Mountains to climb in Northwest
With training camp almost upon us, it's time to ponder the big questions that confront every NHL team. So far, we've looked at the
Arguably the best team in the division, the Flames have several issues that could prevent them from finishing on top, including a dearth of talent on the right wing and the chemistry problems that are bound to arise from the departure of familiar key faces (
But the key to Calgary's fate is in the hands of Kiprusoff, the 2006 Vezina winner who came into camp last fall poorly conditioned and never regained his groove. Coach
After losing the resurgent
This isn't a knock on goaltenders
No, the big concern for the Oilers coming into this season is how the forward corps will fare against opposing strikers. Based on last season's returns -- the team was a dismal 27th in goals-allowed when playing five-on-five -- and the loss of key defensive forwards
It'll help to get healthy seasons out of
For the backend to meet its potential, the Oilers will need their forwards to do more than wave the cape at onrushing attackers. That may be asking too much from a group that looks well prepared to light the lamp, but ill-suited for a season-long commitment to backchecking.
They've talked. And talked. And talked. But with less than 10 days before the start of camp, the Wild and Gaborik had yet to agree on a deal that would ensure that the franchise's all-time leading scorer remains in the fold beyond this season.
Not hard to see what the problem is. Gaborik, entering the final year of his contract, sees a future that includes the chance to become a highly sought-after unrestricted free agent next summer. The money he could generate in that market probably wouldn't eclipse the $8.5 million-per-year that Minnesota reportedly is offering to convince him to stay long term. But the chance to move to a system that is more in line with his electric offensive skills might be more compelling than a few extra bucks in the bank.
Of course, there's some risk inherent in playing out the string, if that's the way Gaborik chooses to go. Though healthy much of last season, he averaged nearly 25 games on the sidelines over the previous three campaigns. He could explode for a career year...but the chance for unfortunate history to repeat itself has to be playing out in his mind as well.
The Wild have some flexibility with their star, but not a lot of patience. Their offer looks plenty generous in comparison to other salaries. If they determine that Gaborik is simply not willing to sign -- at least for anything less than an extortionist's rate -- they have to consider their options, including trading him before the season starts. He'd likely draw a sizable package of players and prospects, but that would do little to advance the short-term chances of a team that is desperate to make some postseason noise after failing to capitalize on last season's division title. The longer this plays out, however, the more likely a deal becomes.
Effecting real change is difficult, of course, but fans certainly expected more than what they've seen so far. Allowing underachieving vets like
The Canucks still have one of the world's best netminders in