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Training Camp Storylines 5

Robin Lehner

Robin Lehner

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

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Throughout training camp, we’ve been highlighting and discussing many of the league’s biggest stories. There certainly hasn’t been any shortage news over the last few days, so we have plenty to go over.

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1. The Dallas Stars’ goaltending situation is still unclear.

Ben Bishop isn’t expected to play in preseason games as he continues to recover from knee surgery, so it unfortunately sounds like he won’t be an option for Dallas at the beginning of the season. Even with him sidelined though, the Stars still have a three-way goaltending battle between Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby, and Jake Oettinger.

Oettinger and Khudobin have had far from ideal preseasons and while exhibition struggles need to be taken with a grain of salt, it does make Stars coach Rick Bowness’ job harder while he tries to decide who will get the nod in the opener. Meanwhile, Holtby is in net tonight, so perhaps a strong performance from him will force himself into that conversation.[[ad:athena]]

When asked if Bowness feels clearer about the goalie position at this point, he said made it clear that he didn’t.

“No,” Bowness said, per The Dallas Morning News. “No. Anyways, they’re going to get full games. We’ve got three to go, and we’ll figure it out.”

2. Robin Lehner airs issues and concerns with NHL over Twitter.

Lehner has been active on Twitter and on Saturday he used the platform to speak about the NHL on a few different topics. In his first tweet he suggested that some NHL teams give out benzodiazepines and ambien rather than such medications being distributed by a doctor or psychiatrist. He did specify that Vegas doesn’t do it, but he said he’s “been in on teams that do.”

In his next tweet he referred to Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault as a “dinosaur coach treating people robots not human” and called on Vigneault to be fired. Because that tweet was a reply to his first one, some people thought he was accusing Vigneault specifically of providing players with benzodiazepines and ambien. Lehner later clarified that he wasn’t accusing Vigneault of improperly distributing pills to players but did reinforce that he feels the way Vigneault treats his players is “unacceptable.” For his part, Vigneault said that he’s demanding, but that he also cares about his players and that while not every player will like him he’s “done it with the best intention (and) with respect.”

Lehner also accused the Sabres from not handling his ankle injury well during his time with them. In the tweet he said, “Then surgery and then pills… no care…almost died. But ehh.. after forcing leg press after few weeks after bad high ankle sprain first game.”

After all that, Lehner had a meeting with the NHL and NHLPA about the issues he raised over Twitter. He said afterwards he feels “very encouraged,” so clearly things went well.

3. Auston Matthews might be ready for the season opener.

When Matthews underwent wrist surgery on August 13th, his availability for the season opener was put in doubt. He’s still not certain to play in it, but there’s reason for some cautious optimism. Matthews has been making progress and is at the point where he can handle the puck, take shots, and participate in some contact drills.

Even if Matthews ultimately doesn’t play in the opener, it sounds like he should be back soon.

4. Team Canada and Team Sweden name first batch of players for 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Olympics isn’t until February, but we already know some of the players who will be on two of the biggest teams. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Alex Pietrangelo will be among those who represent Canada while Gabriel Landeskog, Victor Hedman, and Mika Zibanejad will be on the Swedish team. While none of those players are surprises, it does help build up the excitement for the upcoming games.

The NHL didn’t participate in the 2018 Olympics so for McDavid, Hedman, and Zibanejad, this will be their first Olympic games.

I’m well aware that the Olympics can be a problem for the NHL from a scheduling perspective and there is of course the threat of injuries, but when you hear about the likes of McDavid and Crosby playing on the same team for a chance at an Olympic gold, it’s hard not to feel like it’s worth it from a fan’s perspective.

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5. Josh Archibald is sidelined indefinitely after being diagnosed with myocarditis.

Archibald, who is unvaccinated, contracted COVID-19 over the summer and he hadn’t been feeling well lately. After undergoing bloodwork, it was revealed that he had Myocarditis, which is a heart muscle inflammation. Archibald is will be undergoing further testing and is out indefinitely.

Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock, who was also diagnosed with myocarditis after having COVID during the 2020-21 campaign, is expected to miss the full 2021-22 season.

6. Vancouver signs Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, leaving Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk as the last big RFA.

At the end of the day, the Canucks were able to secure Hughes and Pettersson to fairly good deals. Pettersson signed a three-year, $22.05 million contract ($7.35 million AAV) and Hughes inked a six-year, $47.1 million contract ($7.85 million AAV). In an ideal scenario, we’re sure the Canucks would have liked to sign Pettersson to an eight-year contract, but that just wasn’t practical given the Canucks’ cap situation and by inking him for three-years, he’ll still be a RFA at the end of it, so if all goes well Vancouver can lock him up long-term at that point.

Most importantly, Pettersson and Hughes will be available for the season opener, which might not be the case for Tkachuk. The Senators forward remains unsigned and it’s hard to say if they’re close or not. Senators GM Pierre Dorion indicated that they’ve been in constant contact and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun suggested that while Ottawa has offered an $8 million annual salary on an eight-year contract while Tkachuk is seeking above $8.4 million annually on a long-term deal. So by those indications, closing the gap doesn’t sound insurmountable.

A report by Andy Strickland on Tuesday contrasted that though. Strickland suggested that there’s been a lack of communication between the Senators and Tkachuk’s camps and the big sticking point is term with the Senators insisting on a long-term deal while Tkachuk wants a bridge contract.

So we’ll see what happens, but obviously with the season around the corner it’s becoming increasingly unlikely he’ll be in the Senators’ opener. After all, even if he signed tonight, he’d need some time to get up to speed.

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7. Alexis Lafreniere is a serious breakout candidate.

For a first overall pick, Lafreniere didn’t have a particularly noteworthy campaign, scoring 12 goals and 21 points in 56 games. It was an unusual season though due to the pandemic and among other things, he didn’t get a proper training camp. Consequently, he’s going through his first career NHL preseason and he seems set to take a significant step forward this season.

As Rangers coach Gerard Gallant noted, Lafreniere has been showing confidence. Lafreniere’s also been getting an opportunity to play alongside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad and the trio are developing chemistry. Obviously Lafreniere is a risk, but as far as late round gambles go in standard league drafts, he’s a good one.

8. On top of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh might open the season without Jake Guentzel.

The Penguins will be without Malkin for at least the first two months of the regular season because he’s recovering from knee surgery and Crosby is something of a long shot to be ready for the season opener because of a wrist injury. Entering the campaign without their two stars is bad enough, but now the Penguins’ third-best forward, Jake Guentzel, might be out as well. He’s tested positive for COVID and while he’s fortunately asymptomatic so far, he might not be ready for the start of the season.

That’s another big blow for Pittsburgh. While I just labeled him as the Penguins’ third-best forward some would dispute that statement, arguing he’s elevated above Malkin at this point and even those who would agree with it still know that he’s a star in his own right. He had 23 goals and 57 points in 56 games last season and reached the 40-goal milestone in 2018-19.

With those three out, here were Pittsburgh’s top two lines today (though take this with a grain of salt given that it’s still training camp):

Danton HeinenJeff CarterBryan Rust

Jason ZuckerRadim ZohornaKasperi Kapanen

It’s a nice opportunity for Zohorna in particular, who had two goals and four points in eight games with Pittsburgh last season while averaging just 9:02 minutes.