Leaner Tkachuk ready to prove doubters wrong

The jokes didn't stop coming.

Last offseason (a year ago Saturday, in fact), the St. Louis Blues suspended veteran Keith Tkachuk for showing up to training camp overweight.

Cue the jokes.

Tkachuk ate one too many hamburgers. Hey Keith, have another doughnut! Tkachuk is a real heavyweight.

"It was difficult," Tkachuk told The Canadian Press. "It was obviously embarrassing and I dealt with it and it's over with. It makes you a stronger person, it really does. The most important people in your life [are] your family and your teammates. That's the only people that I was embarrassed for. They supported me throughout this whole process. It was a difficult year last year but it's over with."

And a year later, Tkachuk may no longer be a punch line.

The 6-foot-2 winger, who was limited to 41 games last season because of injuries, reported to camp Friday around 30 pounds lighter after reaching 263 pounds on Sept. 16, 2005, when the Blues "had no choice" but to suspend him. Tkachuk went through a strenuous offseason training program, one that even stopped him from taking a family vacation.

"My wife is still [upset] about that," Tkachuk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week. "The way we looked at it, I worked too hard to go out, to do all this work this summer, and let it slip away in two days by not eating properly or doing other things.

"I knew I had to be better than last year. Obviously I wasn't ready," Tkachuk told The CP. "This year I was determined for pride. I want to go out and try to be one of the top wingers in the game. I want to get back to that. And I felt I needed a lot of work."

Along with his workout routine, Tkachuk has been on a strict diet.

"Lots of fruits and vegetables and stay off the beer," he told The CP. "But seriously, I'm 34 years old, I have to be more careful, that was the most difficult part."

In his 41 games last season Tkachuk had 15 goals and 21 assists. The Blues picked up the $3.8 million option for the winger.

"I want to be at the top of my game and help this team win," he said.

Jagr practices but skips scrimmage
The closest Jaromir Jagr got to playing with the New York Rangers on Friday came when Darius Kasparaitis hit the ice with the Czech forward's No. 68 taped to his back.

Jagr started training camp the way he ended last season, watching his teammates in action without him.

Four months after surgery on his dislocated left shoulder, Jagr practiced Friday morning but sat out two scrimmages as camps opened around the NHL.

"The coaches and doctors want to make sure I don't get hit," said Jagr, a runner-up last season for NHL MVP. "They don't want me to play the scrimmage. … They just want me to get my shoulder stronger. They don't want to take any chances."

Rangers coach Tom Renney said he would take into account Jagr's assessment of his recovery in deciding when he would let him back into game action. But the star forward doesn't have the final say.

Jagr won't take part in any scrimmages during camp, which runs until next week, and Renney indicated that Jagr was doubtful to play in any of New York's seven preseason games.

"If I'm here … I don't mind to practice, I don't mind to play. It's my life," Jagr said. "It's not easy, you have to work on your own. Hopefully I can play some exhibition games before the season starts."

On Thursday, when all the Rangers reported for physicals, Jagr said he intended to take part in all aspects of camp. It was part of his plan to strengthen the shoulder in time for opening night Oct. 5.

"He had a good practice today, he looked fine," Renney said. "But that was major surgery, major major surgery. I'll probably be the bad guy here, but I'm going to take my time with this and make sure that it is what it's supposed to be in order for him to play full-contact hockey."

Where's Morrison?
The Vancouver Canucks did not have a healthy Brendan Morrison in camp this week as his surgically repaired hip is not 100 percent four months after the procedure.

"I think I've only ever missed two practices in my career so this injury is new to me," Morrison told The Province of Vancouver. "I said [to coach Alain Vigneault], 'I'll be honest with you guys, if I'm sore and I feel that I need a day here or there then I'll be honest and tell you.'

"I don't want to miss any time but if that's the case then we'll have to take that approach."

Morrison told the newspaper said it might at least a few months before he will no longer feel the effects of his surgery.

Preds want revenge

The Nashville Predators feel like they have some unfinished business.

After failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season, the ninth-year franchise reported for training camp Thursday with a revamped roster, a healthy goaltender and very high expectations.

How high? Think Stanley Cup.

"Everybody talks about winning a Stanley Cup," coach Barry Trotz said. "I think really and truly there's probably 10 teams in the National Hockey League [that] really believe it and believe they're one of the teams that can challenge for it. And I think we are one of them. If we can do it or not, I'll have to tell you in June because the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win."

The Predators added lots of size in the offseason with the free-agent signing of 6-foot-4 center Jason Arnott and 6-1 right wing J.P. Dumont. They also traded away their career scoring leader, 33-year-old Scott Walker, for 6-5 Josef Vasicek.

Forward Steve Sullivan said he is fully recovered after hernia surgery. Trotz also likes what he sees of Tomas Vokoun, who picked up a four-year contract extension on Monday worth $22.8 million after missing the playoffs because of blood clots.

"We have to perform and see if we can take the next step in our growth. We were a very good team last year. We have to be a better team this year," Trotz said.

Arnott will be key coming off his 13th NHL season in which he scored a career-high 76 points for Dallas last season. He comes in with a five-year, $22.5 million contract and experience in two Stanley Cup finals -- winning one with New Jersey.

"It's going to be a little nerve-wracking at the beginning and a little excitement to start off. But once you get those first couple of games under your belt, everything kind of smooths out," Arnott said.

Can Theodore rebound?

One player looking for a fresh start is Colorado goalie Jose Theodore, who had an injury-plagued season filled with off-the-ice headlines before Colorado was bounced in the second round of the playoffs by a fast, deep Anaheim team.

"Every year you have something to prove," Theodore said Thursday. "As a goalie, there's always a lot of pressure, but this is the challenge that you live for as a professional. When I got traded here, it was kind of like a ray of light."

Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said he considers Theodore a bit of a newcomer, along with new arrivals Jordan Leopold, Ken Klee and Mark Rycroft.

"The way he prepared himself physically, he looks like a different person," Quenneville said. "His attitude seems refreshed; he seems energized, and we're expecting big things from him."

Theodore, a former Hart Trophy winner, missed three months last season with a broken heel and then tested positive for a banned substance in a pre-Olympic drug test because he had been using a prescription for a hair-growth stimulant. He was also photographed holding hands with heiress Paris Hilton at a VIP party in Toronto, leading to a stir since he and girlfriend Stephanie Cloutier are the parents of an infant girl.

Theodore said he has purchased a home in the Denver area with his family.

"It was really important for me and my family to be here and settle," he said. "Now I have one thing to concentrate on, doing my job. I don't have 10 things to think about, just showing up for practice and working hard and playing well."

Theodore was recovering from his injury when the Avalanche acquired him March 8 from Montreal for goalie David Aebischer. He posted a 1-3-1 record with a 3.04 goals-against average in the final five regular-season games. He went 4-5 with the same GAA in the playoffs.

Teammates are looking forward to seeing what Theodore can do with a full offseason to prepare.

"I've been seeing what a healthy Theodore can do right now, and he looks unbelievable," defenseman John-Michael Liles said.

He's Baaaaaack!

Sean Avery on Thursday took the ice for the first time since his argument with an assistant coach ended his season with the Los Angeles Kings.

After many heart-to-heart talks with GM Dean Lombardi, Avery was brought back by the team, signed to a one-year deal and placed on "double-secret probation," according to the Los Angeles Times. New head coach Marc Crawford has also spoken with the controversial center.

What else is Avery doing to win more favor with his team? He's hired a personal publicist to help him with his image, a publicist who has worked with comedian Andy Dick.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.