Training camps will begin as early as today for the seven teams (Anaheim, Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Ottawa and San Jose) that did not participate in the 2019-20 Return to Play postseason. Training camps will get underway on Jan. 3 for the rest of the league. There won’t be any preseason contests and players don’t have as much time as usual to make an impression with the regular season set to start on Jan. 13.
News will come fast during camp and there have already been plenty of interesting developments recently:
The Chicago Blackhawks have been hit hard by injuries already. Kirby Dach will be out for four-to-five months after he had wrist surgery. He suffered a fracture during a pre-tournament game for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Shortly afterward, the Blackhawks revealed that Jonathan Toews was out indefinitely due to a medical issue. He won’t be at training camp and there’s no timetable for his return yet. A week ago, the team announced that Alex Nylander would be sidelined for four-to-six months after he underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Chicago signed Carl Soderberg to a one-year, $1 million contract following Dach’s injury. Offseason addition Lucas Wallmark could also see an increased role if contract negotiations with restricted free agent Dylan Strome continue to linger.
Speaking of RFAs, Mathew Barzal and Pierre-Luc Dubois remain unsigned with opening night fast approaching. Barzal is the number one center for the Islanders and Dubois is the top pivot for the Blue Jackets. It will be interesting to see if either one of them gets locked up to a long-term deal or if the pandemic results in both sides agreeing to shorter term bridge contracts.
Mike Hoffman, who was one of the better free agents available, signed a professional tryout with the St. Louis Blues. He will reportedly end up with a one-year deal worth under $5 million going into the season after the Blues make use of LTIR with Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) and Alexander Steen (back). Hoffman could be a great fit alongside Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron, while becoming a key part of the team’s top power-play unit.
The Blues also re-signed Vince Dunn to a one-year contract worth $1.875 million.
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Los Angeles dipped into the free-agent market with the signing of Andreas Athanasiou. He got a one-year pact worth $1.2 million. Athanasiou will be in the mix for a middle-six forward spot on the Kings.
Montreal added some depth with the signings of Corey Perry and Michael Frolik to one-year deals. It could turn out that neither one of them plays regularly, but Perry stands much more of a chance of being a fit.
Tampa Bay re-signed Anthony Cirelli (three-year, $14.4 million), Mathieu Joseph (two-year, $1.475 million), Alexander Volkov (one-year, $700,000), Jan Rutta (one-year, $2.6 million) and Erik Cernak (three-year, $8.85 million). The Lightning also gained some cap flexibility when Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson were acquired in a trade with Ottawa in exchange for Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn and a 2022 second-round draft pick. Gaborik and Nilsson won’t play this season and will be placed on LTIR.
Unfortunately, Nikita Kucherov will also go on LTIR following surgery on his right hip. He won’t play this season and Tampa Bay hopes he will be available to return for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is obviously a big loss, but one that Tampa Bay is equipped to overcome. Steven Stamkos is expected to be ready to play after missing the vast majority of Tampa Bay’s postseason run to a Stanley Cup championship. He will probably team with Brayden Point on the top line.
In addition to landing Paquette and Coburn, the Senators acquired Derek Stepan from Arizona in exchange for second rounder, which initially belonged to Columbus, in 2021. Stepan is slated to provide leadership and could get a shot at playing with Tim Stuetzle, who got his release from Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga and signed an entry-level contract with Ottawa. He has been dynamite at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, while representing Germany, and will join the Senators after the tournament.
Dawson Mercer, who is playing for Canada at the World Juniors, signed his entry-level deal with New Jersey a week ago. The Devils also took care of goalie Mackenzie Blackwood with a three-year, $8.4 million contract. The team sees him as a core piece moving forward and Corey Crawford was added in the offseason to push him for starts in 2020-21.
New Jersey won’t have Nico Hischier on the ice for the start of training camp after he suffered a leg injury during his training in Switzerland. He is currently listed as week-to-week. His absence will probably bump up Jack Hughes, who could be in line to get more opportunities and an increased role during camp. It could be just what Hughes needs following a disappointing rookie campaign.
It was tough to see and hear Henrik Lundqvist talk about his heart condition, which will prevent him from playing this season. He is going to have open heart surgery and the entire hockey world is hoping for the best.
Washington added a veteran presence to the crease with the signing of Craig Anderson to a PTO. He will face an uphill climb to land a contract, as Vitek Vanecek is the early favorite to serve as Ilya Samsonov’s understudy going into the 2020-21 campaign.
The Capitals also add forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Zdeno Chara on one-year deals. Sheary is projected to have a middle-six forward position, with a spot alongside Lars Eller making the most sense. Boston decided to move on from Chara, who has played with the organization for the last 14 years. He will get the chance to play against his former team eight times this season.
In other defense corps news, the Edmonton Oilers signed Slater Koekkoek to a one-year deal and re-signed Ethan Bear to a two-year contract extension worth $4 million. The team also announced that Oscar Klefbom won’t play at all this year because of a shoulder injury. Edmonton hopes to get him back for the start of the 2021-22 season.
Oilers forward Gaetan Haas will miss the start of camp after he came into close contact to a positive COVID-19 case in Switzerland.
Mats Zuccarello won’t be available for the start of Minnesota’s camp either. His timetable is unclear following arm surgery. Alex Stalock, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, also has an uncertain timeline. The Wild hope to get him back at some point this season. Kaapo Kahkonen is considered to be the top candidate to replace Stalock as Cam Talbot's backup.
Anaheim is also getting a great view of Trevor Zegras at the World Juniors. He has been all over the scoresheet with five goals and 10 points through three games with the United States. Zegras will be an intriguing player to watch when he arrives at training camp, as he could start the regular season with the Ducks.
Dylan Cozens (four goals, five assists), Quinton Byfield (two goals, five assists) and Philip Tomasino (four goals, two assists) have been productive for Canada through three games of the 2021 World Junior Championship. Cozens (Buffalo), Byfield (Los Angeles) and Tomasino (Nashville) could all be in the NHL this season.
The Nashville Predators brought back Mikael Granlund and signed Erik Haula, which will make it tougher for the team’s younger players to crack the roster. Still, Tomasino and Eeli Tolvanen will be worth monitoring as they are candidates for second- or third-line action.
The Philadelphia Flyers got some good news on the injury front. Nolan Patrick has skating without issues and he has been making good progress after missing all of last season due to a migraine disorder. However, it’s unclear when he will be ready to play. Additionally, Oskar Lindblom is good to go.
The Boston Bruins have been encouraged by the progress of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Both players underwent offseason surgeries. However, Pastrnak may not be available until mid-February after a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair. Marchand has resumed skating after he had sports hernia surgery. He was slated to be ready by mid-January.