Top story lines heading into opening night

10/4/2006 - NHL

Training camp has passed in a blur and the regular season has arrived. Here are 10 intriguing story lines that developed since the opening of camp and what they mean:

Next, Lou turns Meadowlands swamp into confectionary
What have we been saying? Never count Lou Lamoriello out of the game. Faced with having to play with half a team because he'd been buffaloed by the salary cap he helped create, the resourceful New Jersey GM magically made $7.1 million in debilitating salary cap money disappear in a puff of smoke.

First, he traded ghostly Vladimir Malakhov and his bloated $3.6 million salary to San Jose for a conditional first-round pick and two players who aren't likely to show up on the ice or in the Devils' books. Then, he got the league to bite on the assertion that Alexander Mogilny, he of the $3.5 million salary, should be allowed to go on long-term disability, allowing the team to exceed the cap by that same amount. Then, with a flourish of his magician's cape, Lamoriello signed scoring star Brian Gionta, the team's best defenseman, Paul Martin, and a couple of other players just in time to see them play in the Devils' season opener. Lucky Lou's feats won't sit well with other GMs, who believe Mogilny's contract should count against the cap because the Russian star was over 35 when he signed his deal. Stay tuned. (And as for reports that the swamp outside Continental Airlines Arena was magically turned into cotton candy, well, stay tuned for that, too.)

Oh, you're "that" guy
How is Mike O'Connell regarded by Bruins fans in Boston after trading league scoring champ and MVP Joe Thornton to San Jose? Let's just say being fired is the least intrusive of options. Well, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford is hoping he doesn't go down in history as "that" guy in Carolina after trading blue-chip defensive prospect Jack Johnson to Los Angeles on the eve of the regular season. Johnson might be Rob Blake-Scott Niedermayer-Scott Stevens all wrapped in American red, white and blue, but the third overall pick in the 2005 draft wasn't going to help the Hurricanes this season. So, Rutherford dealt him for immediate help in promising young defenseman Tim Gleason and veteran forward Eric Belanger. Now, the Carolina GM is hoping he becomes known as "that" guy who stole Gleason from the Kings.

Captain, my captain
No matter how Dallas GM Doug Armstrong and coach Dave Tippett spin it, stripping Mike Modano of the captaincy in Dallas and bestowing it on Brenden Morrow will come with repercussions. Maybe it galvanizes a team that looks a little aimless after a disappointing playoff exit last spring. Maybe it causes a San Andreas Fault in the dressing room? In that case, look for Modano to be moved before the trade deadline. Bottom line? Morrow figures to be a better captain in the long run.

The Philly flux
Bob Clarke enrages the rest of the league's GMs (or some, or just Dave Nonis, depending on whom you talk to) by making an offer sheet to Ryan Kesler, who suddenly becomes the most expensive 10-goal man in the NHL as Vancouver grudgingly matches the offer sheet. Then, nominal No. 1 goaltender Antero Niittymaki goes down with a torn labrum in his left hip. First, it appears he'll need surgery. Then, he won't. Now it turns out he'll take cortisone shots and attempt to play with the pain. Ouch. What is this, North Dallas Forty? Regardless, never a dull moment in the City of Brotherly Love (unless you're a goaltender, in which case it's all pain, all the time).

OK, you've got the contract, but ...
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean flinched first in his war of wills with talented Russian forward Nikolai Zherdev. But after anteing up a total of $7.5 million over three years for Zherdev, MacLean warned that there'll be no more baby-sitting, coddling or otherwise spoon-feeding the talented forward, who had 27 goals last season. In other words, if we're going to pay you like a man, be a man. A little tough love for a team in tough to make the playoffs.

Calling Bill Murray, your groundhog is here
The Chicago Blackhawks' chances of regaining credibility took a blow when snakebitten star forward Tuomo Ruutu went down with an injury. Oh, sorry, that was last season's story. Wait a minute, it's this year's story, too! Of course with the brittle Ruutu you can trot out that line pretty much any time, including this season as he will miss the first three weeks or so of the regular season with a left knee injury sustained early in training camp after the Finnish star was low-bridged by Columbus' Rostislav Klesla. History suggests it won't be the last time we see that story this season.

Beauty and the Tie?
If it's one thing Canadians love more than hockey, it's hockey with a scandalous subplot. And so it was that one of the game's most durable tough guys, Tie Domi, retired from hockey and prepared for a new life as a television analyst only to discover that his personal life was making far bigger headlines.

According to the future ex-Mrs. Domi, the square-melon Domi has been carrying on with Canadian political star Belinda Stronach, daughter of one of the country's wealthiest men and a walking scandal sheet herself. The lurid details of the illicit affair made for salacious reading and will make for an uncomfortable transition for Domi from player to cad to analyst for TSN in Canada.

Boys, boys, boys
The NHL has always prided itself on its squeaky-clean image, especially when compared to other major sports, but a couple of teams were embarrassed this fall when two young stars were charged after alcohol-related driving incidents. Mark Bell, newly acquired by San Jose and expected to be a big part of a Cup-contending Sharks team, faces a number of charges after he allegedly drove away from an accident scene in San Jose. Before training camp, Canadian Olympian Jay Bouwmeester was charged with impaired driving after a night out in Edmonton's infamous Whyte Avenue bar district. So much for marketing the game's young stars.

Magic and loss
Fans and reporters were incredulous at the skill displayed by Russian rookie Evgeni Malkin for the brief moments he was upright during his first preseason game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, that magic was followed by a tumble with teammate John LeClair, leaving Malkin with a shoulder injury that will keep him on the shelf for a month or so. No truth to the rumor that LeClair was angling for more ice time even though he's now been moved to the Penguins' second line.

Kicking, hacking, broken bones ... must be hockey season
Good to see the league is getting tough on egregious fouls, such as the vicious slash from Ottawa star Dany Heatley that broke a bone in Toronto defenseman Brendan Bell's foot, and a nasty kick from Atlanta star Ilya Kovalchuk aimed at Nashville tough guy Jordin Tootoo's midsection. Both stars (former teammates and good pals from Atlanta, by the way) received fines in lieu of suspensions.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.