, we’re a little over a week before the Kings play in their season opener and Doughty is still a restricted free agent. News on the Doughty front has been somewhat scarce, but that’s mostly because there hasn’t been much to report. Doughty doesn’t appear to be much closer to signing with the Kings today than he was a month ago. It would be difficult to oversell how bad this could get for the Kings. Doughty is not just one of the team’s top stars, but as the second overall pick in 2008, he’s also supposed to be a cornerstone of their franchise for years to come. That might still happen and we have a hard time believing that he won’t end up signing with the Los Angeles Kings. Then again, if you had told us in July that Doughty wouldn’t be signed by late September, we would have had a hard time believing that. As it is, Doughty has missed almost all of training camp and at this point, we’re beginning to wonder if this will affect his early season performance even if he signs as this article is published.
David Perron inches closer to his return
If there’s a team I think can do anything from win the Stanley Cup to fail to make the playoffs, it’s the St. Louis Blues. They potentially have two great scoring lines, a couple battle tested veterans in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help in the locker room, and a goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, who has proven he can lead a team deep into the playoffs. However, the Blues have too many x-factors to endorse fully. One issue is David Perron, who is capable of eventually his career-high of 50 points, but probably won’t this season due to a concussion that’s kept him sidelined for almost a year. Fortunately, there’s finally been some good news on the Perron front. He recently passed his baseline tests, which will allow him to start training. We don’t know how much time it will take for him to get from this step to playing in the NHL game, but at least now we’re starting to see some forward momentum. He’s not a bad guy to roll the dice on late in deep drafts, although you need to do so with the knowledge that he can’t be counted on to be ready for the start of the regular season.
Brendan Shanahan makes his mark
Appointing Shanahan as the NHL’s disciplinarian may prove to be a stroke of genius by the NHL. As a player, he was both an accomplished scorer and enforcer. He ranks 11th on the all-time goal scoring list with 656 and sits in 22nd place with 2,489 career penalty minutes. Shanahan was suspended by the previous four NHL disciplinarians, but he’s known for much more than just occasionally breaking the rules. He’s also someone who was hospitalized in 2007 after suffering a concussion and while his injury was the result of incidental contact, he knows firsthand how terrible a concussion can be. Since getting the job, Shanahan has made his mark by suspending Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Jody Shelley, Brad Staubitz, James Wisniewski, Jean-François Jacques, and Tom Sestito with plenty of preseason games left to play. Of those suspended, only Boyes will be allowed to play in his team’s season opener after being forced to sit out of two preseason games and three of those players will be forced to miss at least five regular season games. By comparison, the first player to be suspended for five or more regular season games in 2010-11 for something other than an incident with a fan was Tom Kostopoulos, who got handed a six game suspension in January. If Shanahan continues his trend of harsher rulings, it could significantly change the way players act on the ice. The ideal is that tougher enforcement of the rules will lead to fewer serious injuries and fewer concussions in particular, but only time will tell.
Thomas Greiss to the rescue in San Jose? What about Marty Turco?
The Sharks goaltending situation couldn’t be much messier going into the regular season. Backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki will not be available until at least December after undergoing hip surgery, while Antti Niemi is questionable for the season opener after having a cyst removed. If Niemi is unavailable, then Thomas Greiss, who spent the 2010-11 season in the Swedish Elite League, could play between the pipes in the Sharks’ first game. However, given the fact that Niittymaki won’t be available any time soon, the Sharks might decide to sign one of the remaining veteran goaltenders on the free agent market. If they went that route – and it’s worth emphasizing that this is just speculation – the most obvious of those choices would appear to be Marty Turco, who started the 2010-11 campaign as Chicago’s number one goaltender, but eventually lost the gig to Corey Crawford. Ray Emery might also be an option if he ultimately loses his battle with Alexander Salak for Chicago’s number two gig. Niemi is likely to get the vast majority of the Sharks’ playing time when he’s healthy, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on this situation if you’re in a deeper league.
Sidney Crosby’s Return: The Prequel
One of the biggest questions people have going into a single season fantasy draft is when they should take Sidney Crosby. For years Crosby has been one of the few players that reliably went early in the first round, but his health has never been such a big question mark. He missed the last half of 2010-11 due to a concussion and he went into training camp without a clear timetable for his return. Unfortunately, operating without a timetable is the standard when it comes to concussed players, but that begs the question: how far down should you allow Crosby to slip before the potential reward outweighs the risk? Given how deep the center position is, I’d hesitate to take Crosby before the fourth round in any standard 12-team league. However, I’m a bit more optimistic now than I was at the start of training camp. Although Crosby has yet to play in a preseason game, he has been maintaining his conditioning by participating in practices and non-contact scrimmages. As of Monday, Crosby also hoped to begin to participate in contact drills “shortly.” Does that mean that he’ll be ready for the Penguins’ season opener? I wouldn’t count on that, but I do think there’s reason to hope his time on the sidelines won’t put a huge damper on his 2011-12 season.
The start of a glorious return for Jaromir Jagr?
If you’ve read some of my previous articles, then you probably know that I don’t have high hopes for Jagr going into this season. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen strong NHL players go to the KHL and then struggle mightily when they return to North America. Given Jagr’s age and the length of time he’s spent in the less talent-rich Russian league, it seems reasonable to be skeptical. That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that Jagr has been superb in the preseason, scoring three goals and five points in two contests. I try not to read too much into exhibition numbers and given the amount of uncertainty surrounding Jagr, I think it’s particularly important to remain skeptical. However, I don’t deny he’s an intriguing player and his preseason has only made him more interesting.
Can Jarome Iginla’s back handle the weight of the Calgary Flames?
What started out as a non-story of Iginla leaving Calgary’s first training camp skate before its conclusion for precautionary reasons, has become a bit of a larger issue. Iginla said he left the ice because of a “little bit” of a back spasm. He said he thought it would be “better to be safe than keep aggravating it.” That’s sound logic, however, at the time of writing it’s roughly two weeks later and Iginla is in serious jeopardy of missing the Flames’ entire preseason schedule. This might be a case of the Calgary Flames being ultra-cautious, which, we can understand because their playoff hopes ride so heavily on Iginla. However, we can’t help but be a little concerned at this point. If you haven’t participated in your fantasy draft yet, we recommend selecting Iginla under the assumption that he will be available for the season opener or at least shortly thereafter. However, we do advise you keep a close eye on this situation just to be safe.