NHL Preview

Slam Sports staff

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

With NHL rookie camps opening and full-blown training camps just a few days away, itís beginning to feel a lot like Christmas for hockey fans across Canada.

You can almost feel the air getting cooler as hockey begins to swirl across this land.

With rookies and other prospects hitting the ice in NHL centres across North America this weekend, Slam! offers up a primer for the six Canadian teams. It will help you get started for when training camps open up for real next week.

OTTAWA SENATORS

The Ottawa Senators' starting roster might be a tough nut to crack in training camp.

With Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher firmly entrenched at the top of the Sens' crop of forwards, 12 players will head to Ottawa to fight for the final seven spots.

Rookies Jesse Winchester and Josh Hennessy, free agent agitator Jarkko Ruutu and former Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister have been brought in to challenge Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Christoph Schubert (who can also play defence), Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, Nick Foligno and Cody Bass.

Defensively, the Sens took a big hit by losing Wade Redden to free agency and trading Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning after they were unable to sign him.

Replacing those two are Jason Smith, an on-ice leader wherever he plays, and Filip Kuba, who is a defensive liability at times but has some offensive potential. They join Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Schubert, Brian Lee, Alexandre Picard and ex-Leaf Brendan Bell at camp.

In net, Martin Gerber is breathing a big sigh of relief after Ray Emery was finally let go by the club in July, eventually landing a job in Russia's new Kontinental Hockey League after receiving little interest from other NHL teams. Backing up Gerber will be journeyman Alex Auld.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

The Montreal Canadiens might not be done augmenting their lineup before the NHL season starts next month.

General manager Bob Gainey still has roughly $6 million in cap space to improve his club through a trade before the season starts. Gainey did indicate that he has no interest in signing any more free agents, except Mats Sundin.

Replacing departed forwards Michael Ryder and Brian Smolinski are Alex Tanguay, who is likely destined to play on the first or second line, and Georges Laraque, who will police the ice after the Habs went without an enforcer last season.

But their biggest loss was Mark Streit, who bolted for the New York Islanders in the offseason. Streit, who can play forward and defence, broke out with 62 points in 81 games last season.

With Streit gone, the Canadiens still have Andrei Markov, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Josh Gorges and Ryan O'Byrne on their roster.

Returning forwards Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, Tom Kostopoulos, Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre round out the roster heading into camp.

Sophomore Carey Price was anointed the No. 1 goaltender after the Habs shipped Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals at the February trade deadline and made Jan Halak his backup.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The big question with the Toronto Maple Leafs is the same one that is affecting the entire NHL: Is Mats Sundin coming back?

Not only is Sundin the incumbent team captain, his salary was the biggest last year at more than $5 million per season. Sundin is certainly not rushing into a decision on his future, which has impacted more clubs than just Toronto. As an unrestricted free agent, the high scoring Swede is in demand.

Handcuffed by no-trade clauses at last seasonís trade deadline, the Leafs did manage to unload Hal Gill, Wade Belak and Chad Kilger. Over the summer former no-trade holdouts Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe bowed to pressure and also left the organizations.

Other significant players to leave over the summer were goaltender Andrew Raycroft and centre Kyle Wellwood, both of whom were put on waivers. Raycroft has since signed with the Avalanche while Wellwood was claimed by the Canucks.

New additions to Toronto are plentiful. The most recognizable name in the pack is Curtis Joseph. Back for a second stint with the Leafs, the 41 year-old Cujo signed as a free agent for $700,000 for one year.

Other free agent signings for the Leafs include forward Niklas Hagman and defenceman Jeff Finger.

Players coming in from trades include defenceman Mike Van Ryn from the Panthers, wingers Jamal Mayers from the Blues and Ryan Hollweg from the Rangers and centre Mikhail Grabovski from the Canadiens.

Potential Leafs new to the NHL include Swedish defenceman Jonas Frogren. Drafted by Calgary ten years ago, the 28 year-old has been in Sweden ever since.

The Leafs' top prospect is Luke Schenn. Taken fifth overall in the 2008 entry draft, the big defenceman probably has the best chance to make the team of any of the prospects.

Of the Leafs who remain from last season, Tomas Karberle, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Vesa Toskala, Alexander Steen, Matt Stajan, Mark Bell, Jason Blake and Pavel Kubina all seem to be assured of roster spots.

Sometime Leaf, sometime Marlie Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman and Carlo Colaiacovo will also been in the mix.

The other big question for the Leafs will be how new coach Ron Wilson fares. Although he has been an NHL head coach for many seasons, this will be his first stint in the media fishbowl that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

EDMONTON OILERS

There are plenty of new faces in Oil Country, starting right at the top of the organizational chart.

During the off-season Kevin Lowe received a promotion to president of hockey operations and former Canucks assistant GM Steve Tambellini moved into the general managerís chair.

In addition to keeping the likes of Shawn Horcoff, Tom Gilbert, Zack Stortini, Robert Nilsson and Marc Pouliot happy with new, multi-year deals, the Oilers added some new blood via the trade route.

Erik Cole, Lubomir Visnovsky and Gilbert Brule were brought in at the expense of Joni Pitkanen, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene. Free-agent defenceman Jason Strudwick signed a one-year deal after three years with the New York Rangers, giving the Oilers some depth on the blueline.

With most jobs already accounted for, it remains to be seen if Brule and Rob Schremp, possibly the Oilers top prospect, will stick with the team.

Oilersí rookies, including 2008 first-round pick Jordan Eberle and 2005 first-rounder Ryan OíMarra, who came over from the Isles in the Ryan Smyth trade, will take part in a three-team tournament also involving the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks this weekend in Camrose.

CALGARY FLAMES

Regardless of everything else the Flames did in the off-season, one simple free-agent signing caused quite a buzz.

Long-time rival Todd Bertuzzi, one of the most reviled players to ever visit the Saddledome, inked a one-year contract in July. The move was greeted by mixed reactions from Flames supporters.

Joining Bertuzzi as new Flames are Rene Bourque, Mike Cammalleri and ex-Oiler Curtis Glencross. Bourque and Cammalleri were both acquired in trades while Glencross signed a three-year contract as a free agent.

Out up front are Owen Nolan, Kristian Huselius, Stephane Yelle and Eric Godard and back-up goaltender Curtis Joseph has joined the Maple Leafs.

That may have opened the door for prospects like Mikael Backlund, a recent first-round pick, and Daniel Ryder, who walked away from hockey last fall but has apparently rediscovered his love of the game.

GM Darryl Sutter hasnít added much on the blueline over the summer but he did let David Hales go and placed Anders Eriksson and Rhett Warrener on waivers. They are both still with the club, though.

With Miikka Kiprusoff solid as the number one goalie, prospects Curtis McElhinney, Leland Irving and Matt Keetley will battle for the back-up job.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The Canucks made news over the summer with a huge offer to unrestricted free agent Mats Sundin. Twenty million dollars for two years turned a lot of heads, including that of the Leafs' captain.

Free agents that did accept the Canucks offers include forwards Ryan Shannon, Rick Rypien, Mike Brown and defencemen Nathan McIver, Zach FitzGerald and James Sharrow. All were restricted.

On the unrestricted free agent front, Vancouver has brought in forwards Pavol Demitra, Ryan Johnson, Darcy Hordichuk and goalie Curtis Sanford. Forward Kyle Wellwood was picked up from the Leafs off waivers.

After being traded from the Sabres to Vancouver, restricted free agent Steve Bernier was approached by St. Louis. The Canucks matched the offer and retained the forward.

At $7,000,000 per season, Roberto Luongo is the highest paid Canuck and will be expected to earn it.

Apart from Demitra, the Canucks were unable to attract any big names in the off-season.

But then again, no news from Sundin might be good news for the Canucks.


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