Sports

As camps begin, a look at the major questions surrounding Canada’s NHL teams

With training camps opening around the league on Thursday, here
are seven burning questions facing the seven Canadian
franchises:

CALGARY — How will the new guys mesh?

From head coach Bill Peters to winger James Neal, there’s a lot
of new faces in Calgary who will have to come together in a
short period of time if the Flames hope to return to the
playoffs.

The one to watch the closest is defenceman Noah Hanifin.

The 21-year-old, who was traded from Carolina along with Elias
Lindhom in exchange for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland,
isn’t going to replace the 17 goals that Hamilton scored last
season. But his impact could become greater if he’s able to
find chemistry with Travis Hamonic — who looked lost in Calgary
last season — thus allowing T.J. Brodie to reunite with Mark
Giordano.

EDMONTON — Who will play on Connor McDavid’s
wing?

The most coveted spot in hockey was a revolving door of
frustration last year after the Oilers moved Leon Draisaitl
back to centre, leaving McDavid in search of consistent
linemates.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins eventually found chemistry on the left
side, but it’s the right side that is still up for grabs. Ty
Rattie finished the season with McDavid, where he picked up
nine points in 14 games, but look for Kailer Yamamoto as a more
likely permanent option.

The first-round pick, who began the year on the top line before
returning to junior, has the speed to keep up with McDavid and
Nugent-Hopkins. He just has to show he can finish
— something very few Oilers were able to do last season.

Montreal
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price speaks to the media before the
team’s charity golf tournament Monday, September 10, 2018 in
Laval, Que.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — What version of Carey Price will we
see?

To say that Price had a difficult season is an understatement.

The Habs goalie, who battled injuries and illness for most of
the year, had some of the worst numbers in the NHL. Management
hopes it was simply a blip. After all, Price’s new contract
extension kicks in this season.

No one is expecting a miracle, especially with Shea Weber out
until November or December following knee surgery and the team
having traded Max Pacioretty. But considering Price is signed
for eight years, management is praying he can return to the
Vezina and Hart Trophy form from a few years back.

If not, it won’t be long before we start seeing, “Lose for
(Jack) Hughes” posters in the crowd.

OTTAWA — When will Erik Karlsson be
around?

It wasn’t by accident that Eugene Melnyk failed to mention Erik
Karlsson by name in that embarrassing state-of-the-team address
that was posted to the team’s website on Monday. As far as the
Senators owner is concerned, Karlsson might as well be gone
already.

Except he isn’t.

While Montreal moved on from Max Pacioretty, the Senators
captain is still dangling around while management hunts for the
right return. The longer this goes, the worse it becomes for a
team that is now launching a rebuild.

In other words, if you thought the Melnyk video was awkward,
just wait until Karlsson arrives to training camp on Thursday.

Forward
John Tavares at the Summer Skate as the Toronto Maple Leafs get
ready for training camp in Toronto on Tuesday September 4,
2018.
Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

TORONTO — How will the top lines shake out?

It was on July 1 when John Tavares signed an eight-year
contract with the Maple Leafs. And it was on July 1 when head
coach Mike Babcock unveiled, with the giddiness of a child on
Christmas morning, how he planned to use his new toy.

According to Babcock, Tavares would play alongside Mitch Marner
and Zach Hyman, while Auston Matthews would centre a line with
William Nylander and Patrick Marleau.

Of course, plans can change.

The Penguins initially hoped Sidney Crosby would play with Phil
Kessel only to realize the two simply didn’t mesh. A more
important question might be: which five guys are on the No. 1
power play unit?

VANCOUVER — How good are the kids?

For the second straight year, someone other than Daniel or
Henrik Sedin led the Canucks in scoring. That trend will
continue now that the twins are officially retired, leaving the
franchise in the hands of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and the rest
of the kids.

Of those, the most interesting to watch could be Swedish
forwards Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen, who were dubbed
the “new Sedins” at the Canucks rookie tournament this week.

Pettersson, who was a fifth-overall pick in 2017, has the best
chance of winning a spot with the team out of camp. But if the
20-year-old Dahlen can continue to show chemistry with his
countryman, Vancouver’s rebuild might not take as long as we
think.

Vezina
runner-up Connor Hellebuyck speaks to the media shortly after
signing a six-year, $37 million contract extension with the
Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, July 12.
Scott Billeck/Winnipeg
Sun

WINNIPEG — Will the lack of a safety net hurt Connor
Hellebuyck?

It seems like it was forever ago, but when the season began
last year, Steve Mason was Winnipeg’s starter and Hellebuyck
was the backup.

That obviously didn’t last. But with Mason gone and Hellebuyck
returning as the unquestioned No. 1, it will be interesting to
see how he operates without someone pushing him for playing
time.

After all, Hellebuyck is only 25 and entering his fourth year
in the league with a team that is not only expected to make the
playoffs but has been tabbed to win the Stanley Cup final.

That’s a lot to take in. And if he can’t handle it, the Jets’
Plan B right now is minor-league journeyman Laurent Broissoit.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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