From a purely hockey perspective, the most tantalizing story line involving competition on the ice is what will happen next with the Vancouver Canucks and goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks put Luongo on the trade block following last year’s first-round playoff exit to the Los Angeles Kings, largely so that Cory Schneider could ascend to the No. 1 job. No deal was done before the NHL ceased operations in mid-September, however, forcing the Canucks to revisit that issue again, now that the lockout is over and training camps will open by the end of the week.
The peculiar nature of a shortened 48-to-50 game schedule means the Canucks have two options. They can either keep Luongo for now, thinking that goalies may be particularly susceptible to injuries in a compressed schedule and thus, he would become a valuable insurance policy. Alternatively, they could trade Luongo to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team desperately seeking goaltending help, or the Florida Panthers, his former team, which could also use his help.
On a conference call Sunday, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis wasn’t tipping his hand, saying that he wouldn’t do anything until the new agreement is approved by the players and ratified by the owners.
However, Gillis predicted that there would be “a lot of activity” in the next little while, noting: “There hasn’t been any trade discussion while the lockout has been on, so … There are a lot of teams thinking about a lot of things, so we’ll see what comes our way.”
Trade talk, injury updates, player signings and the immediate challenge of repatriating almost 200 players from Europe will keep the 30 hockey-operations departments busy in the next 48 hours.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings had a little bit of bad luck Saturday when they lost their leading scorer last year, Anze Kopitar, to a knee injury in the final game he played for Mora of the Swedish league before the lockout ended. According to Kopitar’s agent, Pat Brisson, who spoke to his client on Saturday, Kopitar plans to have a magnetic resonance imaging test Monday, and is expected back in L.A. by Wednesday.
“When I say he should be fine, I mean it’s nothing major,” Brisson said. “It might be 10 days, it might be 12. It’s nothing to panic over. He may have to miss camp, but he’s been skating and playing since Sept. 15. And Danny Brière (the Philadelphia Flyers’ No. 2 centre) got hurt a week ago in Germany, a slight hairline fracture, but he should be okay too.”
The Canucks also have a question with regards to centre Ryan Kesler, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Gillis said he couldn’t accurately predict a return date for Kesler, but that he was “moving in the right direction and everything’s positive. We do have extra forwards, so we’ll just go through camp and see who’s ready to play.”
A trio of the Edmonton Oilers’ top young players – Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and rookie Justin Schultz, all of whom had been playing in the minors - was held out of the Oklahoma City Barons lineup Sunday so as not to risk injury.
“The best thing about not decorating your apartment at all, or hardly bringing enough clothes,” tweeted Hall, “is it’s an easy pack job #guyproblems.”
In terms of player signings, a handful of key restricted free agents, including the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban, the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn and the New York Rangers’ Michael Del Zotto, were all still seeking new contracts, without which they cannot play.
Subban’s agent, Don Meehan, told The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon that after he talks to his client Monday, he would try to start negotiations with Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin by Tuesday or Wednesday, with a view to get a deal done in time for camp.
“My hope is all of this is going to happen very quickly,” Meehan said.
Some players who were in Europe, including the Canucks’ Schneider, had already received their releases from their club teams and were making their way back, but others, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, waited until the lockout was officially resolved before saying goodbye to their European clubs and scrambling to get back.
The Ottawa Senators’ Milan Michalek was on a bus with his Ceske Budejovice teammates when he learned the news that the lockout ended. He asked the bus to pull over; thanked his teammates for their time together, and had a friend pick him up so that he could get home.
Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, who played with Kopitar in Mora, tweeted: “That was fast, one minute I’m busing to our next game and the next I’m standing with my bags in hand at a random train station.”
As for Marcus Johansson, the Washington Capitals’ centre, he was dropped off at a Swedish gas station by his team, BIK Karlskoga, which was traveling to Malmo for a game. Karlskoga assistant coach Tobias Thermell tweeted a picture of Johansson and his kit bags at the gas station, accompanied by the caption: “Now we’ve let MoJo go.”
Members of Canada’s world junior team overnighted in London on the way home from Ufa, Russia. It’ll be a mad scramble for the 19-year-olds such as Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers’ prospect, who will land in Montreal Monday, then make his way to Saint John to collect his things before heading to Florida for training camp.
Brisson, who represents Malkin and Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar, has talked to both and says that while they are facing a couple of long travel days, “they’re all excited to be coming back and they’re all looking forward to start playing again.”
So, for that matter, are upward of a dozen veterans who weren’t signed to contracts in the summer – everyone from Jason Arnott and Mike Knuble to Chris Campoli and Brian Rolston – who will try to land jobs between now and the start of the season.
Veteran defenceman Sean O’Donnell is also looking for work after playing last year for the Chicago Blackhawks. He has been skating with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the hopes that something will come up once the lockout ended.
“It’s been good,” O’Donnell said. “It’s anywhere between 10 and 15 of us out there. It’s not like regular season or practice, but we run some drills and it’s pretty high tempo.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be a team interested or not, but I’d rather try and stay as ready as possible just in case, and if there isn’t, then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”