Summer is over, time for camp

MIKE ZEISBERGER AND RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

NORTHEAST DIVISION

Boston Bruins

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Boston

Camp chatter

In a baseball-mad city where you hear the phrase "It's just Manny being Manny," incoming goalie Manny Fernandez comes to camp trying to shake off knee problems ... New coach Claude Julien likely will give Phil Kessel a more offensive role .... Glen Murray is pencilled in alongside Marc Savard on the first line, but doubts persist about his durability.

THE BIG QUESTION

Who will step up on the blue line behind Man-Mountain Chara?The defence is led by Zdeno Chara, who was minus-21 last year. After that, Andrew Alberts, Andrew Ference and AaronWard hardly conjure up images of Orr and Bourque.

BUFFALO SABRES

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Buffalo

CAMP CHATTER

Tim Connolly is now the No. 1 centre, a huge step for a guy who missed most of last season with post-concussion syndrome. That's what happens when you lose stars Daniel Briere and Chris Drury ... Drew Stafford, Michael Ryan and Clarke MacArthur will be expected to be regulars, not just compete for jobs.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can the suddenly wealthy Thomas Vanek make fans forget about Drury and Briere? Many can't understand how management couldn't keep that dynamic duo while finding the cash to match Edmonton's seven-year,$50-million US offer sheet to Vanek.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Pierrefonds, Que.

CAMP CHATTER

First Saku Koivu says the Habs can't win the Cup. Now he says they can. Already there is controversy in Montreal ... Fan favourite Guillaume Latendresse should get a shot on the second line with the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev and either Bryan Smolinski or Tomas Plekanec ... Incoming defenceman Roman Hamrlik, overpaid at more than $5 million a season, assumes the role of power-play quarterback vacated by Sheldon Souray.

THE BIG QUESTION

At the age of 20, will Carey Price push incumbent goalie Cristobal Huet? Price was a star at the world juniors and the AHL playoffs last season.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Ottawa

CAMP CHATTER

Expect the Sens to retain their offensive-minded game plan under new coachJohn Paddock, who coached a good chunk of the roster with AHL Binghamton ... Rookies Brian Lee, a defenceman, and centre Nick Foligno, son of former NHLer Mike Foligno, will get a shot at sticking but they'll have to turn some heads ... Defenceman Christoph Shubert figures to get more ice time with Tom Preissing's departure.

THE BIG QUESTION

Where will the secondary scoring come from? The big three of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are as good as it gets, but dealing Peter Schaefer's 46 points for Shean Donovan's 17 didn't help the offence.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Toronto

CAMP CHATTER

Newcomer Jason Blake is expected to start alongside Mats Sundin and either Nik Antropov or Alexei Ponikarovsky. He'll also see time on Kyle Wellwood's wing ... Mark Bell's indefinite suspension for substance abuse raises questions about his availability for exhibition games ... Swedish defenceman AntonStralman feels he'll be able to squeeze into an already crowded blue line.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will Vesa Toskala usurp Andrew Raycroft as the No. 1 goalie? On the surface the answer seems to be "yes" but management insists the job is open.. Bottom line is, there will be more than a few observers eating crow if Raycroft wins the starter's role.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, West Orange, N.J.

CAMP CHATTER

Paul Martin might not be as big a name as Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski, but he assumes the burden as the primary puck-moving defenceman after Rafalski was snapped up by Detroit ... In just his second season in the league, Winnipeg native Travis Zajac could be the first-line centre between Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias, replacing Scott Gomez ... Kevin Weekes gives the Devils their best backup goalie in years.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can Marty Brodeur again mask the Devils' warts? Off-season additions Karel Rachunek, Vitali Vishnevski and Dainius Zubrus hardly make up for the losses of Gomez and Rafalski.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Open camp: Sept. 13, Moncton, N.B.

CAMP CHATTER

Free agent after free agent snubbed owner Charles Wang's cash early on, leaving the shunned Isles with an aging top unit of Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin and Miro Satan ... Marc-Andre Bergeron, on the verge of stardom, had best get accustomed to a heavier workload after minute-munching blue liners Tom Poti and Sean Hill bid adieu to the Nassau Mausoleum.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can coach Ted Nolan work miracles with a wafer-thin lineup? Poti and Hill joined offensive cogs Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Ryan Smyth and Alexei Yashin in the mass exodus. If Nolan gets this lot into the playoffs, name him coach of the year.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Opencamp: Sept. 13, Rye, NY.

CAMP CHATTER

Inking forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez may have created a splash on Broadway but Rangers have a dubious history of free agent busts .... Drury expected to start at centre for Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka ... Gomez is slated to be the setup man for aging Brendan Shanahan ... Henrik Lundqvist should be a Vezina Trophy candidate again.

THE BIG QUESTION

Where have you gone, Brian Leetch? This team forked out millions to bolster the forward ranks instead of landing the defenceman it needed. No offence to Fedor Tutyn and friends but the defence remains the Achilles heel.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Open camp: Sept. 14, Voorhees, N.J.

CAMP CHATTER

Flyboys could have 10 new faces from the woeful squad that approached trade deadline in February ... With moneybags free-agent pickup Daniel Briere between Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, it gives them one of the top first lines in the league ...Former Preds defenceman Kimmo Timonen is power-play quarterback ... Kid Line of Scott Hartnell-Jeff Carter-Scottie Upshall has a huge upside.

THE BIG QUESTION

How much chemistry will there be with so many new player? Coach John Stevens might end up playing the role of mad scientist, mixing and matching until he discovers an effective combination.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Southpointe, Pa.

CAMP CHATTER

The biggest battle revolves around the quest to land the two jobs as Sidney Crosby's wingers. Veterans Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Petr Sykora will be vying for them, but expect Colby Armstrong and Jordan Staal to get a look-see ... Calder winner Evgeni Malkin seemed to run out of gas late in the season, but fitness fanatic Roberts should help the Russian's endurance.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will this emerging Cup contender be cursed by the blue line blues? Come playoff time you don't win many games 7-6, so the defence must find a way to shut teams down. Vet Darryl Sydor might help, but the offensively gifted Sergei Gonchar can be a nightmare in his own end.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

ATLANTA THRASHERS

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Duluth, Ga.

CAMP CHATTER

Centre Todd White must feel like he won the jackpot, bolting defensive-minded Minnesota in favour of a first-line spot centring flashy Ilya Kovalchuk ... Late-season pickup Alexei Zhitnik gives Atlanta its first legitimate power-play quarterback in years ... Expect Slava Kozlov and Marian Hossa to remain on the same line ... Niclas Havelid might be the NHL's least known 25-minute-per-game defenceman.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can Kari Lehtonen rebound from coach Bob Hartley's curious game of goalie roulette during the playoffs? Lehtonen is seen as the franchise goalie, so Hartley's decision to alternate him with Johan Hedberg during the first-round loss to the Rangers in four games was a head-scratcher.

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Raleigh, N.C.

CAMP CHATTER

All eyes will be on defencemen Frantisek Kaberle, Bret Hedican and forward Cory Stillman, who spent chunks of last season on the injury list ... Matt Cullen returns after a one-year hiatus with the Rangers and will battle Jeff Hamilton for the job as third-line centre .... Defenceman Tim Gleason will get more ice time if he turns in a good camp and exhibits the toughness and offensive upside management feels is there.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will 2006 Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward rebound from an erratic season? Don't forget Ward has been the full-time starter in only one season. The 'Canes showed they believe in Ward by giving him a three-year deal worth $8 million US.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Sunrise, Fla.

CAMP CHATTER

Tomas Vokoun will be the talk of camp and should erase memories of the Ed Belfour-Alex Auld tandem of a year ago ... Power-play point specialist Cory Murphy will be an intriguing story. The defenceman racked up 50 points with HIFK of the Finnish league last season ... Sniper Nathan Horton, who bounced from line to line last season, might see some time with slick Olli Jokinen.

THE BIG QUESTION

Is this the year the Panthers finally reach the post-season? There are no more excuses. Vokoun gives them stability in goal for the first time since the Roberto Luongo era while former first-rounders Horton, Stephen Weiss and Jay Bouwmeester must take their games to the next level.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Brandon, Fla.

CAMP CHATTER

Faced with a limited budget, GM Jay Feaster made a shrewd move by bringing in winger Michel Ouellet, the ex-Penguin. Ouellet and Brad Richards were linemates in junior and are slated to be joined by another newcomer, Jan Hlavac, on the second line ... Chris Gratton is expected to be the third-line centre ... Defenceman Dan Jancevski, who played with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs last year, will get a long look.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can the inconsistent goaltending duo of Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist rebound? They'll have to or the Lightning will be in trouble.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Arlington, Va.

CAMP CHATTER

After being disturbed at the lack of talent around him, young superstar Alexander Ovechkin should flash a smile at the sight of newcomers Michael Nylander,Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti ... Nylander likely will centre Ovechkin. ... Swedish centre Nicklas Backstom, the fourth overall pick in 2006, is being groomed as a top centre.

THE BIG QUESTION

How does a team featuring the Big O do so lousy in shootouts? Despite the presence of Ovechkin, the Caps were 1-11 in shootouts last season.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

NORTHWEST DIVISION

CALGARY FLAMES

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Calgary

CAMP CHATTER

Last year, Matthew Lombardi was given a long look to play centre with Jarome Iginla. Will another year's experience give the shifty forward the experience needed for that role? ... If Owen Nolan has enough in the tank, he'll be looked at for second-line right wing duty ... The first thought is to put Robyn Regehr with Dion Phaneuf as a defence pairing, but it's worth noting both Adrian Aucoin and Cory Sarich are right-handed shots .... Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is in the final year of a contract.

THE BIG QUESTION

Was Iron the missing element last year? Iron Mike Keenan takes over as coach for a club that fell well short of expectations. Calgary was much improved offensively, but became middle-of-the-road in the defensive game last year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Centennial, Col.

CAMP CHATTER

Ryan Smyth will team up with Joe Sakic to create a formidable first line ... If Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny avoid the sophomore jinx, scoring won't be a problem ... Scott Hannan is being paid to be a top-pairing defenceman, but the blue line crew is on the small side ... Backup goalie Jose Theodore had minor knee surgery in late August and may miss the first few days of camp.

THE BIG QUESTION

Was last year's fantastic finish -- 15-2-2 -- a sign of things to come? Colorado's torrid pace nearly resulted in a playoff spot. However, goaltending may still prevent the Avs from getting into the Elite Eight.

EDMONTON OILERS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Edmonton

CAMP CHATTER

Dustin Penner, the poached RFA from Anaheim thanks to a five-year, $21.25-million US contract, is a finisher suited to play with Ales Hemsky .... The revamped defence featuring Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen will try to prevent goals by scoring them ... Edmonton better lock up pending RFA Jarret Stoll because teams will go after the underrated forward.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will there be enough goals to make the playoffs? Last year's worst offensive team won't suddenly transform into the mid-1980s version. More goals will come from the power play and Penner could hit 40, but where else will they come from?

MINNESOTA WILD

Camp opens: Sept. 14, St. Paul

CAMP CHATTER

Defenceman Sean Hill will miss the first 19 games because of a suspension but will add grit ... Watch for top-line centre Mikko Koivu to break out from the 20-goal season of a year ago ... Eric Belanger is pegged to be the second-line centre ... This year, it's Niklas Backstrom's turn to prove he's not a one-year goaltending wonder.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will Marian Gaborik ever be healthy a whole season? Over the past three seasons, the electrifying winger has missed 68 games because of injury and still scored 96 goals. The Wild is a much better team with him in the lineup.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Victoria,

CAMP CHATTER

Taylor Pyatt combed together a 23-goal season with the Sedin twins and, unless the Canucks bring in a big-name right winger, will again patrol that side ... A healthy Brendan Morrison will help the offensive needs, while Markus Naslund has to stop his production slide ... Top-pairing defenceman Mattias Ohlund played the whole season with a sports-hernia issue that required off-season surgery.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can Roberto Luongo carry this team that far again? The Canucks have a good defensive group, but the goalie deserved MVP consideration after backstopping a weak offensive club to a division title and the second round of the playoffs.

PACIFIC DIVISION

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Camp opens: Sept. 10, Anaheim

CAMP CHATTER

Will Scott Niedermayer come back? Will Teemu Selanne? Or will they retire? Those issues have dogged the Stanley Cup champs all summer, but were addressed with free-agent signings ... Todd Bertuzzi is reunited with Brian Burke and must become the Bert of old -- circa 2003 -- not an old Bert .... Watch for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to take on bigger roles ..... Anaheim has backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov as a bargaining chip in trade talks.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can the Ducks repeat? The most recent team to win back-to-back was Detroit, a decade ago. Anaheim has the capability, even without Niedermayer and Selanne.

DALLAS STARS

Camp opens: Sept. 14, Frisco, Tex.

CAMP CHATTER

Philippe Boucher and Trevor Daley will have bigger roles with the departure of defenceman Darryl Sydor ... The top line of Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Brenden Morrow will stay together, and has to with so little behind them .... It's time for Dallas to start inserting prospects into the roster, and the likely candidates include defencemen Niklas Grossman and Vadim Khomitski and right winger Krys Barch.

THE BIG QUESTION

Does the fall begin? Dallas had a great team a few years ago, but costly free-agent acquisitions -- Bill Guerin -- who didn't live up to expectations and a dearth of draft success has the Stars in danger of missing the playoffs.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Camp opens: Sept. 10, El Segundo, Calif.

CAMP CHATTER

L.A.'s top line of Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov and Anze Kopitar may be the best unit nobody knows about ... Adding Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing upgraded the blue line in a big way ... Newcomers Ladislav Nagy and Michal Handzus will be the core of the second line ... Goalie Dan Cloutier has recovered from hip surgery.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can the goalies give the Kings a shot at the playoffs? Cloutier has his share of detractors, but he is a battler. Jason LaBarbera had the best goals-against-average in the AHL and will receive a long look at the starter's position.

PHOENIX COYOTES

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Glendale, Ariz.

CAMP CHATTER

Another year, another rebuilding job in the desert. This time, the Coyotes are going with youth ... Rookies Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal will be given every opportunity to make the club ... Mike York is slated to play left wing on the top line with Shane Doan and Steve Reinprecht ... A healthy Ed Jovanovski is key to the playoff hopes ... It'll be a big battle for the goaltender job. David Aebischer, Alex Auld, Mikael Tellqvist and David LeNeveu are all in the mix.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will the Coyotes finally start to get it right? New GM Don Maloney appears to have a plan: Build from the ground up. Phoenix seems to have been rebuilding forever, but does have lots of top-rated prospects.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, San Jose

CAMP CHATTER

After unceremoniously going out in the second round of the playoffs, the Sharks added ... nobody. Instead, GM Doug Wilson focused on re-signing key players: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Craig Rivet, letting Scott Hannan and Bill Guerin leave via free agency and dealing goalie Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell to Toronto for draft picks ... Defencemen Marc-Edouard, Matt Carle and Christian Ehrhoff will be given a bigger role.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will the Sharks finally win the Cup? San Jose has seemed poised for glory for a half-dozen seasons. The Sharks are young, big, fast and have good goaltending. It's time to put it all together.

CENTRAL DIVISION

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Chicago

CAMP CHATTER

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be given every chance to make the club. Toews is a better bet since Kane has some physical maturing to do ... Robert Lang and Yanic Perreault give the Hawks size down the middle, but their wingers are small ... Sergei Samsonov will try to get his career back on track.

THE BIG QUESTION

Is this the year Tuomo Ruutu becomes an impact player? Injuries derailed his 2005-06 season and he scored only 17 goals -- in 71 games -- last year, but the aggressive left winger has the tools and game sense to be a hockey pool steal on a line with Lang and Martin Havlat.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Columbus

CAMP CHATTER

Having Mike Peca and Sergei Fedorov gives the Blue Jackets a pair of top centres, if only this was five years ago ... Rick Nash showed a willingness under coach Ken Hitchcock to improve his all-round game. If he improves his fitness, too, the Jackets will have a true star on their hands ... Despite having had so many high picks, the Blue Jackets have shockingly few youngsters ready to make the jump this year.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will Nikolai Zherdev get it or play out the year before returning to Russia? Nobody can dispute his talent, but the enigmatic Zherdev has tantalized and driven crazy the Columbus crew. New GM Scott Howson recently met with Zherdev and his agents to clear the air with the hopes of making life smoother.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Traverse City, Mich.

CAMP CHATTER

Newcomer Brian Rafalski looks to be the one to play alongside Nicklas Lidstrom ... Niklas Kronwall, if he can remain healthy, is pegged to be part of the second pairing ... The Wings are considering splitting up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to give the club more offensive balance ... Surprising Valtteri Filppula is pegged to be second-line centre.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will this team ever show it's age? Lidstrom looks like he can play another decade, Chris Chelios is defying the laws of nature and goalie Dominik Hasek had an outstanding bounce-back season. Time eventually will catch up to these key players, we just don't know when.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Camp opens: Sept. 13, Nashville

CAMP CHATTER

Watch for a more defensive game plan because of the loss of many offensively gifted players -- Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg .... Nashville's defence is filled with up-and-coming players with amazing potential -- Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can Chris Mason replace Tomas Vokoun in goal? Mason did a great job last year but played almost as many NHL games last season as he had before in his career. He'll be in tough to replicate his success with what looks like a weaker team.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Camp opens: Sept. 13, St. Louis

CAMP CHATTER

Defenceman Erik Johnson is a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate with a strong blue line crew ... Goalie Manny Legace has recovered from season-ending knee surgery, but the Blues have brought in Hannu Toivonen to push him for the starter's job ... While the Blues have scoring on the left side in Paul Kariya, Martin Rucinsky, Lee Stempniak and Petr Cajanek, they are weak on the right wing. Brad Boyes will be on the top line and given a golden chance to be a front-line player.

THE BIG QUESTION

Will a full season with Andy Murray behind the bench mean a playoff spot? The Blues posted a 27-18-9 mark after Murray took over for Mike Kitchen, good enough over a whole season to make the playoffs. Nashville looks to be a weaker team and both Chicago and Columbus seem further behind in the rebuilding program, so the Blues may just squeak into the post-season.


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