The signing of superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk pushed the New Jersey Devils above the league's $59.4 million salary cap by nearly $3 million, leaving management less than a month to get under the cap when their season opens on Oct. 8. Bryce Salvadore, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac and team captain Jamie Langenbrunner have been rumored as possible trade bait, but no one knows for sure what GM Lou Lamoriello will do. The longer it takes Lamoriello to make his moves, the more uncertainty could grow among the roster, possibly having an adverse effect upon the club's preseason performances.
The Montreal Canadiens' decision to trade playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis and stick with Carey Price as their starting goalie was greeted by derision by their fans. Two years ago, Price was coming off a strong rookie season and anointed by those same Habs fans as the franchise savior, but he's since struggled through injury and performance consistency. Canadiens management hopes the 23-year-old will finally reward their faith and patience. Price has faced considerable pressure before in Montreal, but nothing like what's awaiting him this season. How he handles it could make or break the Canadiens' season.
Heading into training camp, the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings could see considerable jockeying among their goaltenders for the starter's role. In Boston, former Vezina winner Tim Thomas will try to wrest back the starting goalie job he lost last season to young Tuukka Rask. In San Jose, it's expected Antti Niemi, who backstopped Chicago to the Stanley Cup last season, will be the starter, but he could face a stiff challenge from Antero Niittymaki. And in Los Angeles, promising Jonathan Bernier could be a potential threat to unseat current starter Jonathan Quick.
Status of unsigned RFA stars
Entering this week, the Anaheim Ducks still hadn't re-signed winger Bobby Ryan, the New York Rangers had yet to reach terms with defenseman Marc Staal and Dallas Stars forward James Neal was still unsigned. It remains to be seen if those three will be under contract when training camps open this week. Ryan, Staal and Neal are key components of their respective rosters, but the longer their status drags on, the more uncertainty will grow, becoming a possible distraction for them, their teammates and management.
The trade status of disgruntled defenseman Sheldon Souray hung like a pall over the Oilers' offseason, while the DUI conviction in Arizona of veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin diverted attention from the club's rebuilding efforts this summer, which included drafting top prospect Taylor Hall first overall at the 2010 entry draft. Until Souray is either dealt or demoted and Khabibulin's future with the club is sorted out, these issues could prove unwelcome distractions throughout training camp.
Hall and Seguin debut
Having been selected first and second overall in the 2010 entry draft, Edmonton's Taylor Hall and Boston's Tyler Seguin will face intense scrutiny entering their first NHL training camps. The 18-year-old forwards are considered can't-miss prospects and top candidates for this season's rookie of the year, but it'll be interesting to see how well they handle the pressure and what effect, if any, it has upon their performances as they adjust to the NHL pace.
Capitals and Canucks face great expectations
Entering this season, the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks have been considered by many observers as potential Stanley Cup finalists. Both were considered Cup contenders last season but disappointed their fans by coming up short. The Canucks and Capitals are well-stocked with talent but still have issues to be address. In Vancouver, there's concern over last season's performance of goaltending star Roberto Luongo, while the offensive-minded Capitals have to prove they can improve their defensive game. The pressure of meeting lofty expectations this season could have a significant impact –- positive or negative –- on both teams.
Can Coyotes build on last season?
Despite a year of uncertainty over their future in Phoenix, the Coyotes surprised the hockey world in 2009-10 by finishing fourth overall in the Western Conference, setting franchise records for wins (50) and points (107), making the playoffs for the first time in eight years. While their future in Phoenix remains blurry, the Coyotes' biggest concern is proving last season's success wasn't a fluke. They lost Matt Lombardi and Zbynek Michalek to free agency but re-signed Lee Stempniak and Derek Morris plus added free agent Ray Whitney. The pressure to improve will be enormous and could play a crucial role in ensuring their status beyond this season.
After floundering in recent years, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally have stable ownership and, in Steve Yzerman, a general manager who doesn't fly by the seat of his pants. Yzerman re-signed Martin St. Louis, assured Vincent Lecavalier he won't be dealt, brought back former Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina, acquired winger Simon Gagne, bolstered the goaltending by signing Dan Ellis and added character depth in Dominic Moore, Brett Clark and Randy Jones. The Bolts still have concerns regarding their overall defensive grit, but, for the first time in years, there's positive buzz about the Lightning entering training camp.
Blackhawks adjust to change
Since winning the Stanley Cup in June, the Blackhawks were forced for salary cap reasons to move eight players from their championship roster, including goalie Antti Niemi and forwards Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, replacing them with more affordable players via trades, free agency and call-ups. While the team's talented core, led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, remains intact, the club's overall team chemistry could be adversely affected by all the roster changes. That could make it considerably tougher for this team to repeat as champions.