You can bet the question that New Jersey Devils head coach Pete DeBoer will be asked the most often this season is whom he’s starting in net. Just how he divvies up starts between Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider will be one of the intriguing storylines to follow all season.
It’s a delicate balance, having to find enough starts for the game's all-time winningest netminder, who’s 41 now, while also integrating the 27-year-old Schneider, a goalie who is no longer a kid but entering his prime.
"I don’t see an issue," DeBoer told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We’ve got a league high of back-to-back games, I think 22 of them; which right off the bat lends itself to playing both guys. And I think with the condensed schedule, with the Olympics, I think it's going to be a real luxury to have two guys. And I think both guys get that."
Early media reports from camp indicate the Schneider-Brodeur relationship is off to a good start, which is no surprise to anyone who has crossed paths with either netminder. They both have great, team-first personalities.
From a hockey standpoint, it means the Devils will have a quality netminder in net for 82 games.
"I term the situation as a 1 and a 1(A)," DeBoer said. "I think that's where we're at. Cory is not a young goaltender anymore. He's got a great opportunity here to learn from but also compete against the best goalie of all time."
Putting you on hold
The standoff is clear: the Leafs want Franson on a two-year deal; the defenseman wants to do a one-year deal.
The salary cap is going up next summer, so the Leafs would obviously rather gain a bit of term security with Franson under the current economic climate. Franson, as you might imagine, figures a one-year deal gets him to a landscape next summer that features an expanding salary cap with more money to go around.
Some folks were surprised when Franson -- coming off a terrific season -- chose not to file for salary arbitration this summer when he had the chance; some felt he lost his best piece of leverage. Perhaps that’s true but I think Franson feared the Leafs would have elected a two-year arbitration award and hence he’d be locked into one extra year that he doesn't want.
The problem for Franson right now is that the Leafs are deep on defense -- the likes of Paul Ranger and Morgan Rielly are pushing to make their way on -- so Toronto isn't desperate enough to fold its cards in this contract stalemate.
Furthermore, when Franson gave away his best leverage point in negotiations by not going to arbitration, the thinking in the Leafs' front office is, why give that leverage right back if you do a one-year deal, with Franson having arbitration rights again next summer as an RFA? The only way I see Toronto doing a one-year deal is if the salary is low enough.
I don’t see the Leafs backing down on this one.
Meanwhile, I’d bet on the Leafs making a contract offer before the end of camp to tryout invitee Mason Raymond. The Leafs view him as a potentially good fit on a third line with Dave Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin. The Leafs won't offer too much in a deal, I don't think, something around $1 million for one year. The hook for Raymond is that he could re-establish himself this season and hit the market next year when the cap goes up and get a better deal.
There's always the chance Raymond gets a better offer from another team at the end of camp; you can’t discount that, either. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if other teams called on Raymond. But I do think the Leafs would like him to be part of their squad this season.
All eyes on Halak
Whether or not the St. Louis Blues get over that playoff hump this season relies heavily on what happens in goal.
For starters, the organization has gotten a look at Brian Elliott in two straight playoffs and understands fully now that while he’s a terrific, solid backup -- one who can start for a stretch if need be and deliver the goods -- he's not going to be that elite difference-maker in net come playoff time.
No, the Blues believe Jaroslav Halak has to be their man. Gone in St. Louis is the politically correct spin that the Blues have two capable netminders and both will battle for starts. The Blues have made a collective, organizational decision that this season is Halak’s to win or lose. They’re handing him the keys, perhaps for the last time, being that Halak is a UFA after the season. Halak rededicated himself in the offseason, staying in St. Louis to focus on his workouts instead of going home overseas, and showing up to camp dropping his body fat from 14 percent to 8 percent.
Beset by injuries the past two years, Halak hasn't had the chance to duplicate the kind of playoff magic he delivered in Montreal in 2010. The sense in St. Louis is that if the Halak of 2010 can re-emerge, the club is in great shape to contend for a championship.
If Halak hasn't instilled that kind of confidence in the front office by March, my sense is that the Blues won't be scared to look to the trade market. Look for those Ryan Miller trade rumors to begin if Halak isn't rolling this season.
But the preference/the hope/the plan in St. Louis is for Halak to answer the bell.
Leblanc's early departure
Louis Leblanc's demotion earlier this week created quite a stir in Montreal. And not because he didn’t make the team -- he was hard-pressed to do so -- but that he was in the first wave of cuts.
That’s the part that surprised some fans, given that he’s a first-round pick from 2009 (18th overall).
But I believe this was the plan before camp started, the Habs' front office wanting to send a message, deliver a challenge to Leblanc, that it’s time for him to look in the mirror and understand that his development has not been up to par. He had a subpar season last year in the AHL. Word is Leblanc did work hard in the offseason to be ready for this camp. So credit to him for that. Now the Habs hope he responds to the first-wave cut by getting off to a great start in Hamilton and forcing Montreal into making him its first call-up.
The fact of the matter is, Leblanc is seen by most people around the league as a third-line player, albeit one who could be effective in that role in the NHL once he figures things out. But it also tells you the Habs were reaching a little when they took him 18th overall in 2009.