For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, two of hockey’s most respected hockey minds are on the sidelines as the NHL regular season sits just one week away.

It’s a foreign feeling, to say the least, for George McPhee and Ray Shero -- the two former generals of that Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry.

Now both former general managers are taking a moment to reset and refresh, because you better believe they’ll be back.

"It’s the first time in this business I ever got fired," Shero told ESPN.com on Wednesday in his first public comments since the Penguins relieved him of his duties last May. "But you always know in this business it’s going to happen. Not many people as GMs retire and get to stay in the organization, like for example Paul Holmgren did in Philadelphia [Holmgren became the Flyers president after Ron Hextall became GM]. That was fantastic for him.

"So, for George and me, I mean if George had won a Cup or I had won another one, I’m sure we’d still be doing what we were doing with our respective teams. But that didn’t happen. We’re both in a good place. We’ve chatted a number of times, which has been good, he’s a real good guy, and we’ve always had that mutual respect when we had those great games in that [Washington-Pittsburgh] rivalry."

[+] EnlargeGeorge McPhee and Ray Shero
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesGeorge McPhee and Ray Shero are unemployed right now after each working in NHL management for 22 straight years.
Those were heady days indeed, both organizations rising from cellar-dwellers to contenders at the same time, delivering some breathtaking, head-to-head games, a memorable playoff series, and of course the first "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" HBO series.

Fun times.

"It was really kind of magical," McPhee told ESPN.com Tuesday, recalling the heyday of those Caps-Penguins years. "It was fun to see what happened with both franchises, to fill the buildings again, to create real strong hockey markets again in both of those places. It was a lot of fun going to the rink then."

In many ways, McPhee and Shero are linked because of it, not to mention both GMs getting their pink slips 20 days apart last spring.

"Ray and I have talked a few times," McPhee said.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those conversations.

Between Vancouver and Washington, McPhee spent 22 straight years in NHL management. Between Ottawa, Nashville and Pittsburgh, it was also 22 straight years in NHL management for Shero.

Being on the sidelines as the regular season approaches just isn’t something they’re used to.

"Quite an adjustment," McPhee said.

"It really is," added Shero.

"You’re on the train, the next thing you know you hop off and walk into town and there’s nobody in town," joked Shero. "You’re used to things being really busy."

McPhee said it was akin to going from 150 mph to 20 mph.

"But I’m starting to accelerate again by going to a lot of games," said McPhee, whose severance pay from the Caps will cover him for this year. "I had great discussions with Dean Lombardi about scouting after termination. He said it was clarifying -- that he regained perspective of all the leagues, and what he wanted to do with his next team. Sure served him well."

Lombardi landed as a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers in between his GM jobs in San Jose and Los Angeles, and yes, he certainly used his retooled philosophy to gain great success with the Kings, handing that franchise its first two Stanley Cup championships.

And so McPhee has decompressed after being fired in April following 17 seasons as GM in Washington. He is fine-tuning his hockey perspective by attending a number of games at different levels, one NHL team extending the offer to cover his expenses as he scouts games, which he’s graciously accepted.

Shero, who has two years remaining on his Penguins deal, will keep busy by doing work with USA Hockey.

"I appreciate the opportunity, and it’s always nice to give back," Shero said. "I want to stay involved and be in touch with people, so I’ll do some scouting for USA Hockey, which will involve some stuff with the world junior evaluations, which will be really good for me in terms of getting back on the amateur side. But also, obviously, will watch some NHL games. It’s important to see how different coaches are coaching and using different systems, different adjustments. What I do find right now is that when you’re not affiliated with one team, it’s a lot easier to get information from managers and coaches. You try to make yourself better that way."

Both have looked back at their former jobs to analyze what perhaps they could have done better. That’s natural.

"You look back because you want to learn," said Shero, who guided the Pens to the 2009 Stanley Cup championship.

"With the team we had, could we have been back to the finals again? Yeah, that’s the disappointment. That’s the reason I’m talking to you, we didn’t get back there. There were expectations, and we didn’t meet them. We didn’t meet my expectations, either. We tried hard to do it. But it didn’t happen."

Shero says he does wish he could have persuaded Jordan Staal to stay (Staal rejected a 10-year extension, which propelled a trade to Carolina where Jordan was reunited with brother Eric).

"We really wanted him to come back," Shero said. "We missed him after he left, but hopefully it works out long-term for Pittsburgh and Jordan."

McPhee’s Caps went to the 1998 Cup finals but never returned, building some entertaining teams around Ovechkin over the past several years but never getting over the ultimate playoff hump.

"I knew at the time what the issue was, and I should have addressed it," McPhee said in diagnosing his last few years in Washington. "I was trying to be patient and hope things would work out. It’s easy in hindsight. But if I say anything else, then I’m pointing fingers, and I don’t want to do that."

For both men, there are no grudges. Life goes on.

"Change will be good for Pittsburgh, and change will be good for me. I’m in a good spot," Shero said.

McPhee also leaves Washington on very good terms.

"There’s nothing to be bitter about at all," he said.

And by the way, guess who called him Tuesday just to check on him and say hello: Ovechkin.

The break from the rat race, meanwhile, has allowed both men to focus more on family time, which both greatly appreciate.

In fact, McPhee and his wife decided at the end of August to move their family to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"My son is playing for the U.S. national development here, the U-17s," said McPhee. "So, we decided this would be a great year to keep the family together. Because he was up at Shattuck’s [high school hockey] in Minnesota for two years, and it’s hard when your kid goes away at 14. So this is a year to spend time together. And it’s been great getting to know him again."

There’s genuine happiness in McPhee’s voice.

"The quality of life is really good right now. It’s been really fun," he said.

McPhee did have a very good job opportunity this summer but decided this was a year to reconnect with this family.

"We can all talk about putting family first, talk a good game, but until you do it, it doesn’t mean anything. It was the right thing to do," McPhee said of turning it down.

Shero has two sons who have left home as, Kyle, 16, is attending Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire where his older brother, Chris, 18, graduated from last year. Chris is playing hockey this year in the USPHL for the South Shore Kings (Boston) and is supposed to attend Boston College next year (another twist that ties McPhee and Shero -- McPhee’s son also committed to Boston College last year).

Unemployment will allow Shero more time to go see his sons this year.

"So the timing is really good that way," Shero said.

But both men, in their 50s, are eager to get back into the NHL by next season.

That’s their hope, anyway.

"Absolutely," said McPhee. "The difficulty right now not working is that you feel you have all this knowledge and experience that is going to waste. You’d like to help someone. Certainly if there are opportunities next year, I would like to be involved."

Obviously Shero also wants a chance to run a team again, but he is respectful of the fact there are only 30 jobs.

"I never lived my hockey career thinking only of being a GM," Shero said. "I like being involved in the game. I was 14 years as an assistant GM, that’s a long time. I finally got a chance to be a GM and that was great. But had that never came to pass, I would still be happy to be an assistant to David Poile in Nashville. That was a great job."

So for now, the NHL resumes without them, likely not for long.

Too much hockey knowledge between these two guys; too much know-how not to find themselves back in the fire soon enough.
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New team, new city, new country, new school, new house, but luckily for Jason Spezza, at least one same linemate who ended the campaign with him in Ottawa last season.

Don't underestimate the importance of having Ales Hemsky on his right side as Spezza adjusts to playing for an NHL team other than the Ottawa Senators for the first time in his career.

"That's probably been the biggest thing so far," Spezza told ESPN.com on Tuesday from Dallas. "When you make such a big change, everything is new, except for the fact I'm playing with Hemmer still. It's really been a blessing to have a guy that I feel familiar with."

Spezza and Hemsky hit up an instant chemistry late last season after the Senators got the Czech winger in a trade from Edmonton. Ironically, it's because of that chemistry that Sens GM Bryan Murray was hoping to bring Hemsky back to play with Spezza. That was before learning that Spezza wanted out.
[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesJason Spezza is looking forward to suiting up for the high-flying Stars.


Hemsky instead followed Spezza to Dallas, giving the Stars a tantalizing one-two punch on their top two lines with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top unit with sophomore Valeri Nichushkin. Erik Cole will likely begin the season complementing Spezza and Hemsky.

Questions remain as far as how this team will defend. But scoring goals? That should not be a problem.

"I think we can be a dynamic offensive team," Spezza said. "The fit is really good for me that way. [Head coach] Lindy [Ruff] wants us to play up-tempo, pressuring the puck, stuff that I'm comfortable doing. I think we're a team that can give other teams headaches nightly if we can take care of the puck in our end. Once we get on the attack, there aren't many teams that might be better than us that way."

For Spezza, it all lines up beautifully. After years of always drawing the toughest matchup from the other team as far as the top defense pair or the top checking line, he'll at least share that chore with Benn-Seguin, if not benefit most nights as other teams pick their poison and likely match up their best with Benn-Seguin.

Plus, the style of play Ruff wants to use suits Spezza just nicely.

"I really like the way Lindy wants us to play," Spezza said. "I think it really suits my game. The way he coaches is something that fits my game naturally. It's a nice starting point for sure."

According to a Western Conference scout, it could turn out to be a good fit, given the strengths of the teams out west.

"He is a big-body center, which helps in the Western Conference against the Getzlafs, Kopitars, Thorntons," the scout wrote in an email to ESPN.com. "He gives them a veteran presence for a young group, allows Ruff the ability to move Seguin's line around, [to] pack more offensive punch, which takes some pressure off Seguin ... . [He] will help balance their lineup and put guys into the right fits [and] is familiar with few players in that lineup, which helps. [He] has been a strong faceoff guy in Ottawa. [The] Stars' power play was just middle of the pack, so he can help that push upward in that category. He might just flourish with less pressure and [on a] non-Canadian team where the focus has been on him since day 1."

All in all, it should mean an increase in offensive productivity from Spezza, who tallied 66 points (23-43) in 75 games last season. Take the over this season on that point total.

And it just so happens he's in a contract year.

He would easily be the headliner next July 1 on what is otherwise a rather thin UFA crop when it comes to high-end talent, but whether or not he actually gets there, well, that remains to be seen.

The Stars intend on having Spezza hang around longer than one season.

"They've expressed that they want to talk [extension]," Spezza said. "And we have all intentions of talking. But it's just I want to get comfortable first, and get started. It's really not a big concern of mine right now. I'm not naive, I know as the season goes on it'll become more of a talking point. But at this point, I'm just worried about playing and getting comfortable. If we start winning games, it's going to be a good fit for both sides. It's just a matter of getting comfortable first. There's no point in rushing into anything."

Getting comfortable means off-ice, too. He's got kids ages 4, 2 and 4 months old. They moved into their house in Dallas in late August to begin their new life away from Canada's capital.

"I say it's been a pretty smooth transition, although it's my wife that's done most of the work," Spezza, 31, said with a chuckle. "We're settled. The kids are in school. Everyone is getting comfortable."

After years in the spotlight in hockey-crazed Ottawa, it's clear that Spezza appreciates the quiet life he's entering.

"It's been nice to come to the rink and work and nobody knows me here," he said. "It's been nice that way. We've enjoyed it."

Don't get him wrong -- he would never take back his years in Ottawa. But the time was right for a move.

"Ottawa is a great place to play, I really enjoyed playing in Canada and the scrutiny that came with it," Spezza said. "But you almost don't realize how much you go through day to day until you get away from it. You realize how much more laid-back it can be in another setting. I wouldn't change it, but I'm welcoming the change right now."

And so are the Stars.video
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ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here is something you probably don’t know about Nicklas Backstrom.

When the Washington Capitals star center returned from the Sochi Olympic Games, having been denied a chance to participate in the gold-medal game between his native Sweden and Canada because of a testing issue involving an allergy medication he’d been taking for years, Backstrom gathered his teammates in the locker room so he could address them.

He stood in front of his peers, his friends, and told them exactly what happened that led to the shocking turn of events on the final day of the Olympic tournament. Then he went out and told the media the same thing.

He did so not because the Caps’ public relations staff told him to or that he was garnering support for his case, but because he felt it was the right thing to do, to clear the air, to dispel any lingering questions about what might have happened so many miles away.

“Yeah, it was a tough time,” Backstrom told ESPN.com last week. "But I think the best part for me when I got back over here again, it was kind of like a mess back home [in Sweden] in the newspapers, but not a lot here, so that helped me a lot to focus on the game here.

“And we started playing right away again, so that helped too."

Backstrom was actually at the main rink in Sochi starting to prepare for the gold-medal game, which was ultimately won by Canada 3-0, when Swedish team officials were told there had been a positive result from an earlier in-tournament test and Backstrom needed to appear before a tribunal.

Backstrom left the rink as the rest of his puzzled teammates were entering it.

In the end, despite precedents that allowed players who’d exceeded acceptable levels of pseudoephedrine due to an allergy medication to retest and play at the Olympics (Lubomir Visnovsky was one in Vancouver in 2010), Backstrom was denied a chance to play in the crucial contest.

The ban came even though the IOC changed its protocol for testing and reporting during the tournament and did not act on the results for four days after the test was conducted -- and in spite of the fact Backstrom noted the medication on Olympic forms. Backstrom has been playing internationally for Sweden since he was a teen and was aware of the testing process but was confident there would be no issues, given that Swedish team doctors gave Backstrom approval to continue his regular dosage of the allergy medication.

The IIHF opposed the decision to suspend Backstrom from the gold-medal game and the IOC’s handling of the matter stands as a possible stumbling block to the NHL's returning to the Olympics in 2018.

After the game, a shaken, emotional Backstrom met with the media in Sochi to explain what happened.

“Obviously you never want to see that happen to anyone,” he said. “But, ah, it happened, you have to live with it and you’ve got to move on.”



There's another thing you should know about Backstrom.

He did move on.

While other big names who had difficult Olympic tournaments -- including Capitals teammate and captain Alex Ovechkin and former Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin -- struggled to get over their disappointments on the world stage, Backstrom was a man on a mission.

He recorded three points in the Caps’ first game back after the Olympic break and had 23 points in his final 23 games as a late charge to the playoffs fell just short.

The final piece to the Sochi puzzle was finally put in place when he was presented with his overdue silver medal during a pregame ceremony at an exhibition game in his hometown of Gavle, Sweden, just before he returned to North America for the start of training camp.

His Swedish teammate Jakob Silfverberg was also on hand and received a nice bouquet of flowers, having received his medal after the gold-medal game months earlier.

“A little weird,” Backstrom acknowledged. “At least I got it.”

If Backstrom used the ill-fated Olympic finale to up his game in the last quarter of the NHL schedule, he is looking to grow even more this season. The Capitals are beginning a new chapter after missing the playoffs last season and undergoing drastic upheaval at the management and coaching levels as a result.

Longtime general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates and the rest of the coaching staff are gone. In their place: rookie GM but longtime Cap executive Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz, who comes over from Nashville with a new coaching staff and a brand new philosophy.

Trotz, who had been the only head coach in Nashville history, has never coached a team as offensively gifted as this Caps team and has never had a top center as talented as Backstrom. And the vibe around the team is markedly different.

“Yeah, I can feel it too,” Backstrom said. “You can feel it, everyone thinks so, I think. I think it is a fundamental change and I think it’s good.

“I think we’ve brought in great people. I think they’re going to bring a lot of experience to his team.”

Backstrom, meanwhile, is not yet 27 but understands the responsibilities that fall to him as a member of the maturing core of the Capitals' roster to be a role model. To that end, he is looking to refine his game amid the changes in the organization.

“I think personally I can help the team better if I play better defensively, to make sure I take better responsibility in that area,” Backstrom said.

Given the maturity he has shown in the past year, it wouldn’t be a shock if he accomplishes just that.
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MONTREAL -- Patrick Roy didn't sound like he was trying to stir the pot, but rather he seemed to matter-of-factly be explaining why last summer's trade between his Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens might just work out nicely for both teams.

But within his self-analysis of the P.A. Parenteau-Daniel Briere trade Thursday morning, the Avalanche head coach and executive inadvertently (or not?) made a comment that wasn't overly well-received by Parenteau.

"You want players that are happy," Roy told a media scrum when asked about the trade. "I’m not saying P.A. wasn't happy with us. I'm saying that this year, I mean, it would have been tough for him to play on the top two lines. I think he would have been unhappy with us. I believe this trade will serve him very well because he can play on the top two lines with Montreal and play on the power play. He's a very good hockey player, and I'm sure the people in Montreal will love him."

Hours later in the Habs' dressing room following a 3-2 preseason OT win over the Avs, Parenteau was asked about the "top-two lines" comment from Roy.

"If you ask me, I think I would have had my place in the top six in Colorado, but he's the coach and he makes the decisions in Colorado," Parenteau said in French. "So it is what it is."

Then he turned the page. Because that's exactly what he's trying to do.

"Un mal pour un bien," Parenteau said, French for "a blessing in disguise."

[+] EnlargeP.A. Parenteau
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesP.A. Parenteau is looking to light it up this season as a Hab.


It's worked out just fine for him, so for that, he's grateful.

He's playing for the team he grew up cheering for and has begun the preseason on the top line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Hence the smile on his face Thursday night.

"I've come home at 31, I'm playing with David and Patch, there's nothing much better than that. I'm very happy," said Parenteau.

He's hungry, motivated, determined to prove something this season.

"Yes, after a tough year with the injury and not getting as much ice time as I wanted, it's a season I want to forget," he said. "I'm just looking forward now. Things are looking up here."

Parenteau scored 32 goals in 103 games over two seasons in Colorado, so that's a 25-goal pace over 82 games.

He's getting a chance with the Habs to do just that -- score goals. It's a team that struggled at times last season to score at even strength, so the hope here is that Parenteau finds his stride wearing Habs colors.

"He's a natural goal scorer. I think it's worth a try for sure by Montreal," said an NHL scout from a rival team watching Thursday's game at the Bell Centre. "They need goals. He's got a great shot, a nose for the net. He's not very big and isn't very physical, and a bit of a liability defensively at times. But scoring goals is what he can do. Worth a look for them, for sure. I think he'll be a good fit for them."

Now the goal for Parenteau is to find his groove with his new linemates as soon as possible.

During an overtime play on Thursday night, Desharnais was down low and tried to feed Parenteau across the slot, except the pass went left while Parenteau went right. So the puck went sliding by.

"I went the other way, that's a question of chemistry," Parenteau said. "It’s about getting used to each other. I'm not used to playing with a center who passes the puck as much as him. I have to learn to be more patient with him and stay in my spot more."

Pacioretty, whose chemistry last season with Desharnais propelled both to great years, welcomes the addition.

"He's a dual-threat option," Pacioretty said of the newcomer. "Everybody knows what me and David are up to when we’re out there, but having P.A. being able to make plays and put the puck in the net makes our line way more dangerous."

The chemistry off the ice is already there. Turns out even though they had never played together before, Parenteau said he and Desharnais met at a golf tournament years ago and became buddies, spending time together each summer. So, to be teammates now for the first time, and linemates on top of it, is the icing on the cake.

"Honestly, I'm just so excited about this year," Parenteau said. "I'm feeling confident, and I think this is going to be a good fit."

A top-six forward fit, that is.video
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MONTREAL -- During his French media scrum Thursday, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy's face lit up when he was asked about his defensive corps.

There seemed to be genuine excitement in his eyes.

"Yes," Roy said Thursday morning at Bell Centre when asked if that was indeed the case.

Because where everyone else around the hockey world sees Colorado’s soft underbelly, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner sees a group that’s very much under the radar.

"Tyson [Barrie] had a really good second half of the season," Roy said. "He was outstanding. When we lost him [against] Minny in the playoffs, that was a really big loss for us. Nick Holden, same thing, what a year he had for us. E.J. [Erik Johnson] is an important part of it, it’s a group that’s been learning. [Jan] Hejda and Brad Stuart will bring a lot of experience and help our young guys."

He then mentioned the likes of Ryan Wilson, Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond and Stefan Elliott, the fellows who round out his defensive options.

"We like our depth and we’re very comfortable with them," Roy said.

[+] EnlargeTyson Barrie
John Russell/NHLI/Getty Images"We're comfortable with our D-corps and we're excited to see what we can do this year," Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie said.
Was he saying it to give those players confidence heading into the season? Or does Roy truly believe it? Perhaps a bit of both.

The Avs were 25th in the NHL last season in shots against per game and last among the 16 clubs that made the postseason. By now you’ve probably heard that many in the advanced stats community predict a regression because of how poor a puck possession team it was last season and just how many shots it gave up.

Basically, some people don’t believe goalie Semyon Varlamov can possibly play out of his mind again to bail out his teammates.

And at the heart of it is the pointing of the finger to a defensive corps short on household names.

"The goalie makes up for a lot of it," a Western Conference executive from a rival team said. "I like their top four but it gets thin after that, to be honest. They gave up a lot of shots last year."

When his team plays the Avs, they stress the need to pin that Colorado defensive corps on its heels.

"I would say most teams would think that, certainly it was for us," he said. "It’s trying to expose their weakness, but it’s also because you don’t want their incredible forwards to have the puck in your own zone."

Well, yeah, there’s that.

But those same talented forwards can also become part of the solution this season if the Avs are going to cut down on scoring chances against.

"I think we have a great D-corps," Avs winger Ryan O'Reilly said after Thursday’s morning skate. "As young forwards, sometimes we weren’t as good as we should have been [defensively] and left them out to dry. Playing D-zone is not just about the defensemen. We gave up so many shots last year, Varly bailed us out, but as forwards, we got to do a better job to help them out.

"We got everything we need back there on defense," he added. "But collectively as a team we need to be better [defensively]."

When you’re a team as loaded as the Avs are up front, nobody on Colorado's defense is expecting to suddenly steal the media spotlight. They’re fine with that.

"We’re not dumb on the back end, we know where our strength is," Barrie said, smiling, after the pregame skate. "It starts with Varly back there and these guys up front. But we just go about our business and I think we’ve got some great players on the back end with E.J., we brought in Stuart, and Nick Holden was a surprise last year and he’s just going to get better. We’re comfortable with our D-corps and we’re excited to see what we can do this year."

They also know what has been said about them, and it’s hard not to use it as a source of motivation.

"Yeah, absolutely, that’s natural, right?" said Barrie, 23, who had 38 points (13-25) in 38 games last season. "You read some stuff and guys think that we’re maybe the weakness of this team, but I know we’re comfortable with the group we have back here. We made some moves that gave us even more depth. We’re definitely going to try to prove people wrong."

If they do, they might step out from under the radar. Holden, 27, is a late bloomer who, given a chance last season, put up 25 points (10-15) in 54 games and was especially effective late in the season.

"For us, the nicest surprise was Nick Holden last season," Roy said. "He really took advantage of his opportunity. Honestly, he really surprised us. And he’s having a really good camp right now."

Holden has fantasy sleeper written all over him.

"I don’t know about that, but it was funny though, some of my buddies last year picked me up in some of their [fantasy leagues] and said, 'You’re helping me win, ' " the native of Victoria, British Columbia, said with a red-faced chuckle Thursday.

But can this group defend well enough? That’s going to be a storyline all season.

One thing Roy won’t apologize for is the style his team plays. The Avs are one of the most entertaining, offensive teams in the league, a club that can crush you off the rush on the counterattack using their mind-blowing speed. It’s who they are. It’s how they play.

So while Roy hopes his team can be better defensively this season, don’t be fooled into thinking the Avalanche are about to change their identity.

"We’re always going to be an offensive team," Roy said. "Our fans know that the Avalanche is an offensive team and we’re going to give up shots. We’ll probably give up the same number of shots per game [this season] but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to play well defensively. If we can keep the shots to the outside, cutting down on the scoring chances is what we’re going to focus more than the number of shots that we’re going to give up.

"We believe we have one of the premier goaltenders in the league and we believe, if we keep the other team on the outside and reduce the scoring chances, we’ll continue to do well."
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While this training camp and preseason was to have been quite important for prized prospect Jonathan Drouin, his injury doesn't really change the plan the Tampa Bay Lightning have for the talented forward.

"It just delays things a little bit is all," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com.

Drouin is out three to four weeks with a right thumb fracture, shelving the 19-year-old for what would have been a busy preseason.

[+] EnlargeDrouin
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsThe injury to highly touted Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin won't hold back his development.
"Obviously, we want him to play. We have six preseason games, and our hope had been to see him in at least five of them, to give him as much time as possible to get acclimated," said Yzerman. "And regardless of how the preseason games went, [the plan was to] let him start the regular season and see how he does then really let his play dictate with who and how much he plays.

"We're going to stick to that. It's not a major injury. It doesn't require surgery. It just needs time to heal. He'll be able to skate and workout and train. He'll get plenty of opportunity once the season starts."

At the very least, Drouin will get that nine-game window the collective bargaining agreement allows before teams must decide whether to send players back to junior. Honestly, I would be really surprised if Drouin doesn't make the team and play all season in Tampa.

After all, even his demotion a year ago caught some people off guard, especially in the context of seeing his 2013 first-round peers such as Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan and Valeri Nichushkin all have impact rookie seasons while he was sent back to junior for another year.

While Drouin struggled at first after going back to Halifax in terms of accepting his situation, he lit it up, as one would expect, to the tune of 108 points (29-79) in 46 games.

"I think they made the right choice last year. He came back and dominated," said a Quebec-based NHL scout from another organization who watched Drouin play many games last season. "It helped his development. Sometimes in today's game, you've got teams trying to make men out of teenagers before they're ready. You can't always do it. Drouin found out at Tampa's camp last year what he needed to work on at the NHL level. He went back to junior and worked on those specific areas. He's a more mature player now, and he's confident he can do it at the NHL level. It was a good decision, I think, by Tampa to send him back.

"Honestly, he's not that far from Nathan MacKinnon in terms of skill and finesse," added the scout. "Everyone thinks he's way behind because of what happened last year, but Drouin is going to be a heck of a player for them. Like MacKinnon, they're both going to have great careers."

MacKinnon, his former linemate in Halifax, won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year last season with Colorado while Drouin stayed in junior.

But now Drouin will get his chance in the big leagues, even if delayed by the injury for now.

"He's one year older, he had an excellent season, he went through a lot at first being sent back to junior," said Yzerman. "It's tough with these high draft picks with so much attention on them. Every team’s situation is unique to them. A year ago, we had a bunch of young kids including Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson; we were moving a bunch of young guys into the lineup, and we wanted them to play."

In that regard, Drouin was a victim of a numbers game in Tampa Bay with all these kids making their way in, young players with more experience. Palat and Johnson were both nominated for the Calder Trophy last season, as if to underline the point.

Drouin, meanwhile, grew last season, despite not being where he wanted to be -- in the NHL.

"Being a captain of a team and taking on even more responsibility was an adjustment which he handled well," said Yzerman. "Being the captain of the Canadian national junior team was a great experience for him. Even going down the stretch, we watched him play; he was used in more situations.

"What we really loved was his commitment to the effort at both ends of the rink. He was on the penalty kill, taking faceoffs, playing center -- so, just greater responsibility. We saw him come into camp this year, and his fitness numbers were outstanding. He's obviously put in a lot of work. He's a year more mature physically and mentally. He's very well prepared to come in here. He had a tremendous last 12 months. Everything he's gone through on and off the ice, he's been awesome."

Aside from the glut of young players who were breaking into Tampa Bay's lineup a year ago, there was also the fact that Drouin a year ago was basically just a season and a half out of midget hockey. The kid had rocketed up the ranks. It was another reason Tampa Bay felt it could hold him back a year.

"He came a long way fast," said Yzerman. "Looking back, had we kept him, as the year went on I'm sure he would have been fine. But we would have taken one of these other kids out of the lineup. We just didn't have the spots for it. We had to make a decision at that time, and I didn't want to drag it out. Again, I don't think it hurt Jonathan a bit going back for a year. Everything he experienced last year was beneficial for him."video
Ryan Johansen isn’t the only restricted free agent who remains unsigned in the NHL.

Not sure I can remember the last time there have been this many RFAs still unsigned with preseason underway, but whether it’s the effect of the new collective bargaining agreement or not, a handful of players are still waiting for new deals.

[+] EnlargeRyan Ellis
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesRyan Ellis had his best season in 2013-14, with six goals and 21 assists in 80 games.
In Nashville, blueliner Ryan Ellis, 23, still doesn’t have a deal with the Predators.

"This is clearly one of those cases where we want to pay him X and he wants Y," veteran Preds general manager David Poile told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We’ve tried to justify our position, they’ve tried to justify their position, and we just disagree.

"I mean, we’re not trading him. We want him. He really played well at the end of last year. I think with Peter Laviolette's new system, it plays really well into Ryan’s game. The sooner we get it done, the better it will be for everybody."

Poile would not discuss specifics, but it’s thought the Preds have offered two-, three-, four- and five-year deals, so there are options on the table and it may not necessarily end up being a two-year bridge deal. I say that because you have to assume the four- and five-year deals are worth more money per year than the two-year offer.

Elsewhere
• Center Cody Eakin and defenseman Brenden Dillon, both 23 and RFAs, aren’t close to new deals with the Dallas Stars. What’s interesting is that both players are represented by Jarrett Bousquet, who happens to be based in Dallas. Eakin switched agents last season, leaving Gerry Johannson for Bousquet. That doesn’t appear to have made things any easier for the Stars. You get the sense, though, that Dallas GM Jim Nill is willing to be patient and wait this out.

• Similarly in Boston, the Bruins have a pair of unsigned players in forward Reilly Smith and blueliner Torey Krug, both 23. A source told ESPN.com on Tuesday that there is nothing new on either front, very much status quo for the time being. Given Boston’s tight cap situation, not sure you can bank on the Bruins changing their position much.

• Blues RFA forward Jaden Schwartz, 22, continues to wait things out. I’m surprised this one has lasted as long as it has. It never felt like both sides were that far apart, but as of Tuesday still no deal. Word is the Blues improved their offer to north of $2 million last week. My guess is Newport Sports (Wade Arnott), which represents Schwartz, would prefer somewhere north of $2.5 million, so both sides are still in the ballpark of half a million apart per season on a two-year bridge deal. It doesn’t seem like much, but it remains an important gap.

• A quick follow-up on Johansen: Sources confirmed the counteroffer from the player’s camp is two years and $9.5 million in total, so a $4.75 million average. It’s believed to be $3.5 million in the first year and $6 million in Year 2 (when he’s eligible for salary arbitration). The Jackets as of Tuesday are remaining firm on their offer of two years at $3 million per. Neither side sounds one bit willing to move at this point. So it’s a waiting game, and a very bitter one at that.

Junior-eligible players
One issue that crops up from time to time every September is that of junior-eligible players and the rules that govern them in the CBA. Quite simply, if a player remains junior-eligible, he either has to make the NHL roster (past the nine-game NHL regular-season audition) or return to junior.

But what if a prospect can’t learn much by going back to junior for a fourth year, yet perhaps isn't ready for full-time NHL duty? In other words, he's in between. Why can’t he play in the AHL to further develop his skills?

Case in point, Max Domi, 19, and the Arizona Coyotes. Perhaps Domi will make the Coyotes outright and it’s a moot point. But if he doesn’t, he will need to go back for a fourth year of junior where, frankly, he has very little to prove.

"It's hard to imagine any NHL GM would argue against adding additional flexibility to the current CHL rule," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told via email to ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We all understand top junior players are valuable assets for their junior Clubs. However, for any elite junior player who has played three full CHL seasons (in Max Domi’s case, three straight Memorial Cup appearances), the option to place the player (perhaps restrict it to one player per Club) in the AHL would be invaluable to us and a real benefit to the player’s development."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that while the issue comes up from time to time, it hasn’t warranted enough support to change the existing rule with the Canadian Hockey League.

"I don't think this is as big an issue as you think -- although people always focus on it this time of year," Daly said via email. "We actually surveyed the GMs before last year's CHL deal and it wasn't an overwhelming need.

"Any change -- even on a restricted or limited basis -- would be devastating to the CHL. So, no, I don't see this changing in the near future (and at least for the term of this CHL Agreement)."

No question you understand where CHL clubs are coming from, but if a new rule limited exceptions to one prospect per NHL team, I don’t see that as that big a deal. Food for thought ...
videoThere has been interest from overseas, but the Columbus Blue Jackets know like the rest of us that playing across the ocean would certainly be a last resort for Ryan Johansen.

So the contract standoff between the superstar and his team continues, one of the NHL's most bitter and public fights in years.

Over the weekend, word spread that there was a potential offer from a KHL team for the restricted free agent. Turns out, that's hardly surprising.

"He's had several offers from different leagues over the past two months, not just the KHL," Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, told ESPN.com on Monday morning. "But our focus is on reaching an agreement with Columbus. Right now we’re trying to hopefully focus in on a short-term deal."

Where it stood as of Monday morning: The Jackets still want their leading scorer back at around $3 million a season over two years. It’s been their stance for a long time when it comes to a two-year deal, and it’s believed Overhardt came down last Thursday from the $6 million plus a year he originally asked for to less than $5 million per year. Overhardt would not comment on that information but a source confirmed it to ESPN.com.

But it’s still a standstill. Neither side appears to be wilting one bit.

The Jackets believe they can overcome the temporary loss of Johansen. After all, they got almost nothing from either Nathan Horton or Marian Gaborik (before he was traded) last season and still made the playoffs. So there’s a strong, team-first belief in Columbus that no matter which player is missing, they can overcome it.

[+] EnlargeRyan Johansen
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe Blue Jackets want Ryan Johansen in uniform, but believe they could survive losing him.
Perhaps.

On the other hand, an Oct. 23-26 road trek through San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles looks daunting to say the least. They better have a winning record before that trip to California.

Or, one would hope Johansen is signed by then.

What makes this standoff so compelling is that you can make the case for either side. No question the Jackets can point to a long list of bridge deals in the past couple of years that suggest they were well within their rights to try to get Johansen signed at $6 million over two years.

On the other hand, nowhere in the actual CBA does it say a player coming out of an entry-level deal must sign said bridge deal at said compensation. Sure, it’s what GMs around the league want, but it’s not an actual rule.

And Overhardt’s track record says he's not one for getting bullied.

His leverage is clear: If the Jackets start slowly out of the gates missing their top player, there’s the possibility the team will start swaying his way in talks.

The Jackets’ leverage, aside from the kind of bridge deals signed by the likes of Matt Duchene and P.K. Subban in recent years, would come if the team fares just fine without Johansen in the early part of the season. It’s exactly what happened with Montreal a few years back before Subban accepted his bridge deal.

Only one side will be right in the end. Tick-tock ...

The Sens' goalie battle
One storyline to watch this season in Ottawa is the goaltending competition between Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.

Both were signed to new contracts this offseason, but what remains to be seen is if Lehner, 23, can wrestle away the No. 1 job from the 33-year-old incumbent Anderson.

"First of all, our goaltending is in great hands," Senators head coach Paul MacLean told ESPN.com on Monday. "We really feel that we have really good goaltending with two goaltenders who work hard at the game; and they’re both great teammates and great people. So we feel we’re in good shape with our goalies.

"At this point in time, Craig is our No. 1 goalie. In the past he was used to playing 60 to 70 games. He’s not doing that this year. Robin Lehner has earned the opportunity to play more games. If and when he earns those games again in the season, he's going to get to play. The pleasure the coaching staff has, and the team has, is that we can play one of them and have a tremendous amount of confidence the outcome of the game is going to go our way."

Nothing wrong with two guys pushing each other in goal. That can create a great situation, but only if both guys handle it right. You can’t have Anderson out of sorts because he’s not guaranteed his usual number of starts, and you can’t have Lehner openly flustered by having to wait his turn.

Both guys need the right frame of mind for this work.

"That’s what it’s all about, a healthy competition," MacLean said.

The Senators, having traded away top center Jason Spezza, will need solid goaltending this season because offense will be harder to come by. The Anderson-Lehner tandem has the talent to do it.

What I’m curious about is how they handle the situation. You can say what you want now, but nobody likes to be dethroned and Anderson will fight like heck to prove he’s still No. 1.
videoOK, so there was that moment after Game 1 of the regular season last year when Patrick Roy went a little Incredible Hulk on Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, pushing over a cushioned barrier between the two teams' benches pretty much on top of Boudreau’s head.

This after pounding the Ducks 6-1 in Roy’s NHL debut behind the Avs’ bench.

“That was a one-time thing,” Avs general manager and head of hockey operations Joe Sakic, a longtime teammate and friend to Roy, told ESPN.com on the eve of training camp with just the trace of a chuckle.

There was some sniping with St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, but basically Sakic is right. While the hockey world waited for more Roy histrionics as he made the transition from Hall of Fame goaltending career to junior hockey mogul to NHL coach, all he did was guide his youthful Avs to a surprise spot atop the Central Division for the team’s first division title since 2002-03, which happened to be Roy’s final season in the NHL.

Along the way, Roy managed to add to his trophy shelf with a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

We happened to be in Denver prior to the start of the season a year ago, and while the postgame activities were entertaining to say the least, what struck us was Roy's passion and enthusiasm during practices leading up to the season.

“We all know he’s a very emotional guy,” Sakic said.

But Roy never brought any negative emotion to bear on the players, criticizing them in public or belittling them.

“He was just very relaxed, very calm, very sure of himself,” Sakic said.

All of that might have come as something of a surprise to Roy’s players, especially the younger ones, who might have known him only through videos or yellowed newspaper stories (or yellowed Internet stories).

“Yeah, it was different [than expected],” rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeNathan MacKinnon
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesNathan MacKinnon and other young Avs players appreciate coach Patrick Roy being one of the guys.
“I didn’t realize how smart he’d be. I know he was passionate, very competitive, but he understands the game so well. Everything he does, there’s a reason behind it,” MacKinnon added. “He doesn’t just bark at guys. He’s always thinking. It’s only my second season, but I’m sure he’s one of the most progressive coaches in the league."

Young Avs captain Gabe Landeskog said he too wasn’t sure what to expect from the legendary goaltender-turned-coach.

“I think it surprised me. You always get the questions: Is he yelling at you, is he all fired up every game and all this stuff,” Landeskog said. "I think to a lot of people [with the team] he’s surprisingly calm. He’s very smart in the way he interacts with his players. Whether it’s between periods or after games or before games, he’s very calm, and he’s able to look at the big picture. He’s emotional, yes, but he’s smart about it."

Landeskog recalled how Roy would come into the players’ lounge, propping his feet up on the table like one of the guys to chat.

“For him to come down to the level of privacy, it builds a bond between players and coaches that you don’t normally see and it builds a trust that you don’t normally see,” Landeskog said.

As players evolve over time, it’s clear Roy has evolved from when he was coaching in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he also was part-owner of the Quebec Remparts.

“It’s a man’s game [in the NHL], and you have to adapt,” Sakic said.

There is a mutual respect between Roy and his players, the Hall of Fame center said.

Perhaps the best illustration of this mutual respect is seen in how Landeskog credits Roy for helping him grow into his role as team captain, a responsibility he admitted he wasn’t ready for when he was tabbed to be the team’s leader before the start of the 2012-13 season.

“I think when I look back when I was named captain two years ago ... I think I might not have been ready for it. I might have been too young," said Landeskog, who won’t turn 22 until November. "It’s one thing on the ice or in the dressing room, you feel confident in yourself and you know what you’re doing, but when it comes to things off the ice, dealing with situations with players and when things aren’t going well and logistics and handling coaches and all of this, I’m not sure I was ready for this.

“But now I feel like I’ve come into my own, and I’m realizing what are things that you need to put first and focus on and what are things you don’t necessarily have to sweat. And I think for me, once you learn those things -- to be honest Patrick was a huge part of that, just making me feel confident and always having his door open to me if I wanted to chat about anything really.

“I knew from day one it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew from day one I wasn’t going to be the perfect captain. I’ve always been the first one to say that,” Landeskog added. “If you look at a lot of the great captains in the league right now, it comes with experience.”

And if there's one thing Roy brings to the table, it’s experience.

Offseason player movement of all 30 teams

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
1:59
PM ET
Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny USA TODAY SportsRyan Kesler and Paul Stastny will be wearing different colors this season.
ANAHEIM DUCKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 14: Acquired C Louis Leblanc from Montreal for a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
June 27: Acquired C Ryan Kesler and a 3rd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Vancouver for C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa, and Anaheim’s 1st- and 3rd-round picks in 2014.
June 30: Acquired C Nate Thompson from Tampa Bay for Tampa Bay’s 4th- and 7th-round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed D Clayton Stoner (Minnesota) and G Jason LaBarbera (Chicago).
July 9: Signed LW Dany Heatley (Minnesota).
Offseason Departures
RW Teemu Selanne (retired); C Saku Koivu (retired); C Nick Bonino (traded to Vancouver); D Luca Sbisa (traded to Vancouver); D Stephane Robidas (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); G Jonas Hiller (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); C Mathieu Perreault (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); C Daniel Winnik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C David Steckel (unrestricted free agent); D Nolan Yonkman (unrestricted free agent).

ARIZONA COYOTES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 29: Acquired C Sam Gagner and RW B.J. Crombeen from Tampa Bay for a 6th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed C Joe Vitale (Pittsburgh), G Devan Dubnyk (Montreal), G Mike McKenna (Columbus) and D Andrew Campbell (Los Angeles).
Offseason Departures
C Mike Ribeiro (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); RW Radim Vrbata (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); G Thomas Greiss (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Andy Miele (unrestricted free agent, signed by Detroit); LW Tim Kennedy (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); LW Paul Bissonnette (unrestricted free agent); C Jeff Halpern (unrestricted free agent); D Derek Morris (unrestricted free agent); RW Brandon Yip (unrestricted free agent).

BOSTON BRUINS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed D Christopher Breen (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
RW Jarome Iginla (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); D Andrej Meszaros (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); LW Shawn Thornton (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); G Chad Johnson (unrestricted free agent, signed NY Islanders); D Corey Potter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); RW Nick Johnson (unrestricted free agent).

BUFFALO SABRES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed RW Brian Gionta (Montreal), LW Matt Moulson (Minnesota), D Andrej Meszaros (Boston) and C Cody McCormick (Minnesota).
July 1: Acquired D Josh Gorges from Montreal for a 2nd-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
July 3: Signed D Tyson Strachan (Washington).
July 13: Signed C Zac Dalpe (Vancouver).
July 23: Signed D Andre Benoit (Colorado).
Offseason Departures
D Christian Ehrhoff (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Kevin Porter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Detroit); C Cory Conacher (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); LW John Scott (unrestricted free agent, signed by San Jose); RW Matt D’Agostini (unrestricted free agent); C Zenon Konopka (unrestricted free agent); LW Ville Leino (unrestricted free agent); D Jamie McBain (unrestricted free agent); D Alexander Sulzer (unrestricted free agent); D Henrik Tallinder (unrestricted free agent).

CALGARY FLAMES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
April 28: Named Brad Treliving general manager.
June 28: Acquired LW Brandon Bollig from Chicago for a 3rd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed LW Mason Raymond (Toronto), D Deryk Engelland (Pittsburgh) and G Jonas Hiller (Anaheim).
Aug. 23: Signed RW Devin Setoguchi (Winnipeg).
Sept. 5: Signed D Corey Potter (Boston).
Offseason Departures
LW Mike Cammalleri (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); C Ben Street (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Joey MacDonald (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); D Chris Butler (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Christopher Breen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Boston); LW T.J. Galiardi (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); C Blair Jones (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); D Shane O’Brien (unrestricted free agent); D Derek Smith (unrestricted free agent); RW Kevin Westgarth (unrestricted free agent).

CAROLINA HURRICANES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
April 28: Named Ron Francis general manager.
June 19: Named Bill Peters head coach.
July 1: Signed C Brad Malone (Colorado) and G Drew MacIntyre (Toronto).
July 2: Signed C Jay McClement.
July 3: Signed D Tim Gleason.
Offseason Departures
G Justin Peters (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); C Manny Malhotra (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); LW Brett Sutter (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); LW Drayson Bowman (unrestricted free agent); RW Radek Dvorak (unrestricted free agent); D Mike Komisarek (unrestricted free agent); C Andrei Loktionov (unrestricted free agent); RW Aaron Palushaj (unrestricted free agent).

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Brad Richards (NY Rangers), C Cody Bass (Columbus) and LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie (Tampa Bay).
July 2: Signed D Kyle Cumiskey (Modo, Sweden).
Aug. 18: Signed G Michael Leighton (HC Donbass, KHL).
Offseason Departures
LW Brandon Bollig (traded to Calgary); G Jason LaBarbera (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); G Nikolai Khabibulin (unrestricted free agent); D Sheldon Brookbank (unrestricted free agent); C Michal Handzus (unrestricted free agent); C Brad Mills (unrestricted free agent).

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 30: Acquired C Daniel Briere from Montreal for RW PA Parenteau and a 5th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired D Brad Stuart from San Jose for a 2nd-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a 6th-round pick in 2017.
July 1: Signed RW Jarome Iginla (Boston), D Zach Redmond (Winnipeg), D Bruno Gervais (Philadelphia), C Jesse Winchester (Florida) and C Ben Street (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
RW PA Parenteau (traded to Montreal); C Paul Stastny (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Andre Benoit (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); C Brad Malone (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); LW David Van der Gulik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Los Angeles); D Matt Hunwick (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); G Jean-Sebastien Giguere (retired); D Cory Sarich (unrestricted free agent).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 23: Acquired LW Scott Hartnell from Philadelphia for LW R.J. Umberger and a 4th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired RW Jerry D’Amigo and a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Toronto for RW Matt Frattin.
July 4: Signed C Brian Gibbons (Pittsburgh).
Offseason Departures
LW R.J. Umberger (traded to Philadelphia); D Nikita Nikitin (traded to Edmonton); RW Matt Frattin (traded to Toronto); C Derek MacKenzie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); RW Jack Skille (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Nick Schultz (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); LW Blake Comeau (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Cody Bass (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); G Mike McKenna (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona).

DALLAS STARS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Acquired C Jason Spezza and RW Ludwig Karlsson from Ottawa for RW Alex Chiasson, LW Nick Paul, LW Alex Guptill and a 2nd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Anders Lindback (Tampa Bay), RW Ales Hemsky (Ottawa) and RW Patrick Eaves (Nashville).
Offseason Departures
RW Alex Chiasson (traded to Ottawa); C Chris Mueller (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); C Dustin Jeffrey (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); D Maxime Fortunus (unrestricted free agent); LW Ray Whitney (unrestricted free agent); D Aaron Rome (unrestricted free agent); G Tim Thomas (unrestricted free agent); G Cristopher Nilstorp (unrestricted free agent).

DETROIT RED WINGS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Kevin Porter (Buffalo).
July 2: Signed C Andy Miele (Arizona).
Offseason Departures
C David Legwand (unrestricted free agent, signed by Ottawa); RW Daniel Alfredsson (unrestricted free agent); RW Todd Bertuzzi (unrestricted free agent); C Cory Emmerton (unrestricted free agent); RW Mikael Samuelsson (unrestricted free agent); RW Jordin Tootoo (unrestricted free agent).

EDMONTON OILERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 25: Acquired D Nikita Nikitin from Columbus for a 5th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
June 29: Acquired RW Teddy Purcell from Tampa Bay for C Sam Gagner.
July 1: Signed D Mark Fayne (New Jersey), LW Benoit Pouliot (NY Rangers) and D Keith Aulie (Tampa Bay).
Offseason Departures
LW Ryan Smyth (retired); C Sam Gagner (traded to Tampa Bay); D Taylor Fedun (unrestricted free agent, signed by San Jose); D Anton Belov (unrestricted free agent); LW Ben Eager (unrestricted free agent); D Mark Fraser (unrestricted free agent); D Denis Grebeshkov (unrestricted free agent); LW Ryan Jones (unrestricted free agent).

FLORIDA PANTHERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 21: Named Gerard Gallant head coach.
July 1: Signed C Dave Bolland (Toronto), LW Jussi Jokinen (Pittsburgh), LW Shawn Thornton (Boston), C Derek MacKenzie (Columbus), D Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles) and G Al Montoya (Winnipeg).
Offseason Departures
D Tom Gilbert (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal); C Jesse Winchester (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Scott Clemmensen (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); RW Krys Barch (unrestricted free agent); D Matt Gilroy (unrestricted free agent); C Scott Gomez (unrestricted free agent); D Ed Jovanovski (unrestricted free agent); D Ryan Whitney (unrestricted free agent); D Mike Mottau (retired).

LOS ANGELES KINGS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed RW Adam Cracknell (St. Louis) and LW David Van der Gulik (Colorado).
Offseason Departures
RW Linden Vey (traded to Vancouver); D Willie Mitchell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); D Andrew Campbell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); C Colin Fraser (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis).

MINNESOTA WILD
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW Thomas Vanek (Montreal), D Stu Bickel (NY Rangers) and LW Brett Sutter (Carolina).
July 11: Signed C Jordan Schroeder (Vancouver).
Aug. 1: Signed D Justin Falk (NY Rangers).
Offseason Departures
LW Matt Moulson (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); D Clayton Stoner (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); LW Dany Heatley (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim); D Nate Prosser (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); C Cody McCormick (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); G Ilya Bryzgalov (unrestricted free agent); C Jake Dowell (unrestricted free agent); RW Carson McMillan (unrestricted free agent); LW Mike Rupp (unrestricted free agent).

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 30: Acquired RW PA Parenteau and a 5th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Colorado for C Daniel Briere.
July 1: Signed C Manny Malhotra (Carolina), D Tom Gilbert (Florida) and G Joey MacDonald (Calgary).
Offseason Departures
C Daniel Briere (traded to Colorado); D Josh Gorges (traded to Buffalo); C Louis Leblanc (traded to Anaheim); LW Thomas Vanek (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Brian Gionta (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); G Devan Dubnyk (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); RW Mike Blunden (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); C Ryan White (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia); D Francis Bouillon (unrestricted free agent); D Douglas Murray (unrestricted free agent); RW George Parros (unrestricted free agent); C Martin St. Pierre (unrestricted free agent).

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 6: Named Peter Laviolette head coach.
June 27: Acquired LW James Neal from Pittsburgh for RW Patric Hornqvist and C Nick Spaling.
July 2: Signed C Olli Jokinen (Winnipeg).
July 7: Signed D Anton Volchenkov (New Jersey).
July 15: Signed C Mike Ribeiro (Arizona) and C Derek Roy (St. Louis).
Offseason Departures
RW Patric Hornqvist (traded to Pittsburgh); C Nick Spaling (traded to Pittsburgh); RW Patrick Eaves (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Michael Del Zotto (unrestricted free agent, signed by Philadelphia).

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW Mike Cammalleri (Calgary), RW Martin Havlat (San Jose) and G Scott Clemmensen (Florida).
Offseason Departures
D Mark Fayne (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Anton Volchenkov (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); G Martin Brodeur (unrestricted free agent); LW Ryan Carter (unrestricted free agent); LW Rostislav Olesz (unrestricted free agent).

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 1: Acquired G Jaroslav Halak from Washington for a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Chad Johnson (Boston), C Cory Conacher (Buffalo), RW Jack Skille (Columbus) and LW Harry Zolnierczyk (Pittsburgh).
July 2: Signed C Mikhail Grabovski (Washington) and LW Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto).
Offseason Departures
G Evgeni Nabokov (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); D Radek Martinek (unrestricted free agent).

NEW YORK RANGERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed D Dan Boyle (NY Islanders), D Mike Kostka (Tampa Bay), D Matt Hunwick (Colorado), C Chris Mueller (Dallas), LW Tanner Glass (Pittsburgh) and G Cedrick Desjardins (Tampa Bay).
July 16: Signed C Matthew Lombardi (HC Geneve-Servette, Switzerland).
July 19: Signed RW Lee Stempniak (Pittsburgh).
Sept. 11: Signed LW Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay).
Offseason Departures
RW Derek Dorsett (traded to Vancouver); C Brad Richards (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); C Brian Boyle (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); D Anton Stralman (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); LW Benoit Pouliot (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Justin Falk (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Arron Asham (unrestricted free agent); LW Daniel Carcillo (unrestricted free agent); D Raphael Diaz (unrestricted free agent); C Darroll Powe (unrestricted free agent).

OTTAWA SENATORS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Acquired RW Alex Chiasson, LW Nick Paul, LW Alex Guptill and a 2nd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Dallas for C Jason Spezza and RW Ludwig Karlsson.
July 4: Signed C David Legwand (Detroit).
Offseason Departures
C Jason Spezza (traded to Dallas); RW Ales Hemsky (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Joe Corvo (unrestricted free agent); LW Matt Kassian (unrestricted free agent).

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 7: Named Ron Hextall general manager.
June 23: Acquired LW R.J. Umberger and a 4th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Columbus for LW Scott Hartnell.
July 1: Signed C Blair Jones (Calgary).
July 2: Signed D Nick Schultz (Columbus).
Aug. 5: Signed D Michael Del Zotto (Nashville).
Aug. 7: Signed C Ryan White (Montreal)
Offseason Departures
LW Scott Hartnell (traded to Columbus); LW Tye McGinn (traded to San Jose); RW Steve Downie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Kris Newbury (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); D Hal Gill (unrestricted free agent); RW Adam Hall (unrestricted free agent).

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 6: Named Jim Rutherford general manager.
June 25: Named Mike Johnston head coach.
June 27: Acquired RW Patric Hornqvist and C Nick Spaling from Nashville for LW James Neal.
July 1: Signed D Christian Ehrhoff (Buffalo), G Thomas Greiss (Arizona) and LW Blake Comeau (Columbus).
July 2: Signed RW Steve Downie (Philadelphia).
Offseason Departures
LW James Neal (traded to Nashville); D Matt Niskanen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); D Brooks Orpik (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); C Joe Vitale (unrestricted free agent, signed by Arizona); D Deryk Engelland (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh); C Brian Gibbons (unrestricted free agent, signed by Columbus); LW Jussi Jokinen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); LW Harry Zolnierczyk (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); LW Tanner Glass (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); RW Lee Stempniak (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); RW Chris Conner (unrestricted free agent, signed by Washington); G Tomas Vokoun (unrestricted free agent); RW Chuck Kobasew (unrestricted free agent); LW Taylor Pyatt (unrestricted free agent).

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed LW John Scott (Buffalo) and D Taylor Fedun (Edmonton).
July 2: Acquired LW Tye McGinn from Philadelphia for a 3rd-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Offseason Departures
D Brad Stuart (traded to Colorado); D Dan Boyle (traded to NY Islanders); RW Martin Havlat (unrestricted free agent, signed by New Jersey); LW John McCarthy (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); LW Bracken Kearns (unrestricted free agent); RW Matt Pelech (unrestricted free agent).

ST. LOUIS BLUES
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 28: Acquired D Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft from Toronto for D Roman Polak.
July 1: Signed C Paul Stastny (Colorado) and C Jori Lehtera (Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL).
July 4: Signed LW John McCarthy (San Jose).
July 16: Signed D Chris Butler (Calgary) and RW Benn Ferriero (Vancouver).
July 21: Signed C Jeremy Welsh (Vancouver).
July 22: Signed D Nate Prosser (Minnesota).
July 29: Signed C Peter Mueller (Kloten, Switzerland).
Sept. 5: Signed C Colin Fraser (Los Angeles).
Offseason Departures
D Roman Polak (traded to Toronto); C Derek Roy (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); LW Brenden Morrow (unrestricted free agent, signed by Tampa Bay); RW Adam Cracknell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Los Angeles); G Ryan Miller (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver); LW Vladimir Sobotka (restricted free agent, signed by KHL Avangard Omsk); C Keith Aucoin (unrestricted free agent); D Carlo Colaiacovo (unrestricted free agent).

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 27: Acquired D Jason Garrison, LW Jeff Costello and a 7th-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from Vancouver for a 2nd-round pick in 2014.
July 1: Signed D Anton Stralman (NY Rangers), C Brian Boyle (NY Rangers), G Evgeni Nabokov (NY Islanders) and RW Mike Blunden (Montreal).
July 11: Signed LW Brenden Morrow (St. Louis).
Offseason Departures
C Nate Thompson (traded to Anaheim); RW B.J. Crombeen (traded to Arizona); RW Teddy Purcell (traded to Edmonton); G Anders Lindback (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas); D Keith Aulie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Edmonton); D Mike Kostka (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); G Cedrick Desjardins (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); LW Ryan Malone (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers); LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie (unrestricted free agent, signed by Chicago); C Tom Pyatt (unrestricted free agent); D Sami Salo (unrestricted free agent).

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
June 28: Acquired D Roman Polak from St. Louis for D Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Acquired RW Matt Frattin from Columbus for RW Jerry D’Amigo and a conditional pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed D Stephane Robidas (Anaheim) and C Leo Komarov (Dynamo Moscow, KHL).
July 3: Signed C Mike Santorelli (Vancouver) and C Petri Kontiola (Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL).
July 22: Signed LW David Booth (Vancouver).
July 28: Signed C Daniel Winnik (Anaheim).
Offseason Departures
D Carl Gunnarsson (traded to St. Louis); RW Jerry D’Amigo (traded to Columbus); LW Mason Raymond (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); G Drew MacIntyre (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); C Jay McClement (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); D Tim Gleason (unrestricted free agent, signed by Carolina); C Dave Bolland (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); LW Nikolai Kulemin (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Paul Ranger (unrestricted free agent); C Jarred Smithson (unrestricted free agent).

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 21: Named Jim Benning general manager.
June 23: Named Willie Desjardins head coach.
June 27: Acquired C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa and Anaheim’s 1st- and 3rd-round picks in the 2014 NHL Draft from Anaheim for C Ryan Kesler and a 3rd-round pick in 2015.
June 27: Acquired RW Derek Dorsett from NY Rangers for a 3rd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
June 28: Acquired RW Linden Vey from Los Angeles for a 2nd-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
July 1: Signed G Ryan Miller (St. Louis).
July 2: Signed C Dustin Jeffrey (Dallas).
July 3: Signed RW Radim Vrbata (Arizona).
Offseason Departures
C Ryan Kesler (traded to Anaheim); D Jason Garrison (traded to Tampa Bay); LW David Booth (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C Mike Santorelli (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto); C Zac Dalpe (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); C Jordan Schroeder (unrestricted free agent, signed by Minnesota); RW Benn Ferriero (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); C Jeremy Welsh (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis); D Andrew Alberts (unrestricted free agent); LW Pascal Pelletier (unrestricted free agent); D Yann Sauve (unrestricted free agent).

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
May 26: Named Brian MacLellan general manager and Barry Trotz head coach.
July 1: Signed G Justin Peters (Carolina), D Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), D Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) and RW Chris Conner (Pittsburgh).
July 3: Signed LW Tim Kennedy (Arizona).
July 4: Signed C Kris Newbury (Philadelphia).
Offseason Departures
G Jaroslav Halak (traded to NY Islanders); C Mikhail Grabovski (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Islanders); D Tyson Strachan (unrestricted free agent, signed by Buffalo); D Julien Brouillette (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg); RW Dustin Penner (unrestricted free agent); C Nicolas Deschamps (unrestricted free agent); C Peter LeBlanc (unrestricted free agent); C Ryan Stoa (unrestricted free agent).

WINNIPEG JETS
Offseason Acquisitions (w/ previous rights)
July 1: Signed C Mathieu Perreault (Anaheim).
Aug. 1: Signed LW T.J. Galiardi (Calgary).
Aug. 8: Signed D Julien Brouillette (Washington).
Offseason Departures
D Zach Redmond (unrestricted free agent, signed by Colorado); G Al Montoya (unrestricted free agent, signed by Florida); C Olli Jokinen (unrestricted free agent, signed by Nashville); RW Devin Setoguchi (unrestricted free agent, signed by Calgary); C James Wright (unrestricted free agent).
TORONTO -- Of the 30 training camps underway around the NHL, Toronto’s is about the last one James Reimer figured to be at this year.

Truth be told, anyway. And Reimer has to be a little careful with how much honesty he throws into answering that question.

Because as it turns out, despite wanting a change of scenery after last season’s well-documented turn of events, Reimer in fact stayed put.

"There were some doubts about where I stood or what the direction would be going forward," Reimer said Friday on Day 2 of Leafs camp. "Over the course of the summer I really liked what was going on here.

[+] Enlarge James Reimer
Adam Hunger/Getty ImagesJames Reimer had a 3.29 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 36 games last season.
"I think good things have gone on here. I’m pretty excited."

Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis certainly looked around to see what was out there, but at the end of the day, there was nothing that made sense for Toronto. It’s hard to ask for an asset back from teams when they can look at all of the unrestricted free-agent goalies on the market and get them for nothing.

Reimer is a smart dude; he looked at the marketplace and understood that it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to trade him if Toronto wasn't going to get proper value in return. So he accepted that it didn’t happen.

"Obviously there’s only 60 spots and there’s a lot of good goaltenders, but I was excited to come back here," Reimer said. "At the end of the year it could have been doubtful, but as the summer goes on, you look at the chance we could have and the team we’re going to have . . . It’s something I was excited about and wanted to jump on board with."

So for now, Reimer and the Leafs will co-exist. In fact, they can really help each other out. Reimer gives Toronto quality insurance behind No. 1 Jonathan Bernier. In return, if Reimer shines when given the chance, his stock will rise ahead of the March trade deadline, or next offseason.

He signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal this summer, a contract he may very well carry somewhere else at some point.

For now, it’s about making the best of it. And for those who have been around Reimer, he’s an affable sort with a terrific attitude. He won’t be a sourpuss. He’ll be a good soldier.

"I’m coming in to compete as hard as I can and prepare for this season so that when Game 1 hits, you are ready to go and ready to be that guy for your team," Reimer said. "As far as how many games and what’s going to take place, that’s up to Randy. I’m just going to play my heart out like I always do and see where everything falls."

Randy Carlyle wasn’t on Reimer’s BFF list last season after the Leafs' coach commented following a loss in Detroit that the Reimer was "OK, just OK." What with Toronto being the biggest hockey media market in the world, that comment resonated like a hand grenade. It also coincided with Reimer’s worst stretch of the season while Bernier was injured and the Leafs had an epic collapse that dropped them out of the playoffs.

Now Reimer and Carlyle are back together, and on Day 1 of camp, Carlyle seemed to open the door for Reimer to still have an important role with Bernier.

"Well, right now, and I’m going to say it, it’s 1A and 1B," Carlyle said Thursday. "And you laugh at me, and you say, 'he’s full of this, he’s full of that.' Well, the reality is if you go to every team, you have to have somebody that’s going to emerge and be your guy. Usually that happens over the course of the first 40 games. That’s what happened to us last year.

"For Bernie, you can’t ignore how well he played for our hockey club, and we think the time James Reimer has spent with our group, we think he has a better understanding of what happened. But we’re not casting James Reimer to the side. We’re going to need James Reimer to go in and play and win us hockey games. It’s as simple as that."

They do need Reimer because there’s concern that Bernier wore down last season in his first year as the No. 1 goalie. So it will be important to pace Bernier and avoid that happening again.

As for his exact role, Reimer said Friday that he hasn’t heard yet from the coach himself.

"I’m not quite sure," he said. "We haven’t had a chat yet, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m coming in here to challenge for that No. 1. That’s how it is every year, whether you are solidified or whether there’s an opening or not. It’s one of those things where it’s my mindset to go out there and compete and compete hard for my teammates and give them a chance to win."

And help his own future in the process.
Ryan JohansenMike Stobe/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Ryan Johansen camp is looking for about $6 million annually after his breakout 33-goal season.
Scott Burnside and Katie Strang discuss the contentious negotiations between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets as well as other free agents still on the market.

Burnside: Greetings, Katie. Oh boy, the Ryan Johansen saga isn’t getting any prettier, is it? The Blue Jackets and their star, although relatively unproven, center are, oh, about a million miles apart on a new contract.

In the past couple of days, Columbus president John Davidson made a number of strong statements about how negotiations have been handled by Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt. The two sides are about $3 million apart per year on what is expected to be a two-year bridge deal. The Johansen camp is looking for about $6 million annually after his breakthrough 33-goal season that helped the Blue Jackets to the postseason and their first-ever playoff win(s) against Pittsburgh. Speaking to a couple of reporters in Traverse City, Michigan, where the Blue Jackets’ prospects won the rookie tournament, Davidson essentially accused the Johansen camp of trying to extort money from the team. Yikes.

Johansen isn’t the only interesting restricted free agent still without a deal with camps set to open around the NHL. In the next day or so, the absence of guys like Johansen in Columbus, Jaden Schwartz in St. Louis and Torey Krug in Boston is going to cause some consternation for coaches and GMs in those cities. At this stage, no one is going to drop an offer sheet on any of these kids, and the clock will start ticking on lost time vis-a-vis development and working with new teammates.

Let’s start with this, which team or player stands to lose the most if the contract dispute stretches into camp and perhaps the start of the regular season?

Strang: Holy smokes, Scotty, what an ugly turn indeed! Because of how quickly this situation is escalating and how ugly it is getting -- vitriol now has a seat at the table as the third party in negotiations -- I have to say that the stalemate between Columbus and Johansen remains the most concerning, for both sides.

Krug can take one quick click over to CapGeek.com to see why the Boston Bruins aren't ready (able is really the correct word) to plunk down a ton of cash on the restricted free-agent defenseman. Meanwhile, Schwartz and the St. Louis Blues remain "significantly far apart" on a new deal for the 22-year-old forward, but talks are ongoing and have yet to get nasty.

But, wow, reading Davidson's comments, it feels like this is a ticking time bomb. When I spoke to Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen about the situation last weekend, he was a bit more detached and less emotional. He conceded that Johansen was an important player but made it clear that the franchise will not be made on the success of individuals. Kekalainen stressed the importance of team to the club's success last season and was frank when asked if he was worried that the Johansen situation could become a distraction. Kekalainen said he would worry only about those players who were at training camp when it begins.

Here's the problem: Kekalainen is right in suggesting that Columbus' strength is in its balance and depth, but for a team lacking in star power, it is imperative that the Blue Jackets do not alienate their cornerstone player for years to come. You have to wonder what sort of impact this could have on the 22-year-old pivot. Many guys that have been around a while know that this is a business, but that doesn't make it any easier of a lesson to learn the first go-around. If Johansen thought the team's offer earlier was "a slap in the face," I'd be interested to see how he's feeling about the current state of affairs.

Burnside: Agreed that the tone and tenor surrounding the Johansen situation is very different than other similar situations with camps ready to open. Still, there’s no doubt Schwartz has an opportunity to see his role increase dramatically after last season’s 25-goal effort, and the Blues are once again considered among a handful of teams that should challenge for supremacy in the Western Conference. Does a long absence stunt Schwartz’s evolution?

In Boston, things are a bit more fluid, as Krug and Reilly Smith are both considered key parts of a Bruins team that is a work in progress after it was bounced in the second round of the playoffs last spring by Montreal and saw Jarome Iginla chase dollar and term to Colorado. The Bruins are in salary-cap hell as you noted, and GM Peter Chiarelli will likely have to move a significant piece to get Krug and Reilly under contract. Even then, will there be enough money to pay what both talented young players are worth? Tough calls all the way around for a team still considered by most to be the cream of the Eastern Conference crop.

Bigger picture, do you think these kinds of squabbles have the potential to produce long-lasting consequences? Do players really fall that far behind? (Drew Doughty struggled early after taking some time to get his long-term deal done before the start of the Kings’ Cup-winning season in 2011-12.) Does acrimony taint the relationship with a franchise long term? Or do you chalk all this up to business and it’s completely forgotten the moment the pen hits the paper on a new deal?

Strang: Well, you can certainly assume that once these players gain the leverage they currently lack as they get older, they won't feel any need to give their respective clubs a hometown discount. If you're Krug, you understand the reality of the cap crunch, but is it your fault that the team finds itself in such a precarious position? Tough situation for all parties and, yes, conventional wisdom is that the Bruins will have to move one of their many defensemen -- top candidates are Johnny Boychuk and Matt Bartkowski -- to accommodate both players.

In terms of readiness, I think it is certainly fair to wonder what sort of impact that will have on these guys as they prepare for the start of another season. Take for example the case of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan. After a summer of protracted contract negotiations and missing time during the start of training camp, the young pivot had a rough beginning to the 2013-14 season. He went the first 12 games without a goal. Part of that can be attributed to a brutal October road trip and a new coach in Alain Vigneault, but regardless, he was behind the eight-ball and suffered the consequences. As much as you skate and train on your own, there is nothing quite like the real thing.

Burnside: The whole notion of whether to go all-in on a second contract or try to control term and dollar with a bridge deal and then run the risk of ending up opening the vault, as the Montreal Canadiens did with P.K. Subban, is going to be an ongoing debate across the NHL landscape.

But every situation is unique, so I’ll go back to the Johansen impasse. For me, the Blue Jackets are one of the most interesting teams in the Eastern Conference. Could they win the Metropolitan Division? Absolutely. Can they do so without Johansen doing what he did last season? Nope. Not a chance. In fact, if Johansen falls back, it puts the Blue Jackets on the playoff bubble. That tells you how high the stakes are in this squabble, which suggests that both sides better put their thinking caps on and get a deal done or they are going to potentially pay a big price, at least in the short term.

Strang: Considering the recent developments -- Davidson publicly disclosing the terms of three offers they submitted to Johansen and his agent -- it's safe to say this isn't going to be something that simmers down any time soon. Overhardt is not afraid of bringing things to the brink (see Brandon Dubinsky and Kyle Turris), so this figures to be an ongoing saga throughout training camp. Look for Blue Jackets assistant general manager (and former player agent) Bill Zito to take on an even bigger role in these discussions. As mad as Columbus seems to be with Overhardt's asking price, Zito can probably at least understand the thought process having played that side of the game. At the very least, he may be good at ratcheting down the emotions and hunkering down to see if the two sides can figure out something that works.

Let's hope cooler heads prevail or one of the league's up-and-coming teams may stall before the season even begins.
Leon Draisaitl answers the Edmonton Oiler’s most pressing need. The question, however, is whether he’s going to fill it this season or next.

"Yes, the big question is center and how it all unfolds," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish told ESPN.com on Tuesday evening.

With the trade of Sam Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes, the Oilers have a gaping hole at the No. 2 center spot.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is set at No. 1, and Boyd Gordon will likely pivot the No. 3 line.

[+] EnlargeLeon Draisaitl
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Oilers made Leon Draisaitl, 18, the third overall pick in last June's draft.
Will it be Mark Arcobello, Anton Lander or the 18-year-old Draisaitl for the No. 2 spot? Or somebody else?

That will have to play out in camp and preseason over the next few weeks.

Those who were at the rookie tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, certainly got a glimpse of what Draisaitl, the third overall pick in last June’s draft, can bring.

"I like him a lot," one rival NHL team executive who was in Penticton said. "He needs to get quicker in the 200-foot game, but his strength out of the corner and protecting the puck, and his ability to make a play, along with the big body, is going to be a good package down the road. He will get stronger and with that should come his quickness, as well. Good kid, too."

That’s the first thing MacTavish mentions about the 6-foot-1, 208-pound German prospect.

"I love the character," MacTavish said. "Sure, the size and the skill, but the character, as well. The fact that he committed to being here throughout the summer is going to give him every chance to make it. He’s a really driven guy, with the high skill level, that’s a pretty good combination.

"But it’s a league not all that friendly to youth. He’s going to have to prove that he’s capable of handling it. All signs point to him being given great opportunity. Having said all that, we’ll make the decision based on what’s best for Leon and not our organization need."

It’s refreshing to hear that from the Oilers' GM. I felt the previous Edmonton regime made a horrible mistake in keeping Nugent-Hopkins on the NHL roster as an 18-year-old in 2011. His hockey IQ was ready for the NHL, yes, but as far as I’m concerned, not his body. He was so skinny. He took a pounding.

Draisaitl is heavier than Nugent-Hopkins was at 18, so perhaps he can endure it better this season if he makes the Oilers.

Either way, sounds as though Oilers management is going to do well by him. He’ll make the team only if he’s truly ready.

CANUCKS’ KIDS
Speaking of prospects, the Vancouver Canucks also insist they’re in no rush to promote their top young talent.

Nicklas Jensen, 21, played 17 games with the Canucks late last season, while Bo Horvat, 19, was Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2013.

They’re going to be given every chance to make the team, but there are no guarantees.

"We’ve talked to them, we’ve let them know that if they earn a spot on the team, we’ll make changes to accommodate them," Canucks GM Jim Benning told ESPN.com earlier this month. "It’s going to be up to them. They’re going to have to come in and prove they’re ready to play. Having said that, we’ve got depth now. We don’t want to rush guys. If they’re not ready to make the jump, we want to develop them properly."

One has to believe, barring injury, that Radim Vrbata, Zack Kassian, Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett are likely locked in on the right side, so not sure what that leaves for Jensen at this point.

At center, you’ve got Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino, Brad Richardson and probably Linden Vey. The latter, acquired from the Kings at the draft, requires waivers to get sent down, so unless he has the worst camp/preseason ever, have to think the Canucks want Vey to start the year on the NHL roster. Benning is high on Vey, which is why Vancouver traded for him.

So that doesn’t leave much room for Horvat, either.

But one never knows, that’s why there’s a camp and preseason, right?

HONEST BIEKSA
Sticking with the Canucks, I loved Kevin Bieksa’s answer last week during the Player Tour interviews when I asked him about whether there’s any benefit in playing in a Pacific Division with the likes of L.A., Anaheim and San Jose, in terms of getting the best out of your team in those games and raising the standard.

Bieksa responded with the honest truth.

"I think I would prefer to be in an easier division and cruise to the playoffs, I’m not going to lie," said Bieksa, whose Canucks used to rule the old Northwest Division for years. "They’re tough games. Yeah they’re great to use as a measuring stick when you’re playing those teams and seeing where you stand. But they’re tough games. They take a toll on you. If you’re asking me if I love my division, the answer would be probably be no."

Don’t change, Kevin.
The Colorado Avalanche surprised plenty of folks last season with their stunning about-face from their last-place finish in the Western Conference in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

With first-year head coach Patrick Roy at the helm, an absolutely outstanding rookie season from 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, and a banner year for goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Avs grabbed the title in a stacked Central Division that included the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild.

[+] EnlargeClaude Lemieux
Robert Laberge/AllsportClaude Lemieux said he was not surprised that the Avalanche won the Central Division last season.
While most people were gobsmacked by the Avs' success, former Avalanche forward and four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux was not. Having played with Roy in Colorado, Lemieux knew that Roy's passionate personality would take the team places no one expected.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Lemieux told ESPN.com in a recent phone conversation. “I know Patrick is a good coach -- more than a good coach, a really good coach. I knew he would have a big impact. He’s so committed to the game, he’s so well-prepared, and he understands winning. He has been a winner for life and that only translates to being contagious to players.”

Lemieux said he actually expected the Avalanche to fare far better in 2013, but knew it was only a matter of time once Roy was hired. The Avalanche lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Wild, in a seven-game series, but gained valuable postseason experience. Lemieux hopes that will aid them heading into their 2014-15 campaign.

“A big part of the credit goes to Patrick with his ability to get the max out of players,” Lemieux said. “When he was a teammate, he was pushing everyone to the next level. This year becomes critical in truly evaluating where the team is going.”

A main factor will be whether MacKinnon can follow up on his success last season, which earned him a Calder Trophy. It’s not unusual for a star player to suffer a “sophomore slump,” but MacKinnon truly impressed Lemieux beginning with the first game of his NHL career.

MacKinnon looked nervous, Lemieux thought, but he steadily got better as the game wore on.

“He could have cut ice time down, but Patrick kept throwing him out there, throwing him out there. His philosophy is that these young guys are here to stay. I’m going to win or lose with them,” said Lemieux, who played for the Avs from 1995-2000. “MacKinnon was lost and running around in his own end, but then all of a sudden he utilized his gut instinct. He became very physical, used his speed, made some big hits. This kid is gonna be a heck of a great player.”

Lemieux, whose son Brendan is a prospect for the Buffalo Sabres, saw MacKinnon rise to the occasion in the playoffs during the Avs’ playoff series loss to the Wild in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

The newbie finished with two goals and 10 points.

“The men come to play and the kids go to bed during the playoffs,” Lemieux said. “And he was their best player in the playoffs.”

As much as it helps to have a bevy of young stud players -- Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, in addition to MacKinnon -- a veteran presence is necessary as well. The Avs addressed that need this summer, trading for veteran center Daniel Briere and bringing in marquee free agent Jarome Iginla, who tied for the Boston Bruins' team lead with 30 goals last season.

“I like that they did that,” said Lemieux, who now works with Ritch Winter at the 4Sports & Entertainment Agency. “I’m a big believer in having a third, and a third, and a third. A third of players with less than five years of experience, a third of players with five to 10, and a third of players with 10 or more. They were running really low with players of 10 years or more. That’s an important combination to have, because those young guys need that.”
Mike Richards, it sounds like anyway, kept his word to the Mad Professor.

Faced with the possibility of his contract being bought out by the Stanley Cup champions, the 29-year-old Richards vowed to Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi in June that he would be more committed to his workouts this summer to help bring back the Mike Richards of old. He would commit himself to trying to bring back the player whom Lombardi traded for in the summer of 2011, the one who helped transform the Kings from pretenders into winners.

"This summer, I put in the work," Richards told ESPN.com over the phone Monday. "Of course, injuries can happen, but at least going into the season right now, I feel good and I’ve skated a lot more than I have in the past. I feel prepared, and I’m excited for the year."

As Richards pointed out, it's hard to know exactly how that translates to his on-ice performance once the season starts, but he says he feels much better at this point than he did a year ago.

Just in case, Lombardi did drop in on Richards in mid-August in the player’s hometown of Kenora, Ontario. Now, you can look up Kenora on Google Maps, but getting to that northern Ontario town is not exactly a swift trip.

[+] EnlargeMike Richards
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesMike Richards said, in the past, he didn't work as hard in the offseason as he should have to be ready for the start of the season.
But Lombardi made it indeed.

"He came up to Kenora; he was there for about five hours, I think. It’s not exactly the easiest place to get into," chuckled Richards.

"He flew the night before to Winnipeg, drove up to Kenora, we woke up, worked out, and then he left. It was a pretty quick trip for him."

You can’t blame the Kings GM for wanting to see for himself.

A year ago, Richards wasn't in good enough shape coming into camp, and he was chasing the rest of the season, to the point where he became a fourth-line center late in the season and in the playoffs.

It’s why there was so much angst for Lombardi, who adores Richards, as he knew that this was the final window in the new CBA to buy out a player without it counting against a team’s salary cap.

Richards has six years left on his deal, counting $5.75 million against the cap. No small decision.

"After the season, we sat down, actually had two meetings, lengthy meetings, really just to talk about everything," recalled Richards. "We talked about how I played, what I wanted to do, and what he wanted me to get back to. We laid it all out on the table. Obviously he likes me as a player and wants me to be part of the team, and I want to be there, too. He more or less just told me I had to get back to what I was doing a few years ago when I was having success, rather than the past couple of seasons, especially last year when I didn’t play the way I wanted to other than the ending."

The ending saw Richards play his best hockey of the season as the Kings won another Cup, yet mostly as a fourth-line center. Sure, he still got some power-play time and played in key situations -- so not your average fourth-line center -- but at the end of the day, his stock had fallen.

"Obviously winning cures all, and you’re happy about winning, but I don’t picture myself as a fourth-line player," said Richards.

"I still feel like I can play at a high level and play against the other team’s best players and not be a hazard when you’re on the ice."

The drop to fourth-line center hit home.

"I’m not happy being in that role, even though you’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win," said Richards. "But you feel you can do more to put yourself, prepare yourself, to be in a better situation. It was definitely a learning experience last year, maybe even a little bit of an eye-opener where you might take things for granted, or take having success for granted. We won, which is a good thing, but you feel like you can contribute to the team more and you don’t want to be put in that position again. And to be honest, I deserved to be put in that position last year."

There’s some humility and honesty that comes through here. And no doubt it’s what came across in those meetings with Lombardi before the Kings GM had to decide on the player’s future.

We shared Lombardi’s viewpoint on deciding not to buy out Richards in a June 25 article.

No real surprise that Lombardi would give Richards the benefit of the doubt, although the player was still a bit nervous before those end-of-season meetings.

"My relationship with Dean is pretty good. I know he’s a fan of me as a hockey player and a person," said Richards. "But at the end of the day, he’s got to do what’s best for the team, too. I guess you kind of have doubts. All I wanted is to be part of the Kings; I never looked at it as a bonus in the financial sense of maybe getting bought out and signing somewhere else. I like it in L.A., my family likes it there, my girlfriend comes down to visit once in a while and she likes it there, too. So I really didn’t want to become a free agent and leave. I want to be part of the Kings for a long time. So I was a little nervous from that point; even though I didn’t think Dean would do it, there’s always that chance that it could happen if he thought I couldn’t be the player I was before. If he thought I was on the downward track, maybe he would have done what was best for the team and bought me out. But it’s good to see he has confidence I can be back to being that player. It’s not easy working out every day and pushing towards it, but I’ve done it before and I felt I could do it. I gave him my word I would work towards being the player I was before."

According to Richards, there were indeed changes in his summer workouts.

"I worked out with trainers for the first time in a long time," he said. "I never felt that I needed to be pushed off the ice to work out, but I think it’s good to have somebody there, first to make sure that you’re going every day, and secondly to help me with different things; even just having a guy there to spot you so you can do that extra round, or having a guy there to make sure you’re doing the right technique and you don’t hurt yourself. You can push yourself harder in different areas. It was nice to have someone there that if there’s a day you don’t feel like going, he’s there to push you, so you don’t take the easy way out.

"I think before, not that I didn’t work hard, but I think I just took it for granted, where stuff was going on and you could skip a workout a day or two and not think it would be problem ... and then at the end of the summer, you’re probably not in the best shape you need to be in going into a season."

Did he do enough? How much better is Richards going to be this season? Will we ever see the Mike Richards of old or at something close to it?

Not even Richards can answer those questions yet. His play will do the talking, either way, in the coming months and when training camp opens at the end of the week.

What he does know is that it's been an experience.

"You live and learn," said Richards. "You take things for granted sometimes when you’re having success. Things that were working when you had success suddenly aren’t working anymore when you’re five or six years older, when you have to work a little harder. Definitely a learning curve."

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