In 30 cities across North America, players are checking in for their physicals, gearing up for another training camp and another season this weekend. As hope springs eternal, we take a look at the top storylines around the league heading into training camp.
Doughty Still Unsigned: There was a small flurry of restricted free agent signings the past couple of days but one notable RFA remains unsigned, Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. Doughty, who was part of Canada's Gold Medal-winning team at the 2010 Olympics, is coming off an 11-goal, 40-point season with the Kings. The 21-year-old is looking to strike it rich in Los Angeles, but as TSN's Darren Dreger reported, Kings GM Dean Lombardi has made it clear to Doughty's agent that he will not pay Doughty more than Anze Kopitar's $6.8 million annual average salary. Doughty's only leverage in negotiations is to hold out, and the former second overall draft pick will not report to camp until he's signed a new deal.
Another RFA still unsigned is Phoenix Coyotes centre Kyle Turris. Turris' negotiations aren't getting the same attention as Doughty's, but he too will likely miss the start of training camp while his agent works towards a new deal. Reports suggest Turris, who scored 11 goals and 25 points in 65 games last season, is looking for a salary in the $3-4 million range annually. That would be a big jump from the two-year, $2.1 million contract signed by Islanders RFA Josh Bailey, who put up similar stats last season.
Waiting for Crosby: This season's big - and unanswerable - question is when will superstar Sidney Crosby return? By now everyone knows the story - Crosby suffered a concussion in the Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals on New Year's Day. He returned four days later but left the January 5 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning after being hit into the boards and sat out the remainder of the season. There is no timetable for his return, with Crosby saying he'll play only when he is 100% ready, but there was a little bit of good news on that front coming on the first day of Pens' camp. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Crosby has been cleared to practice with the team without contact.
The Fighting Debate: Spurred by the tragic off-season deaths of three NHL enforcers, the league is being pressured now more than ever to look into the impacts of fighting and the "tough guy" culture of the NHL on its players. A number of opinions have been offered up heading into training camp, and one thing that most people connected with the league seem to agree on is that the issue needs to be given a closer look. It will be interesting to see if anything changes as the season progresses.
Calder Candidates: Another year brings another crop of highly-skilled prospects to training camp around the league, each trying to stick with their respective clubs for the regular season. Last year, it was Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, and this year the most talked about rookie in camp will be first-overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While there's little debate that Nugent-Hopkins has the skill to make the Edmonton Oilers this year, the team may feel that he would benefit from developing physically in the juniors for another season. While Gabriel Landeskog in Colorado and Adam Larsson in New Jersey look to have good shots at sticking with their respective teams into the regular season, other high draft picks that could go either way include third-overall selection Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida, fifth-overall pick Ryan Strome in Long Island, and Mika Zibanejad, picked sixth overall, in Ottawa.
Training Camp Returns to Winnipeg: For the first time in 15 years, the Jets will hold a training camp in Winnipeg, and fans of the team are no doubt excited. There are a number of storylines to follow in Winnipeg too, including the new front office and coaching staff; and of course the conditioning of star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who had a somewhat tumultuous off-season. Byfuglien told reporters on the first day of camp that he is not worried about his conditioning and that he will keep them guessing about his weight.
New Coaching Staffs: A total of six teams brought in new head coaches over the off-season, including two Canadian teams. The Jets decided to go with Claude Noel to lead the relocated franchise in their first year, while the Senators will look to Paul MacLean to right the ship in Ottawa. MacLean has said that he will rely on a handful of veterans to help mentor the flux of young players expected in the nation's capital this season.
Picking up the Pieces in Vancouver: The Canucks fell one game short of the Stanley Cup last year, and the road back starts in training camp. Both Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are out indefinitely recovering from off-season surgeries, while Manny Malhotra is 2-3 weeks away, still working through some eye issues. On the bright side, head coach Alain Vignault said that forward Mikael Samuelsson feels the best he's felt in a long time.
Chemistry Test: The Florida Panthers will enter training camp with as many as 12 players who weren't on last year's roster expected to make the team. While that's likely a good thing for Panthers fans, considering last year's record, breeding team chemistry in training camp will be a big task for first-year head coach Kevin Dineen. Dale Tallon's off-season spending spree to get the team up to the salary cap floor no doubt added talent and depth to Florida's roster, but how quickly all the new faces can mesh together will be a big factor in determining how successful a year the Panthers will have.
New Look Flyers: The Philadelphia Flyers certainly didn't make as many changes as the Panthers did this off-season, but their moves were definitely as significant. Gone are forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and in their place Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jacub Voracek, and a draft-pick that turned out to be Sean Couturier. Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot were also signed, and Ilya Bryzgalov was brought in to solidify the team's goaltending. Like Dineen in Florida, head coach Peter Laviolette will have his work cut out for him developing team chemistry in training camp.
Selling the Stars: The Dallas Stars organization filed for bankruptcy ahead of training camp, in a move that should lead the way for their eventual sale. Unlike in Phoenix, the ongoing saga in Dallas should come to an end soon with Vancouver-based businessman Tom Gaglardi taking over the team. How much the transition will affect the team on the ice is yet to be seen, but it is surely a good sign for Stars fans, who saw star Brad Richards leave Dallas in the off-season partly because of the uncertain ownership status.
Leading The Way: Coming off his worst year as a pro statistically, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin said that he'll become a better leader for the team, and enter the year in better shape than previous seasons. With Crosby likely to miss time to injury, a refocused Ovechkin could make waves in the race for the Hart Trophy. In an interesting Caps camp, the main storyline will be Ovie's ascension to true team leader.
Sharks and Wild: The San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild made two separate trades this off-season that figure to play a large role in the outcome of each team's season. The first trade saw the Sharks ship Dany Heatley to the Wild in his career in exchange for Martin Havlat. And a little while later, the Wild sent defenceman Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi. This biggest storyline as a result of the trades is likely Heatley moving to the fourth team in his career, and how he'll get along in Minnesota.
Hiller's Health: Jonas Hiller was putting together a very strong season for the Ducks last year before missing most of the second half to vertigo-like symptoms. The All-Star appears to be symptom-free heading into training camp and would provide a huge boost for a Ducks team that looks like they could make some noise in the Western Conference.