Decisions, Headaches, and Bad Breaks


Written on 9/21/2010 by Jim Cerny

The first nine pre-season games get underway today---including Vancouver hosting Calgary and Calgary hosting Vancouver in "split-squad" contests---so let's recap and update the biggest stories so far from training camps around the NHL.

All About Kovie
Ilya Kovalchuk's contract saga and battle with the league over term, amount, and structure of said contract with New Jersey was the biggest story of the off-season. Now his mere presence in Devils camp is the biggest story, so far, early in the pre-season. Choose your angle, because either is a major story. First, carrying Kovie's cap-heavy pact is going to force the Devils to unload some salary, meaning that someone (or more likely, more than one player) sweating alongside Kovalchuk while skating suicides in camp will be gone by time New Jersey drops the puck for real on October 8. Makes for a bit of an uncomfotable situation, wouldn't you say? Kovie's presence clearly makes New Jersey a better team. But they will lose valuable depth if a Bryce Salvador and/or Dainius Zubrus is purged to make room for that hefty cap hit. The second big story is Kovie switching to right wing at coach John Maclean's behest to skate on an imposing top line with Zach Parise on left wing and Travis Zajac at center. What Maclean is doing here is creating options. If Kovie is comfortable on the right side, this threesome could form the most explosive line in the NHL, whether they stay together every shift, only play that way on the power play, or are used together as an option late in close games. Good aggressive thinking by the new bench boss in Jersey.

Savard's Concussion Rocks Bruins
There was much talk all summer about Marc Savard, most of it centering on his big contract, whether it could be voided a-la Ilya Kovalchuk, or whether the Bruins might be seeking to trade the veteran to create some salary cap space. Not much of the news involved speculation as to whether or not Savard had fully recovered from the concussion he suffered last March when Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke viciously elbowed him in the head. Yet Savard showed up at B's camp unable to play, complaining of concussion-like symptoms, leaving a gaping hole atop the depth chart at center. You could argue that the Bruins were preparing for playing without Savard anyway if they were considering dealing him during the summer. But a deal involving Savard would have come with a plan---receiving another center in return, make another trade, sign a free agent. There was no back-up plan for Savard arrving at camp unable to play. 18 year-old Tyler Seguin one day might be a star NHL player, but he is not going to be a top-line, or second-line, center for a Cup-contending team, as Boston is, this season. It's easier to fill that role on a rebuilding team, like the situation top pick Taylor Hall finds himself in with the Edmonton Oilers. So can David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron carry the load as the top two centers? That's somewhat of a leap of faith, especially because Bergeron has never approached his back-to-back 70+ point seasons in '05-'06 and '06-'07 after being injured the following season. Not to be crass, but the one positive, from a business point of view, is that Savard's salary will not count against the cap if he lands on Injured Reserve. Small consolation.

Rangers captain Chris Drury broke his left index finger; Senators defenseman Filip Kuba broke his right leg; Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russel sprained his right knee. And those are just the most major injuries to the bigger names so far in training camp. Of the three, Kuba's injury is the most severe, and he will miss 5-6 weeks of action, leaving a fairly sizeable hole on the Sens blueline in the process. Of course Ottawa learned to play a bit without Kuba in the lineup last year, too. But his is a big loss to start the season considering that he eats up 23 minutes of ice-time a night. Depending upon how long he is out the lineup, Russel's injury could increase the number of Sheldon Souray-to-Columbus trade rumors that have been flying about of late. His loss is frustrating because the Blue Jackets were very eager to get an early look to see if the 23 year-old was going to break-out a bit offensively in this, his fourth NHL season. As for Drury, his broken finger should sideline him 3-4 weeks. Since the Rangers have a very light schedule to open up the season, he may miss only a game or two or three. "Knowing him, I bet he'll be back by the start of the season," said teammate Tim Kennedy. I wouldn't bet against that either. Remember how he played with that broken hand against the Caps in the playoffs two years ago? Drury will do whatever it takes to be on the ice opening night in Buffalo. And his absence in the pre-season will afford several players who are battling for roster spots the opportunity to play a bit more in scrimmages and games, giving the coaches more of a look. "It's not like I have to go away for three weeks and stay out of the building," said Drury. "I'll be here every day and certainly won't miss a beat. It is what it is and I'll do whatever I can to get back."

Pre-season games start this evening, and new stories will develop by the day.

Stay tuned....

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