Two weeks into the NHL season and we're right back in it. After covering six games in six cities, here's the latest buzz I've heard from conversations around the rink.
What's next for Kane?
The greatest American active player, just one year removed from a 92-point season, is a free agent and will be ready to play around midseason. And nobody knows where he's going to end up.
Patrick Kane is 4½ months out from hip resurfacing surgery. He's been rehabbing mostly in Toronto, some in Chicago, under the guidance of Dr. Ian MacIntyre. Kane recently has been cleared for contact. His agent, Pat Brisson, told me that in early November they'll take serious calls from suitors, and Kane is looking to join a team in November or December. Kane, 34, is not in a rush; the priority is to ensure he's 110% healthy. Hampered by the hip, Kane played last season basically on one leg. Kane also wants the right fit -- entering the right environment, on a team with serious chances to win.
Brisson told me it's way too early to speculate on teams, but here are a few intriguing things I know. Kane's hometown Buffalo Sabres are keeping tabs. Kane has personal relationships with GM Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato. A few years ago, Kane playing in Buffalo was completely out of the question for him, but dynamics have changed and he's open to the idea right now.
The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the early surprises of the season. The player seeing the most success in Detroit? Alex DeBrincat, the former Blackhawks winger Kane considers one of his favorite linemates ever. I've heard the Florida Panthers let Kane's camp know this summer they're interested. The Dallas Stars looked into acquiring Kane at last year's trade deadline, when he ultimately went to the Rangers, and likely will revisit things. The Avs have been mentioned to me as a sleeper team, though they'd need to tinker with their roster to clear room.
Bottom line: There's a lot of interest in Kane. On a short term, low-cost deal, why not take the flier? But you can count out the team Kane played for for his first 16 years. Although Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks are on good terms after last season's trade, the door is closed for now as Chicago is in a rebuild.
Latest on Landeskog's possible return
The Colorado Avalanche look as legit a Stanley Cup contender as anyone, winning their first six games with a plus-15 goal differential. But looming all season will be the absence of captain Gabriel Landeskog. And while the team is "cautiously optimistic" he can return for the playoffs, there's still so much unknown. "It's really uncharted territory," GM Chris MacFarland told me last week.
The 30-year-old forward hasn't played since the day the Avs won the Cup in 2022. He missed the start of last season rehabbing a right knee injury -- but couldn't get well enough to return. So in May, Landeskog opted for a dramatic attempt to salvage his career: knee cartilage transplant.
No NHL player has ever come back from that surgery. Coincidentally, Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball is trying to become the first NBA player to come back from a knee cartilage transplant. Ball is about two months ahead of Landeskog in rehab, and the athletes and their front offices have been trading notes. (Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls' VP of basketball ops, previously worked for the Nuggets and has a relationship with MacFarland).
Landeskog is spending most of the season in Toronto doing his rehab. He'll come to Denver from time to time, but he doesn't want to take away treatment time from his teammates who need to get game-ready. Landeskog, whose wife is from Toronto, has better resources for dedicated medical time in his offseason home.
MacFarland said he won't start to get excited about the idea of Landeskog returning until he is cleared for more intense skating, such as stops and starts. That's still months away. MacFarland said the issue is that Landeskog will probably start to feel good in a few months, but if he has one setback, they're back to square one if he must redo the surgery. So although the Avalanche are optimistic about Landeskog's early reports -- his rehab has been going very well, no hiccups so far -- the team is taking a cautious approach, knowing Landeskog's career hangs in balance.
Landeskog is under contract through 2029. "We're going to do what's best for Gabe long term," MacFarland said.
Poitras in the middle in Boston
One of the best stories of the young season is the emergence of 19-year-old Bruins center Matthew Poitras. Boston has struggled in drafting and developing centers over the past few years, and it is thin at the position after the dual retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Enter Poitras, a 2022 second-round pick. Poitras' agent, John Walters, met with the teenager in the middle of summer. As the two said goodbye in the driveway, Walters said: "You know, the Bruins lost Bergeron and Krejci. You can make the team, you just gotta believe how good you are. Don't go in there thinking you'll be sent back to juniors."
Poitras' response? "Oh, I plan on it."
Poitras has a quiet confidence. He told me he doesn't like being in the center of attention but credited Brad Marchand specifically for being so friendly and funny to be around, which has made him feel included. That's the Bruins culture.
The day before a game last week, Walters called Poitras at the hotel -- where he's currently living in Boston -- and asked what he was doing. Homework.
Poitras is enrolled in college courses, required by his junior team. He's taking microeconomics. "I hate it," Poitras admitted to me. He'd much rather just be a professional hockey player.
Thursday, Nov. 2, against Toronto will be Poitras' 10th NHL game -- the point where Boston has to decide whether to send Poitras back to juniors or if he's staying for the season. The Bruins have not been in this position with a player in 20 years, when Bergeron was a rookie. So they told Poitras they'd take it day by day. Every time the Bruins thought Poitras might dip, he finds a way to level up. The Bruins' third game of the season, against San Jose, was Poitras' worst as a pro. He followed it up two games later with a two-goal performance against the Ducks, then scored again in the next game against the Blackhawks.
Boston will use the three-game homestand leading up to the Toronto game to decide Poitras' future. But unless he takes a serious dip, it looks as if he's staying -- and can dip out of that econ class.
Bedard off to strong start
So much attention has been focused on Connor Bedard to begin his rookie season, and he has lived up to the hype. From an off-ice perspective, I give a ton of credit to the 18-year-old for being professional and accommodating with how many requests he's gotten. "He just gets it" is a phrase I've heard a lot around the Blackhawks. For his very first NHL game, Bedard did a media scrum after morning skate, a first-period intermission interview with me, second-period intermission with Sportsnet and postgame with me followed by general availability. That's incredible accessibility.
New NHLPA boss Marty Walsh has made this an emphasis. As he goes around and meets with players, he is explaining that if they want hockey-related revenue to rise -- which would increase the salary cap, and eventually decrease the dreaded escrow -- guys need to put themselves out there more. Visibility and creating narratives around the game is important. Hockey players have traditionally been trained to think that was selfish. Now they're being taught it's actually selfless, creating more prosperity for the future generations.
On the ice, Bedard expects to score every game. You can see his frustration when it's not there, but he's learning to manage it. Coach Luke Richardson said Bedard is used to the extra coverage on the ice; he's seen it for years in juniors. When he is being shadowed on the power play -- in the same way teams treat Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos -- Bedard is learning he needs to move. Look for him to start switching places with Seth Jones in these scenarios. At 5-on-5, Bedard is excellent at drawing two defenders, then using his hockey sense to make a pass and find open ice. Bedard isn't afraid to drive the middle of the ice, but he also tends to try taking on guys 1 vs 3, which is hard to do at the NHL level.
Overall, Richardson would like to see Bedard shoot more. The rookie is sometimes waiting for the perfect pass or shot, but with his lethal shot, Richardson believes Bedard will be able to sneak it through defenders and past goalies more often.
Balancing now and the future in Pittsburgh
There was renewed energy around the Penguins ahead of the season. Trading for Erik Karlsson, coming off a 100-point season, set the tone. But new GM Kyle Dubas did more work than that. He brought in several players to training camp on PTOs, which created real competition. Dubas also rounded out the team's depth; Pittsburgh's bottom six finally has an identity, and there are a handful of players ready for call-up in Wilkes-Barre who have a couple hundred games of NHL experience.
Although Dubas gave the Penguins some quick fixes to maximize this season -- another one where it appears core players Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, even entering their mid-30s, are still playing at elite levels -- he's clearly balancing future concerns. Example: the contract situation for Jake Guentzel.
Guentzel loves playing in Pittsburgh, and the Penguins love Guentzel. As coach Mike Sullivan told our broadcast team before the opener, "Sure, a lot of players can play with Sidney Crosby, but not all of them can score 40 goals." Sullivan called Guentzel a "superstar." But the 29-year-old winger is on the final year of a five-year deal ($6 million AAV) and contract talks are on hold for now. From what I've heard, Dubas wants to see how the team does this season to get a better understanding of where the Penguins are before making any commitment.
Guentzel, for his part, has six points in his first five games. It seemed as if he was going to miss at least the first five games of the season after summer ankle surgery. However, I am told that Guentzel "hated" the conservative timeline the Pittsburgh medical staff assigned him. He circled the home opener on Oct. 10 and knew he wouldn't miss it. He's a man on a mission this year.
Trouble in Tampa?
The Tampa Bay Lightning's emphasis this offseason was on improving defensively. GM Julien BriseBois told me that when they were winning Stanley Cups, they were a top-six or top-eight defensive team. He felt they lost their way last season and gave up too many scoring chances. So the Tampa Bay coaching staff, led by coach Jon Cooper, made an adjustment to the system. And the roster changes BriseBois made in the offseason (bringing in Calvin de Haan, Tyler Motte, Luke Glendening, Conor Sheary, Austin Watson) had that in mind. All the while, the team is feeling the pinch from trading prospects and draft picks for Stanley Cups -- they've drafted a first-rounder just once since 2019 and are without first-round picks again in 2024 and 2025.
Cooper told me his message this year was simple. When you get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, and have your longest offseason in five years, guys should come back angry and hungry. Tampa has a group that plays with a lot of pride, one that possibly could withstand losing star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy until December.
But the team just isn't as balanced as it used to be. The flat salary cap forced the team to say goodbye to several stalwarts this summer -- Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon, Corey Perry, Ross Colton, Ian Cole, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare -- and early injuries have exposed their lack of depth.
• The fact that captain Steven Stamkos, a pending UFA, didn't get a contract offer this summer is a big topic ... but we might not get answers on his future for a while. BriseBois told Stamkos and his representatives they would wait until after the season to negotiate, waiting to see how the year goes.
Stamkos also had difficult negotiations in 2016 before ultimately signing a mega eight-year contract two days before he was set to hit free agency. I've talked to two of Stamkos' friends, and they said the same thing: "This one feels different." I've also talked to some of Stamkos' ex-teammates on the road who believe that it will ultimately get sorted out, that everyone just needs a little time and space. Stamkos clearly wants to remain with the Lightning. But he has seen other players get taken care of and wants to be paid what he believes he's worth -- not just take whatever is left over. BriseBois has said he wants Stamkos to retire in Tampa Bay but also to be contending for Cups while he's doing it. Given the current state of the team, you can see the chasm.