Skip to Main Content
Return to Play

NHL training camp storylines ahead of Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Teams who changed coaches during season, underperforming players among those to watch

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The 24 NHL teams playing in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will begin training camp Monday and have less than two weeks before they head to Toronto and Edmonton, where play will start Aug. 1.

The Qualifiers will see the top four teams in each conference, based on points percentage, play a three-game round-robin, and the No. 5-12 seeds playing in eight best-of-5 series under the NHL Return to Play Plan. The winners of those series will advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the four teams from the round-robin. The 12 participating Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto, and the 12 Western Conference teams will play in Edmonton; teams will travel to the hub cities July 26.

With camps opening, here are some key storylines to watch:

 

[RELATED: NHL, NHLPA ratify CBA extensionStanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

 

How coaches handle training camp

Rod Brind'Amour said most players hate traditional training camp, so the Carolina Hurricanes coach won't treat the next two weeks as such. Instead, Brind'Amour said he's going to treat it for what it is, a return to play, meaning getting the players to pick up where they left off when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The players have not been in a formal practice setting for four months, so pushing too hard too soon could result in injuries.

"It's not training camp," New York Rangers coach David Quinn said. "I know everybody is going to use those words, but it's not training camp. Time is of the essence. It's going to be a balancing act of pushing everybody, getting in the best shape possible without getting anybody injured, creating as much gamelike situations as possible in practice. There's opportunity for everybody, and a lot of hockey games are going to be won between when we start practicing and when the first game starts."

 

The advantage goes to …

Former NHL goalie Brian Boucher, an "NHL on NBC" analyst, said recently on the NHL @TheRink podcast that he believes shooters could be ahead of the goalies, creating what might be high-scoring games early in the resumption of play.

That will depend partly on how quickly the goalies can get their games in order. Boucher said that will be a challenge because it's hard to recreate gamelike situations for goalies in practice.

"For the goaltenders it's awfully difficult when you get out of game situations and you just practice," he said. "That can be difficult for goaltenders to maintain their timing, maintain their sharpness. That's why you see a lot of goalies who were once starters but are now backups really struggle in that role because it's really difficult to get that time, to maintain that sharpness."

 

Youth versus experience

There are two theories regarding which teams might have the advantage in getting up to speed in training camp.

Is it better to be a team that is younger and has fewer miles on its collective bodies but also less experience, like the Rangers (average age 26.3 years), Toronto Maple Leafs (26.8), Winnipeg Jets (27.3) and Colorado Avalanche (27.4)?

Or is it better to be a more experienced but older team, like the Boston Bruins (28.4), Pittsburgh Penguins (28.5), Vegas Golden Knights (29.3), Nashville Predators (29.4) and Washington Capitals (29.6)?

"I honestly think that the teams that are going to come back and look good are the really young teams," Bruins left wing Brad Marchand said in April. "... Really high-end skill teams. They're going to have the legs. They're going to be able to get it back quick. But older teams are really going to struggle."

 

Fresh starts for underperforming players

Sergei Bobrovsky, Phil Kessel and Jamie Benn are among the prominent players who could benefit from a fresh start.

Bobrovsky, the Florida Panthers goalie who signed a seven-year contract last July, was 23-19-6 with an NHL career-low 3.23 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, the second-worst of his career, in 50 games this season.

Kessel was limited to 14 goals, including an NHL career-low five at even strength, and 38 points in 70 games for the Arizona Coyotes. The right wing was bothered by nagging injuries but didn't miss a game; he has played in 844 straight.

Benn had 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) in 69 games for the Dallas Stars and was on pace for 46 points, which would have been the left wing's fewest in a full season since he scored 41 points (22 goals, 19 assists) as a rookie in 2009-10. He had one goal in Dallas' last 13 games.

Video: BUF@ARI: Kessel cleans up Goligoski shot on doorstep

 

Newer coaches get their training camps

Peter DeBoer (Golden Knights) and John Hynes (Predators) did not have a chance to go through training camp with their teams because they were hired in January. Dean Evason was the coach for the Minnesota Wild for 12 games before the pause.

All three could benefit from having time to go over system play and potentially implement more of their offense, defense, power-play and penalty-kill ideas.

DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15. Vegas went 15-5-2 in its next 22 games.

"I think with our situation, Pete had 22 games where he coached and guys know what he stresses, what he stands for, what he wants," Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Sunday. "I think this is a great opportunity. It's back to school, really. It's really valuable for us in large part to be picking up on all the things he implemented on the fly."

Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette on Jan. 7. Nashville went 16-11-1 in its next 28 games before the pause.

Evason replaced Bruce Boudreau on Feb. 14. The Wild went 8-4-0.

 

Deadline acquisitions get their training camps too

Brady Skjei, Vincent Trocheck and Sami Vatanen were acquired by the Hurricanes on Feb. 24, the day of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, to bolster a team that was pushing for a playoff spot.

Skjei, a defenseman traded from the Rangers, and Trocheck, a center traded from the Panthers, played seven games for Carolina before the pause. Vatanen, a defenseman traded from the New Jersey Devils, was injured and never got into a game.

Now they will have a chance to start fresh with their new teammates and prepare in camp.

"Those guys never really got a good feel for it, we just had to throw them in the mix," Brind'Amour said. "You'd hope that it helps them and hope that it gets them a little more comfortable with what we're doing. We know we're going to have a couple of weeks, so that can only help us."

Other players who changed teams shortly before the pause and could benefit from camp include: Bruins forward Ondrej Kase (traded from the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 21); New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (traded from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 24); Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Blake Coleman (traded from the Devils on Feb. 16) and Barclay Goodrow (traded from the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 24); Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk (traded from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 23); Edmonton Oilers forward Andreas Athanasiou (traded from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 24); Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez (traded from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 19); and Vancouver Canucks forward Tyler Toffoli (traded from the Kings on Feb. 17).

Each of them played 10 or fewer games with his new team after being traded.

Video: CAR@NYI: Trocheck cleans up rebound for OT winner

 

Expanded rosters could mean surprises

Teams are allowed to have up to 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies in training camp, which means there will be players who spent the majority of the season in another league vying for a roster spot. In all likelihood, several will make it.

The Predators might want forward Eeli Tolvanen for their power play, which was tied for 24th in the NHL (Islanders, 17.3 percent) this season. Tolvanen scored seven power-play goals in 63 games with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League this season. He was fourth in the AHL with 191 shots.

The Bruins could turn to Jack Studnicka in a bottom-six center role. He had 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games with Providence of the AHL.

Morgan Geekie had four points (three goals, one assist) in two games with the Hurricanes before the pause as an emergency call-up. The forward is expected to be given an opportunity to earn a bottom-six role. He had 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 55 games with Charlotte of the AHL.

 

Veteran goalies looking to hold on

Henrik Lundqvist (10-12-3, 3.16 GAA, .905 save percentage) made four starts in the Rangers' final 30 games, relegated to third string behind rookie Igor Shesterkin (10-2-0, 2.52, .932) and Alexandar Georgiev (17-14-2, 3.04, .910). But Lundqvist enters camp seemingly on equal footing with Shesterkin and Georgiev because of his experience and his success against Carolina. He was 3-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .947 save percentage against the Hurricanes this season and is 33-12-1 with a 2.00 GAA and .934 save percentage in 46 games against them.

In his 15th NHL season, he may not be the favorite to start Game 1 for New York (37-28-5, .564 points percentage), the No. 11 seed in the East, against Carolina (38-25-5, .564), the No. 6 seed, but Lundqvist will have a chance that he likely would not have had if the season hadn't been paused.

"You can make a case for all three guys," Quinn said.

Similarly, longtime No. 1 goalies Braden Holtby in Washington and Pekka Rinne in Nashville will try to hold off up-and-coming backups Ilya Samsonov and Juuse Saros.

In 48 games (47 starts), Holtby was 25-14-6 but a had 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage, both NHL career lows. Samsonov was 16-6-2 with a 2.55 GAA and .913 save percentage in 26 games (22 starts).

Rinne (18-4-4, 3.17, .895) lost the No. 1 job before the pause. Saros (17-12-4, 2.70, .914) played in 17 of the Predators' final 21 games, starting 15 (11-4-0, 2.14, .936); Rinne was 2-3-1 (4.14, .887) in his six starts.

Video: NYR@CAR: Lundqvist makes 45 saves in Rangers win

 

Goalie battles across the NHL

There will be more intriguing goalie decisions before the puck drops on Aug. 1.

Will the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek (21-16-2, 2.69 GAA, .905 save percentage) or James Reimer (14-6-2, 2.66, .914)?

Can Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2, 3.35, .890) get his No. 1 job back with the Wild, or is Alex Stalock (20-11-4, 2.67, .910) going to take it for the rest of the season?

The Columbus Blue Jackets have to decide between two inexperienced goalies: Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60, .911), and Elvis Merzlikins (13-9-8, 2.35, .923).

It's the same for the Avalanche with Philipp Grubauer (18-12-4, 2.63, .916) and Pavel Francouz (21-7-4, 2.41, .923).

The Oilers will choose between Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3, 2.75, .917) and Mike Smith (19-12-6, 2.95, .902).

David Rittich (24-17-6, 2.97, .907) had been the Calgary Flames' consistent No. 1 this season, but he and Cam Talbot (12-10-1, 2.63, .919) each made six starts in the final 12 games and Talbot had better numbers, going 5-2-0 with a 2.42 GAA and .922 save percentage versus Rittich's 2-2-1, 3.71 and .885.

Will it be two-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray (20-11-5, 2.87, .899) or Tristan Jarry (20-12-1, 2.43, .921) for the Penguins?

And will former Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (27-16-5, 2.77, .905) keep his No. 1 job with Vegas, or will Robin Lehner take it from him? Lehner (19-10-5, 2.89, .920) went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .940 save percentage in three starts after the Golden Knights acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade Feb. 24.

View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.