Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Unanswered NHL questions

With another two weeks left before NHL training camps open and not much coming across the news wire, it can be tempting to assume that all the offseason’s major story lines have been neatly wrapped up.

For the most part that’s true, but there’s still occasional news trickling in. For example, this weekend we learned that the league had finally gotten around to finding a venue for the Winter Classic in Washington, D.C.,1 just nine short months after they announced the teams involved.

Meanwhile, we’re still looking for a resolution on several other important stories. Here are five offseason subplots on which fans are still waiting for a resolution.

Where will Martin Brodeur play?

This is the time of year when the free-agent pickings start to look pretty sparse. Dustin Penner could help somebody, maybe Todd Bertuzzi if you were desperate, and even good old Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette is still out there for a team looking to boost its Klout rating.

Other than that, the list is pretty thin. Well, except for that surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer who owns most of the all-time NHL records at his position.

That would be Brodeur, of course, who spent 20 years as the undisputed starter in New Jersey before splitting time with Cory Schneider last season and is now an unrestricted free agent. Given his résumé, you might expect that there’d be a long lineup of teams waiting to talk to him, but there’s been surprisingly little buzz around the nine-time All-Star.

That’s partly because the market for goaltending is already saturated, and partly because Brodeur hasn’t actually been all that good over the past few years. There just aren’t any teams that feel like they’re one .900 save percentage starter away from contending, and Brodeur has never seemed all that enthusiastic about accepting a backup role. That’s led to some recent talk that he may just retire, and the Devils say they have a front office spot waiting for him if he wants it.

Still, there are some scenarios remaining in which it could make sense for Brodeur to come back. He could wait for the season to start and see which team runs into inevitable injury problems. He could accept a backup role on a team where the starter is either on shaky ground or injury-prone, with an eye toward winning at least a share of the job. Or he could talk himself into settling for one last Cup chase by accepting a full-time backup job on a legitimate contender.2 So while the odds aren’t looking great, he does have options.

Then again, maybe the best fit would be to return to New Jersey for one more year, back up Schneider, and go out as a hero — or a trade deadline rental if the perfect destination happens to open up during the season. That could be a tough pill for a competitive guy like Brodeur to swallow, but it might be preferable to ending his career with what could be shaping up as an extended Jerry Rice–in-Seattle moment.

Is Daniel Alfredsson coming back?


Unlike Brodeur, the question with the 41-year-old Alfredsson isn’t “where,” since he’s only interested in playing in Detroit. The questions are whether his body will let him play one more year, and whether the Red Wings want him back.

After 17 years in Ottawa, Alfredsson chose to go to Detroit last year in hopes of winning his first Stanley Cup. He performed well enough — his 49 points were actually good enough for a share of the team lead on the injury-ravaged Wings but didn’t get close to that championship, as the team barely made the playoffs and bowed out quickly in the first round. He has battled back problems in recent years, and while he’s indicated his interest in returning, that could change if he doesn’t feel right once he’s back on the ice.

While the Wings would miss Alfredsson’s leadership, they do have a decent dose of youth on the way that could use his ice time. Earlier in the offseason, GM Ken Holland stopped short of guaranteeing him a roster spot. But more recent reports have been more positive, and there seems to be a fit here. The team doesn’t have much cap space, but could do a bonus-laden deal that would ease that pressure for this year. Chances are, this one doesn’t get decided until shortly before training camp, but the betting is that Alfredsson will be back.

By the way, Alfredsson and Brodeur aren’t the only veterans we may not have seen the last of. Guys like Tim Thomas, Saku Koivu, Ed Jovanovski, and Ray Whitney are all still unsigned, and none have officially retired. Heck, even Teemu Selanne hasn’t quite gotten around to hanging up the skates for good yet, although if he plays it will be in the KHL.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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