Dylan Larkin senses optimism others do not with Red Wings

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings have been mired in a long, painful rebuild and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight from outside the organization.

The last time they made the playoffs five years ago, Dylan Larkin was a rookie. When the captain and center looks at the reshaped roster, he doesn’t have to feign optimism.

“It’s exciting, more so than any of my training camps in the past,” Larkin said. “We’ve had more competition at every part of our lineup.”

General manager Steve Yzerman, entering his third season in charge of the front office, also sees more talented players vying for playing time and yet still sounds as if he’s asking for more patience.

“I think we’re making progress, but it may not necessarily relate into wins and losses,” Yzerman said.

The Red Wings can help their chances if they start the season healthy and stay that way for their first 82-game season in two years. Larkin is recovering from a neck injury that limited him to 44 games last season. Tyler Bertuzzi is coming back from having back surgery in April.

“They’re a pair that I’d like to keep together all season if I can,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who was given a contract extension despite a career record of 177-221-62 in Detroit.

Minutes into his first practice at training camp, forward Jakub Vrana hurt his shoulder to pose a potential problem for a team that has struggled to score in recent years.

NO SHOT

Bertuzzi does not plan on being vaccinated, citing his freedom of choice.

The 26-year-old forward might end up losing more than $450,000 in salary for not playing the team’s nine games in Canada, where he will not being able to cross the border without a two-week quarantine.

The Red Wings will likely be at a disadvantage in Canada playing without a wing capable of a 50-point year if he played the entire season.

“Certainly for those games, we’ll be missing a piece of the puzzle,” Blashill said.

BACK END BOOST

Detroit drafted Moritz Seider with the No. 6 pick overall two years ago and the 6-foot-4, 197-pound German is expected to be a key player as he makes his NHL debut.

“He’s big, he’s smart, he’s got confidence,” Blashill said. “He’s got some toughness to him. He’s got the opportunity to be a really good player and we’re going to give him that opportunity to do that and then he’s got to grab it by the horns.”

SLICK MOVES

Detroit dealt the rights to pending free agent netminder Jonathan Bernier and the No. 94 pick overall in the draft to Carolina for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and gave him a $6 million, two-year deal. As a rookie with the Hurricanes, he led all goaltenders with at least 22 games with 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Yzerman signed Pius Suter to a $6.5 million, two-year deal after his promising rookie season in Chicago. The Swiss forward had 14 goals and 13 assists in 55 games with the Blackhawks.

IT’S TIME

Detroit’s turnaround is tied to its draft picks producing and the franchise needs two of them to provide more of a return on its investment.

Michael Rasmussen, drafted No. 9 in 2017, has just 30 points points in 102 games over two years. Filip Zadina, the No. 6 pick overall three years ago, just 37 points in 86 games over three seasons.

THE SLATE

Detroit will find out in its season-opening game how it stacks up with the best, hosting the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 14. The Red Wings play their first four games at home and are at Little Caesars Arena for nine matchups within the first month of the season, potentially giving them a chance to get off to a solid start.

Ottawa Senators: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Ottawa Senators.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 23-28-5 (51 points); sixth place in North Division
• Postseason: Missed playoffs. Drafted Tyler Boucher with the 10th pick.
• Offensive leaders: Brady Tkachuk (36 points), Connor Brown (21 goals)

• Free Agent AdditionsNick Holden (trade from Golden Knights), Zach Sanford (trade from Blues), Pontus Aberg, Dillon Heatherington, Kole Sherwood, Scott Sabourin
• Free Agent Subtractions: Evgenii Dadonov (traded to Golden Knights), Logan Brown (traded to Blues), Vitaly Abramov (KHL), Marcus Hogberg (SHL), Artem Anisimov, Jonathan Davidsson (Sweden), Micheal Haley, Cody Goloubef, Matthew Peca (Blues), Ryan Dzingel (Coyotes), Derek Stepan (Hurricanes)

Biggest question for Senators

• The rebuild is “done.” Now what?

The time for collecting prospects and developing them for the near-future is over for the Senators. It’s no longer about what’s coming; it’s about what’s here. 

After years of high draft picks and stockpiling talent, general manager Pierre Dorion declared at the start of training camp that the rebuild was “done” and it is time for winning days to return to Canada’s capital.

“This is going to be the fun part. The rebuild is done,” Dorion said. “Now we’re stepping into a different zone I would call it.”

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

There’s plenty for Senators fans to be excited about. Sure, the Brady Tkachuk negotiations are taking much longer than anyone would want, but it’ll get done. Once he’s in camp, he’ll join a lineup loaded with promising and currently productive players all under the age of 24 like Tim Stützle, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot, among others.

Playoffs is not an expectation just yet for this group. It would be nice, but where the Senators are at right now if you’re Dorion you want to see those next steps in development taking place. You want to see the pieces fall into place. 

The rebuild is over. It’s to finally see some progress.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Dorion’s summer was spent keeping key pieces like Drake Batherson, Artem Zub, Victor Mete, and Filip Gustavsson in the fold. Tkachuk still needs an extension, but even after that Dorion will have plenty of room to work with should he need to add.

As Tkachuk waits on a new deal, the Senators are a little over $22 million below the ceiling, per Cap Friendly. There’s more than enough room there to add a piece or two if the “Why not us?” mantra leads to them in the mix for an Atlantic Division playoff spot later in the season.

shane pinto
André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Breakout Candidate

• Shane Pinto

Their second-round pick in 2019, the 20-year-old center played 12 games with the Senators last season. He recorded seven points in that brief stint, showing promise after a productive NCAA career with North Dakota.

Pinto played all over last season, earning time on both the power play and penalty kill units. The question will be if the Senators feel there’s room for him on the opening night roster, or if he will start in the AHL and be brought in later in the season. He didn’t waste much time getting the 2021-22 season off to a good start:

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Senators

The kids are all right. The youthful mixture of talent, plus a happily re-signed Tkachuk, results in a 2021-22 Senators team that is competitive and not an easy two points. There is opportunity back in the Atlantic Division take make a run at a Wild Card spot, but it will be reliant on the rebuild actually being “done” and not extended by another year.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Senators

Steps are taken back and not forward, and goaltender Matt Murray does not bounce back from a forgettable first season in Ottawa. He’s on the hook with a $6.25 million cap hit through 2023-24, but Filip Gustavsson is waiting in the wings to take over.

What would really derail a potential season of promise is a prolonged Tkachuk negotiation. Likely the next captain of the franchise, he’s already missed the start of camp and unless progress is made soon, regular season games could be threatened.

PointsbetOttawa Senators’ Stanley Cup odds

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL suspends Capitals’ McIlrath, Senators’ Greig

The NHL handed out two suspensions related to preseason games on Monday.

  • The biggest punishment went to Capitals defenseman Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath was suspended four games (two in the preseason, two in the regular season) for an illegal hit to the head on Bruins forward Steven Fogarty.

You can watch McIlrath’s hit on Fogarty in the video above, which also includes the NHL’s explanation for the four-game suspension. During the preseason game itself, McIlrath received a match penalty for that hit on Fogarty.

  • Senators forward Ridly Greig received a two-game suspension (one preseason, one regular season) for cross-checking Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Here’s the explanation video for Greig’s suspension:

Sportsnet notes that Dubois needed 15 stitches from that Greig cross-check. Even so, Dubois understood why it happened.

“I don’t think he did it on purpose,” Dubois said. “I think he just got scared, threw his stick up. He saw me coming and threw his stick up to defend himself, which is obviously against the rules for an obvious reason. It is what it is.”

Luckily, Dubois was able to return to the Jets’ preseason game against the Senators.

It’s worth noting that the NHL hopes to address cross-checking during the 2021-22 season, and that include an increase in related suspensions. For more details on how that may change, check out this deep dive by Scouting the Refs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.

NHL says it will have ‘tighter standard of enforcement’ for cross-checking this season

The NHL has had a cross-checking problem for some time now. Not just the fact that it happens on a consistent basis and can result in injury, but that it has not been consistently enforced by the league’s on-ice officials. Especially when it comes to battles for positioning in front of the net.

The league claims it is looking to change that this season.

As the 2021-22 season approaches, the NHL has said there will be a tighter standard for the enforcement of rule 59 (the cross-checking rule) in the hopes of calling more penalties and giving offensive players a better opportunity to shine.

On Friday, the league sent out a video highlighting some of the plays that will be penalized this season.

By the wording of the rule, all of them should have been penalized in previous years.

The NHL has seemingly always operated under the assumption that cross-checking is just one of those things that happens around the net. While it does get called fairly regularly, there are probably even more infractions that go uncalled over the course of any random game.

In previous years the NHL has tried to crack down on other infractions and call them more frequently, including interference and most recently slashing.

There is no doubt that early in the season we will see an increase in cross-checking calls and more power plays.

They key is going to be how long that continues.

Panthers open training camp with very high expectations

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jonathan Huberdeau stepped onto the ice Thursday for his 10th training camp with the Florida Panthers, more than anyone else on the roster.

And this one, he said, had a different feel.

“We know what we can do,” Huberdeau said.

There hasn’t been a Panthers season with expectations this high in a generation. Coming off what was by far the best regular season in team history and having most of that core back along with its top six scorers, Florida opened camp on Thursday with perhaps more optimism than ever.

“I think expectations are not a bad thing,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think internally there’s expectations, as teammates, as linemates. I think that’s a healthy situation to be in. Our division is going to be in a position where you’re going to have to have a heck of a year just to make the playoffs.”

Florida went 37-14-5 last season in the truncated, play-only-your-own-division season necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. The .705 winning percentage was fourth-best in the NHL but still didn’t amount to playoff success. The Panthers lost in a first-round matchup to Tampa Bay in six games, and the Lightning went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

That meant Florida’s playoff drought — no series wins since 1996 — continued.

“We know we had our opportunity last year and we really let it slip a little bit,” said winger Patric Hornqvist, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. “We got beat there against Tampa in a really good series, but if we can play that over … it felt like we gave them a few games. I’m not saying we were better than them, but it felt like we have more to give. And I think this year is going to be our turn and we’re going to make sure we don’t let it slip like that.”

Training camps in the NHL go by in an instant. The Panthers have only three days of practices before opening their preseason with a pair of games Sunday against Nashville. They brought 47 players into camp, and there aren’t a ton of jobs available — but Quenneville is giving everyone a look.

They went in two sessions on Thursday for about an hour apiece of on-ice work, with things being split up as equitably as possible.

“Conditioning is part of it, getting a little bit of structure in how we have to play,” Quenneville said. “The repetitions as you go through practicing and games is going to be very familiar. Players will make the decisions for us by how they play and how they compete. … It’s a good situation.”

NO MASKS

Unlike last season, Quenneville and his coaching staff were able to be on the ice without wearing masks Thursday — a sign that the Panthers are fully vaccinated.

“We don’t have to worry about any of that stuff,” Quenneville said.

GOALIE MATTERS

The presumed No. 1 and No. 2 goalies entering the season — Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight — were in different sessions of camp Thursday. Quenneville said he has some idea how he wants to handle the goaltending situation, with Bobrovsky coming off an unsteady year and Knight making a quick splash upon joining the Panthers when his final college season ended last fall.

Bobrovsky “made some adjustments” to his game in the offseason, Quenneville said.

“Bob’s going to have the workload and Spence will push him in some areas and some ways,” Quenneville said. “I think it’s a good, healthy situation. Bob gets the net and Spencer’s going to be the guy learning and absorbing.”

NHL Injury Roundup: Evgeni Malkin to miss two months; Backstrom sidelined

NHL training camps opened on Thursday and we are starting to get some early injury information on who will be ready for the start of the season, and who might not be ready.

The big news on Thursday was probably the expected update on the Jack Eichel situation in Buffalo where he failed his physical, there remains a difference of opinion on surgery options, and the team stripped him of his captaincy. Bad situation all around. But that is not the only significant news of the day.

Here are a few other significant updates.

Evgeni Malkin to miss at least two months

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to open the 2021-22 season without their two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at center.

Crosby is going to miss a few weeks as he recovers from a recent wrist procedure, while Malkin will remain sidelined as he continues to make his way back from offseason surgery. Malkin’s absence has been expected, we just did not have any idea on the timeline for a potential return. General manager Ron Hextall confirmed on Thursday morning that it will be at least two months.

With Crosby and Malkin sidelined at the start that will means Jeff Carter will open the season as the team’s No. 1 center with Teddy Blueger likely sliding into the second line role until Crosby is able to return.

Not an ideal situation by any means, and certainly makes the offseason trade of Jared McCann (something that was almost certainly forced by the expansion draft) seem even more significant.

The Penguins have found some success in the past with Crosby and Malkin sidelined, but it is still going to be a significant challenge to open the year.

Nicklas Backstrom dealing with hip issue

Crosby and Malkin are not the only centers dealing with some injury issues at the start of the season. The Washington Capitals announced on Thursday morning that top center Nicklas Backstrom willl miss the start of training camp and is currently listed as “week-to-week” as he continues to rehab a hip issue that has bothered him since this past season.

Backstrom has had hip issues in the past, so it is a bit of a concern that he is currently sidelined to start the season.

If it turns out to be something that lingers into the season the team does still have Evgeny Kuznetsov on the roster to take over that top spot. Kuznetsov was the subject of trade rumors and speculation all offseason but said on Thursday he is not surprised to still be in Washington and is motivated to have a big season.

Whether Backstrom is healthy or not, the Capitals need Kuznetsov to return to the form he showed two years ago.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

Mike Hoffman doubtful for start of season

The Montreal Canadiens underwent a lot of change this offseason and Mike Hoffman was one of the more significant additions. But coach Dominique Ducharme announced on Thursday that Hoffman sustained a lower-body injury before arriving in Montreal and is doubtful to start the regular season on time.

He scored 17 goals and 19 assists in 52 games for the St. Louis Blues a year ago.

In other Canadiens news, starting goalie Carey Price failed his physical at the start of camp. The Canadiens are hopeful he can appear in at least one preseason game and be ready for the start of the regular season, but that is not yet a guarantee.

Ben Bishop not yet cleared for game action

After missing the entire 2020-21 season Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop is able to participate in training camp, but he is not yet cleared for game action according to general manager Jim Nill.

He missed last season after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus.

The Stars are still pretty set in goal with Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger returning, while also having signed veteran Braden Holtby to a one-year contract in free agency.

The Stars also anticipate forward Roope Hintz to be ready for the start of the regular season as he continues to work his way back from offseason surgery.

Devon Toews expected to miss some games

Some significant news for the Colorado Avalanche as they will be without one of their top defenseman, Devon Toews, for the start of the season as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

The Avalanche acquired Toews before the start of the 2020-21 season for two draft picks and he immediately became one of their top defenders. He scored nine goals with 22 assists in 53 games, while also posting tremendous possession numbers. He has been a steal for general manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche.

The Avalanche also lost Ryan Graves this offseason, trading him to the New Jersey Devils.

They still have Cale Makar and Sam Girard to lead the defense, while top prospect Bowen Byram (the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft) is knocking on the door. So it should still be an elite defense.

Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Montreal Canadiens.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 24-21-11 (59 points) fourth place in North Division
• Postseason: Lost Stanley Cup Final in five games to Lightning
• Offensive leader: Tyler Toffoli (52 games, 28 goals, 16 assists, 44 points)

• Free Agent Additions: David Savard, Christian Dvorak (trade with Arizona), Mike Hoffman, Mathieu Perrault
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Hurricanes offer sheet), Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault

Biggest question facing the Montreal Canadiens?

• Have they done enough to replace what they have lost?

The Canadiens stunned the hockey world this postseason by going on a shocking run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, beating Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas along the way. Carey Price played a huge role in that, but a couple of the players that contributed are no longer going to be around this season. Phillip Danault, a consistent Selke Trophy contender, is now in Los Angeles. Tomas Tatar did not play much in the playoffs but has been the Canadiens’ leading scorer the past three seasons, is now in New Jersey. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a Hurricane after signing a restricted free agent offer sheet. They will also be without veteran defender Shea Weber, whose career seems to be in jeopardy at this point thanks to injuries.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

That is a lot of talent either leaving or not being available.

There is also the inevitable regression that might come from a player like Tyler Toffoli who had a career year.

Hoffman can score goals, but they might lose a little on the defensive end with him. Dvorak might be a short-term upgrade over Kotkaniemi, but he does not have the long-term upside. Weber to Savard is a pretty big downgrade on the blue line.

Then there is the fact they are going from the North Division back to an Atlantic Division with Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, and Florida. Finishing above fifth place is going to be a real challenge.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Canadiens are pressed right up against the upper limits of the league salary cap and have a lot of long-term contracts on the roster. They will get some relief with Weber going on LTIR, but beyond that they do not have a lot of flexibility in future seasons while players like Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov are restricted free agents after this season (and Cole Caufield in two years).

They have 11 players signed for at least the next three seasons, with eight of them counting more than $4 million against the salary cap. Most of those players are in their late 20s or 30s. That includes the $18 million they have committed to Price (34) and Weber (36).

Breakout Candidate

• Cole Caufield

The obvious breakout candidate here. We only saw Caufield for 30 games last year (10 regular season, 20 playoffs) but they were very exciting. He scored eight goals and 17 total points in those games, which comes out to a 22-goal, 45-point pace over 82 games. Not bad for a 20-year-old in his first taste of NHL action.

He is one player on this team that has game-breaking ability and superstar potential. He can be a one-man highlight reel when he is on the ice and should be considered one of the early favorites for the Calder Trophy.

Best-Case Scenario

If Carey Price and Jake Allen give them quality goaltending they are going to have a chance to compete every night, and there is a solid core of forwards in place here. Suzuki and Caufield taking big steps forward will be the biggest X-factor here, as will the return of Jonathan Drouin. Brendan Gallagher is one of the most underrated players in the league and an elite play driver, so you know his line will perform, but they also need Toffoli to duplicate his 2020-21 performance and for Josh Anderson to find some consistency. Making the playoffs in this division is going to be tough, and expecting a repeat of last year’s playoff run is expecting way too much, but they should be competitive.

Worst-Case Scenario

While Price is clearly still capable of putting the team on his shoulders and carrying it for long stretches of time, he does not do that as consistently as he once did. If the goaltending is not there for this team, it is going to make it awfully difficult to stay competitive in that division. Even with young talent like Suzuki and Caufield at the top of the roster.

PointsbetMontreal Canadiens Stanley Cup odds

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Jack Eichel fails physical, stripped of Sabres’ captaincy

Jack Eichel will no longer be the captain of the Sabres, general manager Kevyn Adams announced on Thursday.

“From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision,” Adams said.

Adams added that he spoke to Eichel earlier this week and then addressed the rest of the team as they arrived for the start of training camp on Wednesday.

The Sabres named Eichel captain in Oct. 2018, one year after the 21-year-old signed an eight-year, $80 million extension. Since then, Buffalo has posted a 78-104-25 record with zero playoff appearances.

Eichel, as expected, failed his physical as he continues to deal with a herniated disk in his neck. The Sabres want him to get a neck fusion surgery, but Eichel prefers cervical disk replacement surgery, a procedure never performed on an NHL player. Per the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have the final say on how injuries are treated.

“We have absolute trust in our doctors. They are the medical experts. They’ve been consistent since day one,” Adams said. “They’ve never wavered from what they think should be the next step, and if something else was done, they would be uncomfortable with it.”

Eichel, who injured his neck during a game in March, will begin the season on long-term injured reserve.

As trade rumors bubbled up over the summer and this situation continued to play out between player and team, Eichel fired his agent and hired Pat Brisson to represent him to expedite the process. But the two sides do not appear to be any closer to a resolution.

Eichel’s full no-move clause kicks in next summer.

“If we have an opportunity to [improve the roster], and we feel it’s the right thing for the franchise, then we’ll do it,” Adams said. “But if there was a solution over the summer, and we thought it made sense, then we would have done it. Obviously that’s not the case.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues add Peter Chiarelli, Ken Hitchcock to front office

The St. Louis Blues announced a couple of significant changes to their front office on Wednesday, officially adding Peter Chiarelli and Ken Hitchcock to the staff.

Chiarelli will take over as the team’s V.P. of Hockey Operations, while Hitchcock will join the staff as a coaching consultant.

He will replace Dave Taylor in that role, who will take on a new role as a senior advisor to hockey operations.

Hitchcock previously served as Blues head coach between 2011 and 2017 and is second on the team’s all-time wins list. Along with the Blues, he also coached in Dallas, Columbus, Philadelphia, and Edmonton.

Obviously both names are very prominent around the NHL given the roles they have held. Both have won Stanley Cups (Hitchcock as a head coach in Dallas; Chiarelli as general manager in Boston) and been in positions of power for years.

Chiarelli is probably the most significant hiring given the responsibility he is going to have in the front office. It is also fascinating given how his past two general manager jobs (Boston and Edmonton) have ended, specifically his time with the Oilers and the types of trades he has made over the years in both Boston and Edmonton. Not only did the Oilers fail to find success despite the presence of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and several high draft picks, but the team was left with a tough salary cap situation and depleted NHL roster around the two superstars.

Doug Armstrong remains in place as Blues general manager, while Craig Berube still holds the head coaching position.