Commentary

Already time to panic? Teams hurtin' heading into openers

Updated: October 1, 2007, 1:12 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

SLAP SHOTS

• GOOD WEEK
Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings: The 19-year-old not only snagged a trip to Austria and London with the Kings, he starts the season on the main roster and earned his first NHL win Saturday in England, stopping 26 of 27 shots.

• BAD WEEK
Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers: Downie crushed Ottawa's Dean McAmmond with a brutal blow to the head and then found out the NHL was, in fact, serious about blows to the head and found himself staring down a 20-game suspension. He was sent to the American Hockey League pending that league's decision on whether to honor the suspension. The bottom line -- we won't see Downie in an NHL game until he's served out his full suspension at the NHL level.

• STUCK IN NEUTRAL
Dany Heatley and the Ottawa Senators: It appears the Ottawa Senators and star forward Dany Heatley will enter the season with Heatley's contract status in limbo. The Heatley camp has imposed a start-of-season deadline for negotiations on a new contract that would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. Heatley has recorded back-to-back 50-goal campaigns and would command somewhere between $7 and $8 million on the open market next summer. In hockey-mad Ottawa, this has the potential to be a season-long distraction.

OUR TOP 5 STORIES

Chris Drury 1. What kind of start will the New York Rangers' big free-agent centers, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, have as the Rangers open at home Thursday against Florida? Many, including this scribe, are predicting the Rangers will advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1994.

2. Toronto's goaltending has been woeful in the preseason and it opens with back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday against defending Eastern Conference-champion Ottawa. Yikes.

3. What will AHL commissioner David Andrews do about Steve Downie, the disgraced Flyers prospect who was hit with a 20-game suspension by the NHL for his hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond? If Andrews chooses to honor the penalty, watch for the Flyers to return Downie to the big-club lineup so he can begin serving out his time.

4. Will the Nashville Predators sell out their home opener? The Tennessean reported this week that there were still 2,700 tickets left with a week left before the team's home-opener Thursday against Colorado. With new ownership trying to drum up interest in the money-losing franchise, not selling out the home-opener would be a huge public relations disaster.

5. The Mike Keenan era in Calgary begins in earnest Thursday night when the Flames open at home against one of Keenan's former clubs, the Philadelphia Flyers. Of course, given that Keenan has coached half the teams in the league, chances were pretty good that would happen.

-- Scott Burnside

It is often not the best team coming out of training camp that matters, but rather the healthiest. As is the case every season, teams' best-laid plans have been put asunder by the one thing that cannot be planned for in training camp, but which may have long-lasting effects -- injuries.

Who has been bit most severely by the injury bug as the rest of the NHL prepares to open its regular-season slate Wednesday?

Let's take a look.

• Never mind the shoddy goaltending that has all of Leafs Nation in an "eve of the season" tizzy, the biggest issues facing Toronto might be the ill-health of promising young defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and center Kyle Wellwood. Colaiacovo will not be ready to start the season; he has tendonitis in his knee and is in too much pain to play. It's a huge blow for a young defenseman who came into his own down the stretch last season and seemed, finally, ready to fulfill significant promise.

The talented Wellwood, meanwhile, leaves a team already thin down the middle having to make do with spare parts. For a team that missed the playoffs by a point and needs to get off to a good start to establish team confidence, it's not falling together like that.

• A close second in the "woe is me" category will be New Jersey, which continues to leak talent in the post-lockout world. The Devils will start the season without veteran defender Colin White, who has a serious eye injury, and forward Jamie Langenbrunner, whose groin problems will keep him out of action until late November. Backup netminder Kevin Weekes, brought in to provide relief for veteran star Martin Brodeur, has been laid low with a concussion and will likely miss the start of the season.

Another team on the limp is Tampa Bay, which lost defensive anchor Dan Boyle for at least six weeks after a skate fell off a hook in Boyle's dressing-room stall and slashed tendons in his wrist. The bigger question is how much lingering damage will be done to Boyle's puck-moving game once he's back in the lineup? Also injured in camp was Chris Gratton, brought in to provide depth and leadership down the middle. His eye injury may be sufficiently healed to allow him to play in the Bolts' season-opener against New Jersey on Thursday, but he has missed considerable time in camp.

• The rebuilt Philadelphia Flyers saw young players Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall and R.J. Umberger all go down with injuries. Upshall (broken wrist) and Umberger (broken finger) both needed surgery. Lupul was thought to have broken his wrist as well, but he is now listed as having a sprain and should return to the lineup before the others.

• And, of course, there's the defending Stanley Cup champs, which were without defensive specialist Samuel Pahlsson, defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who was expected to help fill the void left by Scott Niedermayer's absence, and starting netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere as they opened the NHL season with two games in London over the weekend.

Even if teams have avoided the big injury hit, nary a coach has had a full lineup at his disposal.

New York Rangers coach Tom Renney would like to have had a longer look at how Jaromir Jagr might fit with Chris Drury after Jagr and Scott Gomez, the Rangers' other top-notch free-agent addition over the summer, failed to click. But Jagr has been bothered by a hip injury and missed the team's last couple of exhibition games. Renney was also denied a good look at his new second line of Gomez, Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery; Avery was out with a groin problem.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Denis Savard would have liked to see more of top prospect Jonathan Toews, who broke a finger early in the team's first preseason game; but Savard will have to wait until the first week of the regular season to see where the highly touted forward will fit in best.

Jay McKee falls into that "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all" category. A top free-agent signing of the St. Louis Blues a year ago, the shot-blocking expert played in only 23 games. The Blues have retooled under coach Andy Murray and could be a sleeper team in the competitive Western Conference. But McKee will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season with a broken right foot suffered while ... blocking a shot.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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