TORONTO — When training camps open this week around the NHL, Patrick Kane will be on the ice with the Chicago Blackhawks while Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is moving forward without a new contract.
The Toronto Maple Leafs begin the Mike Babcock era by escaping to Halifax, and the Montreal Canadiens are close to naming a new captain. Out West, Connor McDavid is ready to begin the next chapter of his career.
Questions on all those fronts and more should be answered before the 2015-’16 season gets underway Oct. 7. Here are the top storylines to watch in the coming weeks:
KANE CLOUD HANGS OVER BLACKHAWKS: Kane is set to attend training camp despite the legal issues he’s facing in his hometown of Hamburg, N.Y. Police have started an investigation over an incident that occurred at his house. Kane has not been charged.
Kane is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her 20s at his off-season home near Buffalo, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because police have not revealed the nature of their investigation.
The decision to allow Kane to be on the ice beginning Friday at the University of Notre Dame belonged to the Blackhawks, not the NHL. How Kane and his teammates handle the subject will overshadow any talk about repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
Asked about it last week, Conn Smythe-winning defenceman Duncan Keith said: “I don’t even want to get into anything as far as just not even how I feel about going into camp or anything like that.” Expect a lot of that in the coming days.
MCDAVID MAKES THE LEAP: McDavid was already the subject of buzz when he took a big hit playing for the Edmonton Oilers in a rookie tournament, and the No. 1 pick’s every move will be watched when he’s on the ice with grown men.
Like No. 2 pick Jack Eichel with the Buffalo Sabres, there’s no doubt McDavid will make the NHL as an 18-year-old, but everyone’s curious to see how he does.
“I’ve heard a lot about him,” Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. “I’m excited to play against him. I think it’s pretty obvious no one can take him lightly, so he’s going to come into the league with a big target on his back right off the bat.”
STAMMERGEDDON 2.0: Stamkos has one year left on his contract and could become an unrestricted free agent next summer. On the surface, it’s amazing to think that’s a possibility, but it’s a major question mark for the Lightning.
Stamkos and his agents haven’t yet decided whether they want to keep negotiating into the season. So the next few weeks could be paramount for the future of the franchise.
The Lightning also have to figure out who their backup goalie will be as Andrei Vasilevskiy will miss time after having surgery to remove a blood clot. Latvian netminder Kristers Gudlevskis has a shot, but veteran Ray Emery is in camp on a tryout.
TRY, TRY AGAIN: Emery is one of several players on professional tryout agreements across the NHL after a summer in which teams were strapped by the salary cap, leaving many out in the cold.
The Maple Leafs have forwards Brad Boyes, Devin Setoguchi and Curtis Glencross on PTOs, and the Blackhawks have forwards Daniel Paille and Tomas Kopecky and defencemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Jan Hejda in camp after an off-season of cap purges.
With injuries aplenty up front, the St. Louis Blues invited Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall, while the Canadiens will give winger Tomas Fleischmann a shot at earning a job.
PLENTY TO ‘C’: Canadiens camp has not only the intrigue of Alex Galchenyuk moving to centre but the promise from general manager Marc Bergevin that the team will name a captain before the start of the season.
Winger Max Pacioretty is the betting favourite, according to the online sports book Bodog, but superstar defenceman P.K. Subban may be at just the right point of his career to accept that responsibility. And don’t rule out Brendan Gallagher or Andrei Markov, either.
COACHING CAROUSEL: Babcock goes into his first Leafs camp with more hype than perhaps any coach in NHL history, thanks in large part to his $50-million contract. He’ll take the team to Halifax for three days of practice as the process of getting to know players gets underway.
Jeff Blashill replaces the Cup-winning coach with the Detroit Red Wings. His AHL replacement is Todd Nelson, who was left out of the Oilers’ picture amid the regime change in Edmonton. Nelson was replaced by Todd McClellan, who will be expected to turn things around.
In Philadelphia, Dave Hakstol brings his experience from the college ranks at the University of North Dakota to a veteran Flyers team. And in Buffalo, Dan Bylsma got the job Babcock turned down and a chance to coach Eichel.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press