After a few weeks of preseason hockey games, we're all ready to drop the puck on the real thing; Thursday can't get here soon enough. As we count down the minutes, I'll start this edition of the Tuesday 10 with some thoughts on NHL realignment, which should be finalized at the December Board of Governors' meeting in Florida.
Coming out of the Sept. 20 board meeting in New York, the League's governors -- for the most part -- expressed a level of comfort with the current two-conference, six-division set-up. The general sentiment was: We're doing pretty well in our present format.
So, while there are some high-level execs who feel a change to a "four conference" approach would better address some problem areas, there just doesn't seem to be enough of an appetite for dramatic change. Remember, any plan will need a two-thirds vote for approval.
Based on my reporting, the Wings or Predators most likely are the candidates to move East, replacing the Jets in the Southeast Division. Geographically, Nashville sliding alongside Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington makes the most sense; however, Detroit remains a real possibility. It's nearly a sure bet that the Atlantic and Northeast divisions will not change under any plan that keeps the six-division format.
In the West, things are a little trickier. The Wild are lobbying hard for a move to the Central Division, where they'd see more of the Blackhawks and Blues. The Stars, meanwhile, would be very interested in a similar move, allowing them to spend more time in the Central Time Zone. In the end, there doesn't seem to be a way to accommodate both of them.
Logically, the Canucks could be shifted to the Pacific Division, opening a spot for the Jets in the Northwest and the Stars in the Central. A new Pacific Division of the Canucks, Kings, Sharks, Ducks and Coyotes would make geographic sense. And it would be one powerhouse group.
In that scenario, the Wild would remain in the Northwest with the Avalanche, Jets, Oilers and Flames, while the Stars would go to the Central to join the Blackhawks, Blues, Blue Jackets and either the Wings or Predators.
If the Canucks kept their current spot in the Northwest, the Jets might be moved into the Central in a straight swap (with the Wings or Predators filling the vacancy in the Southeast). The reason for that is simple: I don't believe the League sees any sense in having a division consisting of four Canadian-based clubs and only one American-based team. I think that would be a hard sell to the Avs or Wild -- the U.S. teams that would be faced with that option.
And, of course, there's a pretty big wild card in the whole equation -- the Phoenix Coyotes. If the League can't find a new owner by the end of the season, they might have to allow the franchise to move. In that case, depending on where the Coyotes were to land on the map, the Board of Governors might need another re-alignment discussion in the fall and winter of 2012.
While Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News on Monday that starting goalie Antti Niemi is "on track" to be in goal for the club's season opener against the Coyotes on Saturday, I'm not so sure.
GoaliE, 2010-11 SEAON STATS
GAA: 2.38 | SVP: 0.920
Niemi didn't play a single second during the preseason as he recovered from early September surgery to remove a cyst from an undisclosed body part, reportedly his knee. He has been practicing, but the team might choose to err on the side of caution. Is there a good reason to rush him for Game 1 of 82?
Either way, with veteran backup Antero Niittymaki out until January, Sharks fans can expect to see some of German-born Thomas Greiss, who spent last season in the Swedish Elite League. The 25-year-old fared well during the preseason, going 4-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. A third-round pick in 2004, Greiss has a 7-5-2 career mark in limited NHL action.
In Calgary, Flames coach Brent Sutter would like to get more rest for veteran starter Miikka Kiprusoff, who has appeared in at least 71 games in each of the last six seasons.
That's why he had to be thrilled at the strong preseason turned in by backup Henrik Karlsson. The 6-foot-5 Swedish-born netminder turned back 39 of 40 shots in three preseason games, playing to a microscopic 0.50 GAA.
Certainly Kiprusoff (who turns 35 in October) remains the go-to guy, but he might be fresher for the stretch run if he lightened his load to, say, 55 or 60 games. If Karlsson can build on his training-camp work, Sutter will be more comfortable sending him to the crease.
Speaking last week on "NHL Live," Canucks GM Mike Gillis said injured forward Mason Raymond could return to action sometime in early December, if all continues to go well.
"The injury was really severe and dangerous," Gillis said. "We're going to be very patient and really conservative with him."
Raymond, 26, suffered a broken back in June as a result of a check delivered by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk in the opening moments of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. If Raymond can return from the injury, it will be a big boost for the Canucks. Raymond, among the fastest skaters in the League, is a key cog on the club's second line.
In case you're wondering, neither Claude Giroux nor Jaromir Jagr led the new-look Flyers in preseason scoring. That honor, technically, went to rookie Matt Read, who put up 7 points (2 goals).
The Flyers signed Read to a pro contract last March after he completed his senior season at Bemidji State University. According to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, the club had been eying him for a while.
"We invited him to Philadelphia (during the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals) for a game against Montreal," Holmgren said. "We tried to coax him to come out of school early, but he wanted to go back and play his senior season."
The 25-year-old Read quickly earned the confidence of Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who didn't hesitate to put Read in several different game situations throughout camp. Playing behind a strong group of forwards in Philadelphia, Read could wind up being a valuable role player for the Flyers. It will be interesting to see where he fits into the lineup when they start playing for real.
The rebuilding Senators definitely will have a young look this fall. Among those to make the opening night roster were 2011 top draft pick Mika Zibanejad and 2009 first-rounders Jared Cowen and David Rundblad.
The 18-year-old Zibanejad impressed in training camp, scoring 3 goals -- including an overtime goal against the Bruins -- in six preseason games. Last season, he played 26 games in the Swedish Elite League.
Cowen and Rundblad, both 20, join Erik Karlsson, 21, on an increasingly young Ottawa blue line. New coach Paul MacLean is hoping veterans Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba can help groom the two rookies. Cowen, in particular, had a strong preseason, totaling 3 points and a plus-3 rating in six games.
The defending champion Bruins didn't seem to have any Stanley Cup hangover during the preseason, going 4-1-1 in their six-game slate.
Captain Zdeno Chara looked ready to repeat, collecting 4 points and putting up a plus-4 rating in his three preseason games. Versatile forward Rich Peverley totaled identical numbers while skating in one more game.
Tyler Seguin, who figures to see more playing time in his second season, scored a team-high 3 goals in his four games. A natural center, Seguin will start the season on the wing, where he'll have less defensive responsibility. That's not a bad thing for a 19-year-old still looking to find his way in the NHL.
If you're looking for someone to have a breakout season, you might want to keep your eye on 21-year-old Predators forward Colin Wilson
, who had 3 goals and 4 assists in six preseason games.
CenteR, 2010-11 SEASON STATS
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 34
SOG: 101 | +/-: 9
Entering his third pro season, the former Boston University star might be ready to take things to another level. The Predators certainly figured he had that potential when they selected him with the seventh pick of the 2008 Entry Draft.
In his first full NHL season, Wilson had 16 goals and 34 points in 82 games. Come playoff time, however, he had a hard time cracking the lineup, going scoreless in three games.
In Nashville, where goals have been at a premium, coach Barry Trotz would love nothing more than to see Wilson blossom into a dangerous power forward.
The debate over whether or not it's time to move away from the long-standing touch-icing rules got another unfortunate jolt last Friday when Oilers prospect Taylor Fedun suffered a broken right femur after falling into the end boards as a result of a puck-race with Wild forward Eric Nystrom.
While the debate over the icing rules will rage on, I'm particularly disappointed for Fedun, who was pushing for a roster spot in Edmonton after totaling 3 assists and a plus-2 rating in three preseason games. I'd seen Fedun play twice at Princeton University last season, and at that time, it was pretty clear he'd get an opportunity as an undrafted free agent with some NHL team. Sadly, that opportunity ended with a violent crash into the boards. Here's hoping he has as speedy a recovery as possible.
Finally, it's nice to see that never-boring Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has joined the Twitter-verse. His handle: @coachrw63.
In his first tweet, Wilson made his opinion on the icing-rules debate crystal clear: "Need hybrid icing rule change! Have seen too many horrific injuries."
Well tweeted, coach.
Author: E.J. Hradek | NHL.com Analyst