Burning questions heading into camp

September, 13, 2010

Training camps open around the NHL later this week and some burning questions come to mind.

Among them has to be one about David Booth, the Florida Panthers star winger who was limited to 28 games last season after suffering a pair of concussions. How is he faring now?

"He's healthy as a horse," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com on Monday morning. "We'll keep our fingers crossed. We need him to be healthy. It's exciting, though. He's good to go."

Booth was last seen on NHL ice in late March, needing help to get to his feet after a clean hit from Montreal's Jaroslav Spacek, which you can see here. Booth suffered his second concussion on the hit and his season was over. He had already missed 45 games after getting drilled by Mike Richards of the Flyers in October, a hit that would now be deemed illegal under the new NHL blindside rule.

But so far so good for Booth, who is in terrific shape.

"The reports are all great in his regard," Tallon said. "Every conversation I've had with him has been nothing but positive."

Goals won't come easily for the rebuilding Panthers this season, so getting Booth back on track will be paramount. He scored a career-high 31 goals in 2008-09 and appeared to be on the verge of taking his game to the next level before the Richards hit. Here's hoping the best for him.

Other burning questions as camps approach:

• Will the remaining restricted free agents get signed this week before camp? Niclas Bergfors agreed to a one-year deal worth $900,000 on Monday, leaving Bobby Ryan in Anaheim, James Neal and Matt Niskanen in Dallas and Marc Staal in New York (Rangers) as the most noteworthy unsigned RFAs. A source close to the Staal talks said both sides were fairly close, but still not quite there as of 11 a.m. ET on Monday.

"The negotiations with James Neal are getting to a critical stage for both sides," Neal's agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports, told ESPN.com on Monday. "There is always that time for "the fork in the road" where a deal can be done or won't be done for a long period. James hopes to become a contracted member of the Stars once again very soon. Both sides will have to be flexible."

On the Bergfors front, while Atlanta got him back cheap this season, it risks paying big money next summer when he's eligible for salary arbitration. Look for a motivated Bergfors this season.

• How will it all play out in Calgary this season? Some people were surprised to see Flames GM Darryl Sutter keep his job after his team missed the playoffs. Even more people were dumbfounded when he brought back Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay on July 1. Will Sutter get the last laugh?

• How will the goalie battle play out in San Jose? Antero Niittymaki went from surefire No. 1 goalie in July to a Finnish duel in early September after the surprise signing of Antti Niemi. I have a feeling you'll hear Sharks coach Todd McLellan talk about riding the "hot hand" all season long. Don't overlook Niittymaki just because Niemi is the Cup-winning goalie. Legendary coach Scotty Bowman told us last June that he believed Niittymaki was one of the real underrated free agents on the market.

• Goalie talk, Part II: How will veteran Marty Turco fare in replacing Niemi in Chicago? Just fine, thank you, is my prediction. The Hawks get a hungry and motivated Turco. Look for a big year from the 35-year-old netminder.

• Goalie talk, Part III: Does any goalie have more pressure on him than Carey Price in hockey-mad Montreal? He won't have a short leash with the passionate fans of Le Bleu, Blanc, Rouge after playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was dealt away in a move not at all welcomed by the ticket buyers. What's easy to forget is Price just turned 23; plenty of upside here. But a fast start in October is a must for him, otherwise the unraveling may come fast.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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