This installment of In the Crease will cover a number of Eastern Conference teams’ training camp battles that will be of interest to many fantasy owners. The East has a few goaltending competitions that are going on and they may turn into full-blown platoon situations during the 2013-14 campaign. We will also go over a couple of teams that are rich in centers and a squad that wants to add some tertiary depth scoring.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have a pair of 25-year-old goaltenders who both feel they should be starters. James Reimer performed well as the team's number one netminder during the lockout-shortened season, but Toronto added Jonathan Bernier to the mix in June following a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Training camp won't decide this battle, but their pre-season showings could determine who gets the start on opening night. The Leafs will definitely test what they have in Bernier, as he is widely believed to have tremendous potential. It wouldn't be surprising if he was permitted to run with the ball early, but Reimer's talent shouldn't be ignored. He posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average in 33 games last season. Reimer was also solid in the playoffs until Boston's third-period rally in Game seven. He has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, too, due to Bernier's arrival, which could help him see his fair share of the action. Fantasy owners won't like the two of them sharing Toronto's crease because the impact of each is lessened. If you can draft them both, that would be ideal, but if you can't, it might be worth rolling the dice on Bernier as a late-round depth pick.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning made their move for another goaltender during the 2013 season when they acquired Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators. Incumbent keeper Anders Lindback was having trouble with consistency, and while Bishop was playing games for Tampa Bay, Lindback was recovering from an ankle injury. Bishop and Lindback are both trying to carve out starting roles for themselves after being backups on their previous teams. This training camp battle also won't be decided in time for the Bolts' season opener, as they are expected to share starts and the hot hand will likely see more play. However, it could dictate who plays when the puck drops on October third. Tampa Bay hasn't been a goalie friendly environment, especially in the past couple of seasons, so trusting either netminder may be difficult for prospective fantasy GMs. However, if you choose to place your faith in a Lightning goalie, Bishop might be the better option. Just make sure you have him in a depth role and not as one of your top puck stoppers.
Philadelphia's goaltending troubles have been well documented over the years and another layer of scar tissue was added during the off-season when the team bought out Ilya Bryzgalov. That leaves Steve Mason, who was acquired from Columbus during the year, and summer signing Ray Emery to tend to the Flyers' crease in 2013-14. Mason played well for his new team after the move, but made only seven appearances and has lost a lot of luster since his rookie campaign. Ray Emery was superb in a backup role on a strong team in Chicago, so there are some question marks about him as well. The two of them are projected to compete for starts this season and their battle will begin in a couple of weeks at training camp. If Mason continues to display shakiness, Emery may be able to get back into a starting role. Emery might be the safer bet of the two on draft day because he has enjoyed some success since returning from his hip procedure, albeit with limited responsibilities, and he has been a good number one goaltender in the past. However, it should be noted that Emery and Mason are both gambles going into the upcoming season.
The Florida Panthers have a plethora of centers in their system and several of them could be possibilities to play in the team's top-six group this season. Jonathan Huberdeau successfully converted to the wing last year and won the Calder Trophy. Florida may want to try out a similar experiment with 2013 second overall pick Aleksander Barkov. Barkov's size and two-way acumen might make him a better candidate to line up in the middle, though. Sophomore forward Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad, who got a taste of the NHL last year, may be used on the wing or at center on one of the team's top two lines. The Panthers also have Marcel Goc, Shawn Matthias and Scott Gomez on their roster. Those three will probably occupy bottom-six roles with the club, but if the younger players can't perform as expected, any one of them could be primed for promotions. The Panthers could add to the logjam if they re-sign free agent Peter Mueller, who is still waiting for an NHL contract. Coach Kevin Dineen will likely be doing several experiments with his combinations at training camp and Florida's deep pool of prospects will be interesting to watch.
Montreal has an abundance of centers as well entering training camp. Tomas Plekanec is going to play on one of the team's top two lines, but after that it could get interesting. David Desharnais displayed great chemistry with Max Pacioretty in 2011-12, but he regressed during the lockout-shortened season while Lars Eller increased his profile. The Canadiens may give Eller a shot at playing on a scoring line, which would bump Desharnais down to the third unit. Another option facing the Habs is keeping Alex Galchenyuk on the wing or giving him another crack at his natural position at center. He is likely to get an opportunity to play more minutes this season, but it's probable that he remains on the wing. Daniel Briere is slated to play on the wing as well, even though he prefers to line up in the middle and plays better that way. He could get shuffled around over the course of the season.
The Bruins allowed Andrew Ference to walk as a free agent in order to lock up Tuukka Rask to a long-term contract and to give their younger blueliners a shot at more playing time. Dougie Hamilton, who was a healthy scratch often in the playoffs, could get back into the team's top-four group this season alongside Johnny Boychuk or Dennis Seidenberg. He will be competing with fellow Boston hopefuls Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug for roster spots. Krug was impressive at times in the postseason, but he may need more seasoning in the minors to better hone his skills. He will probably battle with Bartkowski for the last spot on the team's defense corps alongside Adam McQuaid. Additionally, the Bruins will be looking to retool their third line after dealing away Rich Peverley as part of the Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson swap. Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Daniel Paille are probably the top contenders to play alongside Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. Former Dallas Stars Matt Fraser or Reilly Smith could be candidates for the position as well. Keep a close eye on Spooner for that role.
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