Exactly 100 days after the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Florida Panthers to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, training camps open around the NHL on Thursday.
The Golden Knights bring back nearly the same roster in their bid to repeat while the Panthers are still licking their wounds after injuries piled up during their run to the final. Colorado, now more than a year removed from hoisting the Cup and missing captain Gabriel Landeskog for another season, goes into camp as favourite to win it all again.
The biggest questions are in places like Columbus, Anaheim, Carolina and Calgary: How the Blue Jackets will handle a last-minute coaching change, what will happen with unsigned Ducks star Trevor Zegras, and whether the Hurricanes and Flames are among the teams with a trade or two left to make in the coming weeks and months.
The hot topics on and off the ice before the puck drops on the 2023-24 NHL season Oct. 10:
Is Vegas ready to repeat?
Fresh off helping lead Vegas to the Cup, Jack Eichel asked buddies who previously played long into June how they recovered for the following season.
“The message they relayed is, `You’ll be surprised by how good you feel come training camp, with having trained a little less and maybe spent a little less time in the gym,”' Eichel said. “Maybe more so now than past summers, it’s about trying to get your body healthy and feeling good going into camp.”
The Golden Knights should be feeling good about their continuity after keeping pending free agent goalie Adin Hill and forward Ivan Barbashev and losing only Reilly Smith by trade from the group that played the bulk of the playoffs.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Avalanche are the betting favourites at just under 9-1, followed by the Hurricanes at just under 10-1. The Golden Knights are sixth at 13-1.
How banged up is Florida?
Matthew Tkachuk broke his sternum during the final, an injury he played through before missing Game 5. It took longer to rehab than expected, but the finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Panthers playoff leading scorer appears good to go.
“Feeling really good now,” Tkachuk said. “Look at glass half full: I didn’t miss 30 games or 20 games during the regular season. I had the summer to get it back and hopefully have a great start.”
The rest of his team isn’t so lucky. Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour had shoulder surgery and each defenceman could be out until mid-December.
What now for Columbus?
Nothing like a forced resignation of a polarizing, Stanley Cup-winning coach to shake things up for the Blue Jackets. Mike Babcock stepped down Sunday after asking to view photos on players’ phones as part of a bonding effort led to an investigation by the NHLPA and Pascal Vincent being named his replacement.
It all happened over the past week or so, and ownership said there would be no changes to the front office led by president of hockey operations John Davidson and long-time general manager Jarmo Kekalainen at this time because “additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp.”
Vincent, who spent the past couple of seasons as an assistant under previous coach Brad Larsen, has a two-year contract and perhaps more respect from players.
“The advantage that I have is I know those people,” Vincent said. “I’ve been with them for two years, and I know they care. They really care about the team.”
Who’s not in camp?
Zegras, Ducks teammate Jamie Drysdale and Ottawa’s Shane Pinto are among the restricted free agents without a contract for the upcoming season. Any of them could sign any time.
Devils centre Jack Hughes, asked last week about Zegras, advocated for the best for his close friend and former U.S. teammate.
“I think he’s a great player – the best player on their team,” Hughes said. “He’s good for the league. He needs to be back, and hopefully he gets a deal done soon.”
On the injury front outside the Panthers, Washington free agent signing Max Pacioretty is among those not expected to be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from re-tearing his right Achilles tendon. Former Carolina teammate Andrei Svechnikov might be limited six months since tearing the ACL in his right knee.
On the move?
After a decidedly quiet summer of trades outside of Pittsburgh getting three-time Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson, there could still be some shuffling before opening night.
Calgary has a decision to make with potential 2024 free agent Elias Lindholm, who’s considered among the best two-way centres in the league. Same goes with the Hurricanes, given their logjam on the blue line and Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei each with one year left on his contract.