Exactly 100 days after the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Florida Panthers to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, training camps open around NHL THURSDAY.
The Golden Knights bring back almost the same team in their attempt to repeat while the Panthers are still licking their wounds after injuries piled up during their run to the Finals. Coloradonow over a year away from lifting the Cup and missing captain Gabriel Landeskog for another season, enters camp as favorites to win it all again.
The biggest questions are found in places like Columbus, AnaheimCarolina and Calgary: How the Blue Jackets will handle a last-minute coaching change, what will happen with unsigned Ducks star Trevor Zegras, and whether the Hurricanes and Flames are among the teams with a trade or two to go in the coming weeks and months.
The hot topics on and off the ice before the 2023-24 NHL season kicks off on October 10:
IS VEGAS READY TO REPEAT?
Fresh off helping lead Vegas to the Cup, Jack Eichel asked his buddies who had played through June how they recovered for the following season.
“The message they conveyed is: ‘You’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel at training camp, after training a little less and maybe spending a little less time in the gymnasium,’” Eichel said. “Maybe more so now than in previous summers, it’s about trying to have a healthy body and feel good going into camp.”
The Golden Knights should be happy with their continuity after keeping free agent goaltender Adin Hill and forward Ivan Barbashev and losing only Reilly Smith via trade from the group that played most of the playoffs.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Avalanche are the betting favorite at just under 9-1, followed by the Hurricanes at just under 10-1. The Golden Knights are sixth with a 13-1 record.
How messed up is Florida?
Matthew Tkachuk fractured his sternum in the final, an injury he suffered before missing Game 5. Rehab has taken longer than expected, but the Hart Trophy finalist as league MVP and Panthers’ playoff leading scorer appears ready to go.
“I feel really good now,” Tkachuk said. “Look at the glass half full: I didn’t miss 30 games or 20 games during the regular season. I’ve had the summer to get it back and hope to get off to a good start.
The rest of his team isn’t so lucky. Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour underwent shoulder surgery and each defenseman could be out until mid-December.
WHAT NOW FOR COLUMBUS?
Nothing like a forced resignation of a polarizing Stanley Cup-winning coach to shake things up for the Blue Jackets. Mike Babcock resigned Sunday after asking to see photos on players’ phones as part of a reconciliation effort that led to an NHLPA investigation and Pascal Vincent was named his replacement.
It all happened over the last week or so, and the owners said there would be no changes to the front office led by president of hockey operations John Davidson and longtime general manager Jarmo Kekalainen at this time because “additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp.”
Vincent, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant under former coach Brad Larsen, has a two-year contract and perhaps more respect from the players.
“The advantage I have is I know these people,” Vincent said. “I’ve been with them for two years and I know they care. They really care about the team.
WHO IS NOT IN CAMP?
Zegras, Ducks teammate Jamie Drysdale and Ottawa’s Shane Pinto are among the restricted free agents without a contract for the upcoming season. Any of them could sign at any time.
Devils center Jack Hughes, when asked about Zegras last week, pleaded for the best for his close friend and former American teammate.
“I think he’s a great player, the best player on their team,” Hughes said. “He’s good for the league. He needs to come back and I hope he gets a deal done soon.
On the injury front outside of the Panthers, Washington free agent Max Pacioretty is among those not expected to be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from another torn Achilles tendon right. Former Carolina teammate Andrei Svechnikov could be limited to six months since tearing the ACL in his right knee.
After a decidedly quiet summer of trading outside of Pittsburgh with three-time Norris Trophy winner defenseman Erik Karlsson, there could still be some shuffling ahead of opening night.
Calgary has a decision to make with potential 2024 free agent Elias Lindholm, who is considered one of the best two-way centers in the league. The same goes for the Hurricanes, given their blue line logjam and the fact that Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei each have just one year left on their contracts.
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