Is youth going to be served between the pipes and along the blue line next season? And is the grass always greener on the other side of the ice? We'll find out in short order from the following group of netminders and defensemen.
When last we saw the future of Montreal goaltending, he was relegated to mop-up duties in the playoffs, shooting pucks at Washington players in frustration and trying to whack them with his stick from the bench. Well, wonder of wonders, Price is back to being "the man" in Montreal with Jaroslav Halak dealt to St. Louis. If Price has taken his maturity pills this summer all will be forgiven because the youngster does possess the required tools to be a good one. But that's a big "if."
Unless Washington GM George McPhee adds a veteran goalie between now and training camp (the betting is he waits until the trade deadline to make such a move), it will be the kids minding the store; incumbent Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are 22 years of age. Varlamov has the edge in experience, having been the goalie of record the past two playoff years for the Caps, but there are lots who think Neuvirth may ultimately be the greater talent. After turning in stellar numbers the past couple of years in the AHL, he'll get a chance to show he's a big league talent on a team loaded with expectation.
San Jose GM Doug Wilson had seen enough of Evgeni Nabokov's playoff foibles to give relatively untested (playoff-wise anyway) Antero Niittymaki the starting job in San Jose. Only a berth in the Stanley Cup final in 2011 will be seen as a step forward for the long-suffering Sharks, and Niittymaki, for the record, has 73 playoff minutes under his belt at the NHL level. Oh boy.
What a year for the oft-waived, journeyman netminder who helped save the Flyers' regular season when Ray Emery went down with injury, then helped save the playoff season when Brian Boucher went down. Leighton's tepid play in the Stanley Cup finals was a letdown, but GM Paul Holmgren rewarded Leighton with a two-year deal. At this moment, it looks like the Flyers' Cup hopes once again rest on the well-traveled shoulders of Leighton and Boucher -- a fact that will do little to assuage the perpetual fears of Flyers fans that their goaltending isn't quite good enough.
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues
Speaking of Halak, the unflappable Slovak netminder spawned a legion of cult-like followers in Hab Nation this spring (the T-shirts featuring a stop sign with Halak written inside were especially cool), but now he carries the Blues' playoff hopes on his shoulders. Halak has never played more than 45 regular-season games, and the Blues would ideally like to see him top the 60-game mark, assuming he plays as well as he did in the playoffs when he turned in a .923 save percentage in 18 postseason appearances. At least that's the assumption the Blues are making.
Faced with the departure of yet another top-notch blueliner in Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa GM Bryan Murray swallowed hard and signed 36-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a three-year deal worth $16.5 million. When healthy, Gonchar remains an elite defender whose role in the playoff successes of the Pittsburgh Penguins the past few years cannot be overstated. But Gonchar has played the full 82-game slate just once since the lockout, and the Senators don't have the offensive cushion the Penguins did, which means more pressure on Gonchar at both ends of the ice.
The underappreciated Hamhuis had lots of suitors this summer, but the British Columbia native surprised few by signing with his home-province Canucks. Overshadowed in Nashville, at least offensively by Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the question will be how big an offensive role Hamhuis can take on with the Canucks, especially now with Sami Salo out of the Canucks' lineup for the foreseeable future thanks to an offseason injury. It had better be lots for a Canucks team that was exposed in the playoffs as lacking on the blue line.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
The effervescent Subban hadn't even stepped on the ice for a Canadiens playoff game this spring, and he was already being heralded as a star by the adoring Montreal fans. And for the most part, the 43rd overall pick in the 2007 draft didn't disappoint. He is big and skates like the wind. He handles the puck well and ate up surprising minutes for normally conservative head coach Jacques Martin during the Habs' surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals. What does the kid do for an encore? Exactly what we were wondering.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
One of the prevailing criticisms of the talented Washington Capitals is that they are weak on the blue line. But it didn't take long for the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft to make his presence felt on the Caps' blue line during their brief playoff turn in April. Carlson logged significant minutes in the first round of the playoffs and was on the ice in critical situations, which bodes well for both the Caps and the 20-year-old Carlson as the squad hopes to bounce back from a first-round upset at the hands of the Canadiens.
The new Maple Leafs captain has shown in his brief NHL career that he has all the tools, having been nominated for a Norris Trophy as best defenseman and scoring 54 goals in his first three NHL campaigns in Calgary. But Phaneuf scored just twice in 26 games after being dealt to Toronto in advance of the trade deadline last season. Assuming Tomas Kaberle is somewhere else this fall, there will be more pressure on Phaneuf to produce but also more opportunity for Phaneuf to return to his previous offensive level, something that will be crucial for a team that figures once again to struggle offensively.