Offseason Notebook: Camp story lines to watch
I know I promised a list of sleepers from the Western Conference this week, but training camps are open. Pardon me, I should say, training camps are open!
Yes, I am just a little more than excited about hockey approaching so quickly. So, I thought I'd take a one-week hiatus from the sleepers and busts onslaught to bring to your attention the story lines you should be following in training camps and the preseason as it pertains to your fantasy hockey team.
Western Conference sleepers will come next week. I mean it this time.
New Jersey Devils: Are the Devils still playing a defense-first style of hockey under new coach Brent Sutter? New Jersey's attention to its defensive zone is what has helped make Martin Brodeur the dominant fantasy asset he is. Any shift away from that philosophy would hurt Brodeur's value as a first-rounder.
New York Islanders: Who plays first-line center and left wing? Bill Guerin needs someone to help him score on and off the power play. Will it be Mike Sillinger or Mike Comrie? Ruslan Fedotenko or Jeff Tambellini? Whoever it is will have some fantasy relevance.
Philadelphia Flyers: Martin Biron is making the salary of a starting goaltender, but Antero Niittymaki has two brand-new hips. A former top prospect, Niitty is intent on pushing Biron for starts. A time-share is a fantasy owner's nightmare, but we could see one here.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The early odds are on Mark Recchi and Petr Sykora, but there could still be a change to who gets to ride shotgun with Sidney Crosby. For that matter, who skates with Evgeni Malkin? Whoever fills out the top two lines in Pittsburgh immediately becomes someone fantasy owners should think about.
Boston Bruins: Marc Savard is one of the premier set-up men in the league, but Glen Murray and Marco Sturm didn't take full advantage of playing with him. Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel may shift to the wing to get such an opportunity.
Buffalo Sabres: How are the lines shaking out? The chemistry that kept Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov together last season should hold over, but is that the top line? Or is it Tim Connolly's unit? Watch for who gets ice time with whom on Buffalo.
Montreal Canadiens: Can Carey Price wow the Habs enough to step into a starting role? That's a tall order for a 20-year-old goaltender, but he has enough of a chance that you can't ignore him in fantasy leagues until the Canadiens officially cut him.
Ottawa Senators: We've seen the same experiment time and time again by Ottawa, but once again we have to watch to see if Senators break up their big three. If Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza don't skate together, there will be three other names to know for your fantasy draft.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Mats Sundin-to-Jason Blake combination is going to be a good one, but who gets to play third wheel? Whoever lines up on the right side of this combo will be in line for some decent fantasy value by association.
Atlanta Thrashers: What kind of a role will rookies Bryan Little and Brett Sterling play? Little is young and Sterling is undersized, but both have tremendous talent. There are opportunities among the top six in Atlanta; it's just a matter of whether these two can seize them.
Carolina Hurricanes: Andrew Ladd has toiled with little ice time as a part of the Hurricanes for a season and a half now. He projects as a quality power forward with a scoring touch. Will the Canes finally give him some quality ice time? If they do, he is a name to know in fantasy.
Florida Panthers: Jay Bouwmeester has several challengers to his power-play quarterback throne. Cory Murphy is a power-play specialist who has honed his game in Europe, and Noah Welch is a rookie with a big point shot. Bouwmeester has never nailed down the job well enough to prevent these guys from getting a chance.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Can Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac find some chemistry with Brad Richards? If they can, the Bolts will finally have that second scoring line they need. With defenders concentrating on the first line, this second unit could be in for big points.
Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom or Michael Nylander? That is the question. Backstrom is the future centerman for Alexander Ovechkin, but is he the present? Whoever lines up consistently with Alex-O is fantasy gold. Here's a dark horse for you: Is it Viktor Kozlov? You want whoever wins the role.
Chicago Blackhawks: Where do Jonathan Toews and Pat Kane fit in? Toews is NHL-ready and may center the team's top line, while Kane is a bit undersized and should head back to the OHL. These kids are the Blackhawks' future though, and they may force the issue. If they win prime roles, you want them on your fantasy team.
Columbus Blue Jackets: How serious is coach Ken Hitchcock about lining up Nikolai Zherdev as the first-line centerman? That certainly would solve Columbus' depth issues, but Zherdev is a career winger. If he can adapt to the role, Rick Nash, David Vyborny and Zherdev get a huge boost to their fantasy values.
Detroit Red Wings: Does Dominik Hasek still look as spry as ever? Jimmy Howard is ready to begin taking over the starting job as soon as the Dominator moves aside. One injury or sign of his age, and Hasek could be in a battle with Howard to be the team's No. 1 in net.
Nashville Predators: Can Alexander Radulov take the next step? With the exodus of Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg and Scott Hartnell, and the absence of Steve Sullivan, Radulov needs to become the Predators' leader, at least on offense. If he can handle the pressure, he should lead this team in points.
St. Louis Blues: Is Erik Johnson mentally and physically ready for the NHL? This young phenom is a born leader and a dominant force on the ice, but it's time to play with the big boys. If Johnson can handle it, he could be a No. 1 defenseman in fantasy leagues.
Calgary Flames: Can Roman Hamrlik be replaced? The short answer is no, but the Flames need to find a way to keep their defense up to snuff without him. Miikka Kiprusoff and therefore the entire team's plus/minus could suffer if the defense tailspins without Hamrlik.
Colorado Avalanche: Is Peter Budaj ready to shoulder the load as a full-time starter? Does Jose Theodore get one last chance to earn at least some of the ridiculous money he is being paid? Those are two questions that need answering before you can take Budaj as your fantasy netminder.
Edmonton Oilers: Which young phenoms will get the chance this season? Robbie Schremp, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Ryan O'Marra are all waiting for their shot at the NHL and all of them project as potential superstars. But who gets the call?
Minnesota Wild: The top two center jobs are up for grabs and whoever snatches them will be a fantasy asset. Mikko Koivu will get a chance, but Eric Belanger was brought in to compete with him. Does Pavol Demitra shift back to center? Prospect James Sheppard may even get a crack at one of the jobs.
Vancouver Canucks: The right wing beside Daniel and Henrik Sedin is up for grabs once again. Taylor Pyatt was OK in the role to finish last season, and Ryan Shannon has been brought in for a try. Mason Raymond has been impressive lately and Jannik Hansen is skilled with the puck.
Anaheim Ducks: What does the depth chart look like without Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer? Is it Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan who would replace Selanne in the top six? Does Mathieu Schneider or Francois Beauchemin line up with Chris Pronger on the power play? Or do both players come back? So many questions.
Dallas Stars: Is it time for the changing of the guard yet? Dallas has a crop of young forwards who, if given the opportunity, would lead this team. Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen need to take a step back, though, to allow guys like Jussi Jokinen and Loui Eriksson to break through.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are going to be a competitive team this season, but who will play in net? Dan Cloutier is finally healthy. Jean-Sebastien Aubin is a career backup. Then there is Jason LaBarbera, an AHL star who struggled in the NHL before. One of these guys will be a strong fantasy goalie.
Phoenix Coyotes: Can a 19-year-old carry this team on his back? Peter Mueller is looked upon not as the future leader, but the current leader of the Coyotes and he has never even dressed for an NHL game. That's a lot of pressure, but he could be a surprise in fantasy if he's ready.
San Jose Sharks: Patrick Marleau will make his two wingers useful in fantasy. We just don't know who they are yet. Ryane Clowe overachieved last season, while Steve Bernier played himself out of the top six. What about some young guys like Devin Setoguchi or Mike Iggulden? This is a battle to watch.
Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at < alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com. .
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