Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Booth joins Maple Leafs to 'revive my career'

David Booth is ready with a list of reasons he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs: He can play for an Original Six team close to home with a chance for some significant ice time.

"There's just so many things that I'm excited about," Booth said Wednesday on TSN 1050 Radio. "... Just the opportunity to, I guess, revive my career a little bit."

Booth this week signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs reportedly worth $1.1 million, after the forward was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks following his third disappointing season there.


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Unable to play a full season since 2010-11 with the Florida Panthers, Booth finished with 51 points (26 goals) in 134 games with Vancouver.

"It's been a little bit tougher the past couple years, with some injuries, setbacks that I've had," he said on "The Bryan Hayes Show." "I've stayed positive through them all. ... I thought I was playing some good hockey there toward the end of the year ... and I've had a great summer of training, been healthy, and really excited to get a start here in Toronto."

Booth put up 31 goals and 29 assists (60 points) in 72 games for the Panthers in 2008-09, earning a lucrative six-year contract. He was traded to Vancouver on Oct. 22, 2011 and missed 78 games with knee, ankle and groin injuries.

The 29-year-old finished last season with six points in his final 10 games.

"I was playing better hockey there than the past couple seasons. So that was encouraging, sticking with it, and just making it through there and being able to skate again, and play again," Booth said. "I hope that will carry over with a strong summer here and really get ready for Toronto."

Booth said he chose Toronto in part because it is close to his hometown of Detroit and his parents can come see him play whenever they want. What role he'll have is uncertain, but there is room on the Maple Leafs depth chart for a left wing.

"I don't really want anyone to tell me where I'm going to be playing, I want to be able to earn that spot and be able to prove where I belong," Booth said. "I think everyone coming into training camp feels the same way."

He said his speed allows him to create offensive-zone time and wear down an opposing defense, with historic possession statistics that should help the Maple Leafs.

"I think if I can stay healthy and [work hard], it will show in my game," Booth said. "I'll be able to prove that I can play in this League again."

Major changes for Penguins, Capitals shake Metro

The NHL's two biggest superstars play in the Metropolitan Division, and each has witnessed change all around them this offseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a new coach, a new general manager and six new teammates so far. That's not even mentioning the eight players who left Pittsburgh via a trade or through free agency.

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin also has a new coach, a new general manager and four new teammates so far, including three of Crosby's former teammates and two defensemen he used to battle against.

The Penguins are trying to maintain their place among the elite teams in the NHL while changing on the fly. The Capitals are trying to get back to being one of the elite teams in the NHL while doing the same thing. Pittsburgh ran away with first place in the division last season but lost in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the New York Rangers. The Capitals didn't even make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But Pittsburgh and Washington are not alone in the changeover department among teams in the Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers have lost five of the 19 skaters they used in the Stanley Cup Final. The Philadelphia Flyers traded Scott Hartnell, considered by many players and fans to be the heart and soul of the team. The Columbus Blue Jackets added Hartnell, which means they got bigger and edgier.

The New Jersey Devils spent $26.5 million on new offense. The New York Islanders spent even more, $36.75 million, on two second-line forwards. The Carolina Hurricanes followed the path of the Penguins and Capitals by changing their coach and general manager. Carolina's former GM is the current GM in Pittsburgh, and the Hurricanes' current GM is a former Hall of Fame player for the Penguins. Got that?

What have all these changes done to the teams in Metropolitan Division? Let's break it down:

Note: The additions, re-signed players, still unsigned players and subtractions pertain only to the NHL roster. The money figures are according to or have been provided by the club.


Additions: Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss

Re-signed: none

Still unsigned: Spaling (RFA), Brandon Sutter (RFA), Simon Despres (RFA), Lee Stempniak (UFA), Taylor Pyatt (UFA), Tomas Vokoun (UFA)

Subtractions: James Neal (Nashville Predators), Jussi Jokinen (Florida Panthers), Matt Niskanen (Washington Capitals), Brooks Orpik (Washington Capitals), Tanner Glass (New York Rangers), Chris Conner (Washington Capitals), Deryk Engelland (Calgary Flames), Joe Vitale (Arizona Coyotes)

The Penguins have a new GM (Jim Rutherford), a new coach (Mike Johnston), at least one new assistant coach (Rick Tocchet) and six new players so far. They also traded their fourth leading scorer (Neal), and lost their fifth-leading scorer (Jokinen) and one-third of their top-six defense corps (Niskanen and Orpik) in free agency.

Yet despite the significant changes, they still should be favored to win the division. Why?

Pittsburgh still has a strong top-six forward group with Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Malkin, Hornqvist and maybe Beau Bennett. Spaling, Downie and Comeau give the Penguins something they lacked last season: forward depth, especially when you factor Sutter, Craig Adams and Marcel Goc in the mix.

They still have a mobile defense with Kris Letang, Paul Martin, the emerging Olli Maatta and now Ehrhoff, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract. Marc-Andre Fleury has been one of the NHL's best regular-season goalies for the past four seasons.


Additions: Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass, Michael Kostka, Chris Mueller, Matt Hunwick

Re-signed: Dominic Moore, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello

Still unsigned: Derick Brassard (RFA), John Moore (RFA), Daniel Carcillo (UFA), Raphael Diaz (UFA), Justin Falk (UFA)

Subtractions: Anton Stralman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Brian Boyle (Tampa Bay Lightning), Brad Richards (buyout, Chicago Blackhawks), Benoit Pouliot (Edmonton Oilers), Derek Dorsett (Vancouver Canucks)

The Rangers knew their salary-cap situation wasn't going to allow them to bring back the same team that went to the Final this spring. So instead they've tried to plug some holes left in the wake of free agency and should go into the season hoping some of their younger players are ready.

Dan Boyle should fill Stralman's role as a right-shot defenseman paired with Marc Staal. Glass can take Dorsett's minutes, even if the Rangers can't expect him to be as effective on the forecheck. Kostka and Hunwick will replace Diaz and Falk as the seventh and eighth defensemen. Dylan McIlrath might push too.

Beyond that, it will be up to the young guys, unless the Rangers can swing a trade.

Oscar Lindberg might take over for Richards as one of the Rangers' top-three centers. J.T. Miller might be able to fill Pouliot's role on a line with Brassard and Zuccarello, who are likely to re-sign. But the Rangers still need to find someone to play Boyle's hard minutes. He was their most effective forward on the penalty kill, and he could play any forward position.


Additions: R.J. Umberger, Nick Schultz

Re-signed: Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery, Brayden Schenn, Jason Akeson

Still unsigned: Adam Hall (UFA), Hal Gill (UFA)

Subtractions: Scott Hartnell (Columbus Blue Jackets), Steve Downie (Pittsburgh Penguins), Tye McGinn (San Jose Sharks), Erik Gustafsson (KHL)

The Flyers' big move this offseason came before the draft, when they traded Hartnell to the Blue Jackets to bring Umberger back to Philadelphia. Otherwise it's been a quiet offseason so far for the Flyers, who have re-signed some of their own guys and added a depth defenseman in Schultz but don't have the cap flexibility to do much more right now.

That could change if GM Ron Hextall finds a trading partner and a friendly return for Vinny Lecavalier, who reportedly is on the block with the Flyers looking to move his contract, which carries a salary-cap charge of $4.5 million for four more seasons.


Additions: Scott Hartnell, Jerry D'Amigo

Re-signed: Curtis McElhinney, Dalton Prout, David Savard, Corey Tropp, Tim Erixon

Still unsigned: Ryan Johansen (RFA)

Subtractions: Blake Comeau (Pittsburgh Penguins), Matt Frattin (Toronto Maple Leafs), R.J. Umberger (Philadelphia Flyers), Derek MacKenzie (Florida Panthers), Nikita Nikitin (Edmonton Oilers), Nick Schultz (Philadelphia Flyers)

The Blue Jackets haven't made their most important offseason signing yet; they need to get Johansen under contract without any further tension than there already is. Johansen feels disrespected in the negotiations, telling the Columbus Dispatch that he feels he has earned more than a "bridge" contract and the offers that have come his way have been "a slap in the face."

Johansen was excellent last season with a team-high 63 points as he became the No. 1 center the Blue Jackets thought he would become when they took him with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft. However, it was his first good season. He had 33 points in 107 games from 2011-13.

Provided the Blue Jackets and Johansen find a mutual understanding, the team looks primed to be even better than it was last season, when it made the playoffs and lost in the first round to the Penguins. They will have plenty of size and bite with Hartnell (6-2, 210) joining a forward group that already features Johansen (6-3, 223), Nathan Horton (6-2, 229), Brandon Dubinsky (6-2, 216), Nick Foligno (6-0, 210), Artem Anisimov (6-4, 198), Boone Jenner (6-2, 208) and Jared Boll (6-3, 214).


Additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters, Chris Conner

Re-signed: Michael Latta

Still unsigned: Dustin Penner (UFA)

Subtractions: Mikhail Grabovski (New York Islanders), Tyson Strachan (Buffalo Sabres), Jaroslav Halak (New York Islanders)

GM Brian MacLellan, who served as George McPhee's assistant for the past seven seasons, addressed Washington's defense in a big way on July 1. That's important considering the Capitals might be going for more of a defensive approach under new coach Barry Trotz.

McLellan did it by taking two players from Washington's biggest rival in the division, the Penguins. Neither of them came cheap: Niskanen signed for seven years and $40.25 million. Orpik signed for five years and $27.5 million. The Capitals, who at times had three bona fide NHL defensemen in the lineup last season, now have a top-six defense corps that features Niskanen, Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov.

McLellan also signed Peters to a two-year contract to push incumbent No. 1 Braden Holtby.

However, the Capitals still have a hole at center behind Nicklas Backstrom with Grabovski's departure. How they fill it will go a long way in determining their overall team depth and their chances of getting back into the playoffs after missing last season.


Additions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, Scott Clemmensen

Re-signed: Marek Zidlicky, Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, Cam Janssen

Still unsigned: Jacob Josefson (RFA), Ryan Carter (UFA), Martin Brodeur (UFA)

Subtractions: Anton Volchenkov (buyout), Mark Fayne (Edmonton Oilers)

The Devils bolstered their offense with the addition of Cammalleri on a five-year, $25 million contract. He scored 26 goals last season for the Calgary Flames, who were 23rd in the League in goals-per-game (2.46). The Devils were 27th (2.40).

Havlat can also help the offense if he stays healthy. He should be comfortable surrounded by fellow Czechs Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Zidlicky.

Brodeur's playing days in New Jersey appear over. The Devils plan to have Clemmensen battle with Keith Kinkaid for the No. 2 job behind Cory Schneider.

Fayne's departure puts more onus on Adam Larsson to become a regular on the blue line. Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas should be as well as New Jersey will likely have a top-six defense corps that features Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, Zidlicky, Larsson, Gelinas and Merrill with Peter Harrold as an extra.


Additions: Jay McClement, Brad Malone, Tim Gleason

Re-signed: Ron Hainsey, Jiri Tlusty, Nathan Gerbe

Still unsigned: Andrei Loktionov (UFA), Drayson Bowman (UFA), Radek Dvorak (UFA), Joni Pitkanen (UFA), Mike Komisarek (UFA), Brett Bellemore (UFA)

Subtractions: Justin Peters (Washington Capitals), Manny Malhotra (Montreal Canadiens)

The Hurricanes, like the Penguins and Capitals, have a new coach (Bill Peters) and a new GM (Ron Francis), so ideally they'll have a new look and a new direction as well. However, so far this offseason the Hurricanes have added depth players, a clear indication that they're prepared to give their young guys a fair chance to be difference makers.

Forward Jeff Skinner and defenseman Justin Faulk already are difference-makers. Forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Ryan Murphy are supposed to become star players. They will have to step up this season. If they do, it will give Carolina four key players who are 22 or younger.

Unless the Hurricanes trade Cam Ward and his $6.3 million salary-cap charge, they appear set in goal with Ward and Anton Khudobin. Eric Staal and Jordan Staal are still their top-two centers. Andrej Sekera, at 28, is an emerging top-four defenseman coming off a strong season.


Additions: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson, Cory Conacher, T.J. Brennan, Jack Skille

Re-signed: Casey Cizikas, Calvin de Haan

Still unsigned: Anders Lee (RFA), Matt Donovan (RFA), Radek Martinek (UFA)

Subtractions: Evgeni Nabokov (Tampa Bay Lightning), Anders Nilsson (KHL)

The Islanders paid a hefty price for two-thirds of their second line on Wednesday, but they're hoping Grabovski (four years, $20 million) and Kulemin (four years, $16.75 million) find the magic they had when they played together with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010-11.

That season, while playing with Clarke MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin put up career-highs in goals, assists, points, shots on goal, plus-minus and games played. Grabovski had 29 goals, 29 assists, 58 points, 239 shots and a plus-14 rating in 81 games; Kulemin had 30 goals, 27 assists, 57 points, 173 shots and a plus-7 rating in 82 games.

Grabovski and Kulemin should give the Islanders secondary scoring behind John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Considering they should have solid goaltending again with Halak and Johnson, and it's conceivable that the Islanders take a major step forward and challenge for a playoff berth.

However, they still need to address their defense, which may happen in the form of a trade. The Islanders have an abundance of centers in Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. One could be moved in a trade that brings back a top-four defenseman.


Center upgrades add punch to loaded Central Division

The Central Division has been the center of attention in the NHL this offseason.

Nearly every team in the division has upgraded at the center position, and the two that didn't, the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild, will likely be moving one of the top young players in the League to the middle on a more permanent basis.

The result of a flurry of trades and signings has the Central looking like the toughest division in the NHL for the 2014-15 season. Though the Chicago Blackhawks still look like the leader of the group, they finished third in the division standings last season and might only have the fourth- or even fifth-best collection of centers despite the presence of all-world pivot Jonathan Toews.

Five teams made the postseason in 2013-14 and the Nashville Predators missed by three points. Any of those six teams will be confident they can be a playoff team in the coming season, and 95 points might not be out of the question for any of them.

Here is a breakdown of what the seven Central Division teams have done so far this offseason and how the additions or subtractions could affect their lineup for the 2014-15 season:

Note: The additions, re-signed players, still unsigned players and subtractions pertain only to the NHL roster. The money figures are according to or have been provided by the club.


Additions: Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, Brad Stuart, Bruno Gervais, Zach Redmond, Jesse Winchester

Re-signed: Nick Holden, Ryan O'Reilly

Still unsigned: Tyson Barrie (RFA), Stefan Elliott (RFA), Cory Sarich (UFA)

Subtractions: Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues), P.A. Parenteau (Montreal Canadiens), Matt Hunwick (New York Rangers), Brad Malone (Carolina Hurricanes), Andre Benoit (Buffalo Sabres)

Jarome Iginla

Right Wing - COL

GOALS: 30 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 61

SOG: 209 | +/-: 34

The Avalanche lost the top center on the market, but will replace him by either shifting Nathan MacKinnon or O'Reilly to center. If Colorado had a little more depth on the wings, putting them at center (assuming O'Reilly stays with the team) along with Matt Duchene would make the Avalanche one of the best in the League at the position.

That would possibly help Colorado's puck possession problem, which eventually caught up to the Avalanche in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Colorado had fewer than 48 percent of the shot attempts, but scored more than 53 percent of its goals at even strength during the regular season through a combination of a high team shooting percentage and outstanding goaltending from previously inconsistent Semyon Varlamov.

Losing Stastny and Parenteau, the two best possession forwards in 2013-14, and replacing them with Iginla and Briere, isn't going to solve the problem. Adding Stuart on defense certainly won't either. The fourth line was an anchor last season, and Winchester isn't likely to have a dramatic effect.

The depth on defense remains an issue, though playing Tyson Barrie more would help. Varlamov is going to need to be great again, and given the tutelage of Francois Allaire and Patrick Roy he might be.


Additions: Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera, Joakim Lindstrom, Carl Gunnarsson

Re-signed: Patrik Berglund, Brian Elliott, Steve Ott

Still unsigned: Vladimir Sobotka (RFA), Jaden Schwartz (RFA), Brenden Morrow (UFA), Derek Roy (UFA)

Subtractions: Ryan Miller (Vancouver Canucks), Adam Cracknell (Los Angeles Kings), Roman Polak (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Paul Stastny

Center - STL

GOALS: 25 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 60

SOG: 150 | +/-: 9

The Blues had one of the deepest groups of forwards last season, but the offense went dry during a first-round series with the Blackhawks. Enter Stastny and Lehtera to try and help fix that problem.

David Backes and Berglund could shift to the wing, and the Blues' forward group now looks downright scary. It might have been better naturally, with improvements from Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko (though Schwartz could be in for some shooting percentage regression at both the individual and team levels).

Swapping Polak for Gunnarsson might make one of the best defense corps in the League slightly better as well. Polak was one of the worst possession players on the Blues, and Gunnarsson's raw numbers look bad but not as much in the context of the Toronto Maple Leafs' struggles.

Goaltending will be in focus, because the Blues might have one of the best collections of 18 skaters in the NHL, but Elliott and Jake Allen will have to prove they can help this team deep into the playoffs.


Additions: Brad Richards, Kyle Cumiskey

Re-signed: Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, Peter Regin, Antti Raanta

Still unsigned: Pierre-Marc Bouchard (UFA), Sheldon Brookbank (UFA), Michal Handzus (UFA), Nikolai Khabibulin (UFA)

Subtractions: Brandon Bollig (Calgary Flames)

The Blackhawks were one goal from the Stanley Cup Final, where they would have been heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in five seasons. Instead, they watched the Los Angeles Kings win again and cement the two franchises as the NHL's current superpowers.

Brad Richards

Center - CHI

GOALS: 20 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 51

SOG: 259 | +/-: -8

Los Angeles had one clear advantage against Chicago, and that was down the middle. Richards could help close that gap. He struggled against the Kings in the Cup Final, but should be an upgrade from Handzus. Uber-prospect Teuvo Teravainen might help eventually as well.

Otherwise, things are pretty much status quo. Getting a third-round pick for Bollig was a great deal. The big thing this summer for general manager Stan Bowman is trying to finalize extensions for Toews and Patrick Kane. If that happens, Chicago's place as a top Cup contender will be secure for years to come.


Additions: Thomas Vanek

Re-signed: None

Still unsigned: Jonathon Blum (RFA), Justin Fontaine (RFA), Darcy Kuemper (RFA), Nino Niederreiter (RFA), Jason Zucker (RFA), Ilya Bryzgalov (UFA), Dany Heatley (UFA), Nate Prosser (UFA), Michael Rupp (UFA)

Subtractions: Matt Moulson (Buffalo Sabres), Clayton Stoner (Anaheim Ducks), Cody McCormick (Buffalo Sabres)

Thomas Vanek

Left Wing - MIN

GOALS: 27 | ASST: 41 | PTS: 68

SOG: 248 | +/-: 7

Adding Vanek gives the Wild even more offensive punch. The top two lines will likely include Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Vanek, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, which is among the elite groups in the League.

There is depth behind them as well, with younger players like Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter. Losing Stoner will not hurt the defense corps, and adding a top young prospect like Mathew Dumba could be an upgrade.

Like the Blues, there are questions in goal for the Wild. Josh Harding played great and was an amazing story last season, but missed a lot of it because of his illness (multiple sclerosis). Niklas Backstrom has struggled to stay healthy. Kuemper looked like a future No. 1 goaltender at times during his rookie season.


Additions: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback

Re-signed: Vernon Fiddler

Still unsigned: Brenden Dillon (RFA), Cody Eakin (RFA), Antoine Roussel (RFA), Ray Whitney (UFA), Tim Thomas (UFA)

Subtractions: Alex Chaisson (Ottawa Senators)

Jason Spezza

Center - DAL

GOALS: 23 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 66

SOG: 223 | +/-: -26

Expectations are going to be a lot different in year two of the Jim Nill era in Dallas. After completing maybe the best trade of the offseason before 2013-14 by adding budding superstar Tyler Seguin, Nill acquired Spezza to play behind him.

Add in Hemsky, and the Stars suddenly have a potentially great second line to support Seguin, Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin. Eakin can slide to the third line, and with Fiddler back, not to mention backup options like Shawn Horcoff and even Nichushkin, the Stars are loaded at center.

What might prevent Dallas from being ready to roll through the Western Conference is the defense corps. It will be the same group as last season, though a young guy like Jamie Oleksiak or Brenden Dillon could certainly improve. If Nill goes hunting for help later this offseason or near the trade deadline, expect it to be on the blue line.


Additions: James Neal, Olli Jokinen, Anton Volchenkov

Re-signed: Carter Hutton, Mattias Ekholm

Still unsigned: Taylor Beck (RFA), Ryan Ellis (RFA), Michael Del Zotto (UFA)

Subtractions: Patric Hornqvist (Pittsburgh Penguins), Nick Spaling (Pittsburgh Penguins)

James Neal

Right Wing - NSH

GOALS: 27 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 61

SOG: 238 | +/-: 15

The spending spree last offseason didn't yield positive returns, but trading for Neal and adding Jokinen might in 2014-15. Neal gives the Predators a dynamic scorer they've lacked.

Jokinen isn't flashy, but he'll make Nashville a little better down the middle. General manager David Poile has reportedly been interested in other centers as well. Full seasons for Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok could also give the offense a little extra juice.

Having Pekka Rinne back and healthy is another big reason for optimism in the Music City. He can be the best goaltender in the division, and Nashville had problems at the position without him last season.

The Predators will look pretty similar on defense, but any gains made by Seth Jones in his second season could help them be better as well.


Additions: Mathieu Perreault

Re-signed: Chris Thorburn, Adam Pardy, Michael Hutchinson, Carl Klingberg

Still unsigned: Michael Frolik (RFA), Patrice Cormier (RFA), Devin Setoguchi (UFA), Matt Halischuk (UFA)

Subtractions: Olli Jokinen (Nashville Predators), Al Montoya (Florida Panthers), Zach Redmond (Colorado Avalanche)

Mathieu Perreault

Center - WPG

GOALS: 18 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 43

SOG: 120 | +/-: 13

The Jets were only four points behind the Predators (and seven back of the Stars) last season, and there's a good chance Perreault is an upgrade over Jokinen. That said, the other teams in this division have all made significant upgrades while this has been a relatively quiet offseason for Winnipeg.

Perreault will help at center, as will continued development and maturation from Mark Scheifele. A step forward for Jacob Trouba could make the defense corps better as well. Where Dustin Byfuglien plays will also be something to monitor in training camp.

Michael Hutchinson had a strong Calder Cup Playoffs run with St. John's and could be in line to be the No. 2 behind starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

Bozon on comeback trail after life-threatening illness

With 20 goals in his previous 22 games, Kootenay Ice forward Tim Bozon was playing so well that nobody paid much attention when his nose suddenly started bleeding during warmups before his Western Hockey League game against the Saskatoon Blades on Feb. 28.

Trailing 2-0, the Montreal Canadiens' third-round pick (No. 64) in the 2012 NHL Draft even scored late in the first period to spark Kootenay's 4-2 comeback win. The next morning, he was rushed to a local hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma.

Now five months removed from a bout with a severe form of meningitis, Bozon is returning to the ice with an eye on Canadiens training camp in September.

"I'm feeling really good. I'm really close to being 100 percent like I was before," Bozon told "The most important thing for me was to be happy and to make sure I have a good mentality. It's coming back slowly. Every time I go on the ice I see the progress and that makes me happy."

Following the win in Saskatoon, Bozon went to dinner with teammates before returning to his hotel. Still hungry, Bozon, then 19, and roommate Luke Philp ordered more food from room service when Bozon began complaining of headaches. Athletic therapist Cory Cameron suspected it was a migraine and gave him some medication. No one could have predicted what would happen next.

"I spent some time with him and monitored him as he slept off and on and then made a decision around 7 a.m. that I needed to call an ambulance," Cameron said. "I knew he wasn't understanding what I was saying, he was kind of staring right through me. There was something strange going on. From all the medical professionals I spoke to, it definitely could have gone the other way in a hurry."

Within minutes of arriving at Saskatoon Royal University Hospital, Bozon was intubated and machines were required to help him breathe. He woke up days later with no memory of what had happened and his parents, who immediately flew to Saskatoon from their home in Switzerland, by his side.

Diagnosed with Neisseria Meningitidis, Bozon was listed in critical condition and spent the next four weeks in the hospital undergoing what doctors described as "aggressive treatment, including being in a coma." When he was finally discharged on March 28, four days after his 20th birthday, his father Philippe Bozon, who played parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, choked back tears and credited Cameron with saving his son's life.

"People can say, 'You did a great job and you saved his life.' But for the first 15-20 days he was in the hospital, we didn't know if I did save his life, because he still could have passed away," Cameron said. "That was a pretty stressful time."

After 12 days in intensive care and almost a month in the hospital, Bozon lost close to 50 pounds and his voice was left hoarse from surgery. He hoped to someday return to the ice, but would first have to relearn some of the most basic aspects of daily life.

"The first exercise was just walking, biking, but really slow. No cardio. Also some exercises to learn how to breathe properly again," Bozon said. "That was really frustrating. I wanted to go on the bike, I wanted to go on the treadmill, I wanted to do some bench press. But I couldn't even do that because they said you have to start relearning everything."

After three weeks of low-impact rehab at his home in France, Bozon coordinated with Canadiens strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard, who assigned him a personalized workout regimen. From that point on, he was in constant contact with Allard and Canadiens director of player development Martin Lapointe. He documented his training extensively on Twitter and was back doing on-ice training by June 5.

Before his training even began, Bozon was inspired by a phone conversation with Joel Bouchard, the president and general manager of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. A veteran of 364 NHL games, Bouchard enjoyed a lengthy pro career after spinal meningitis almost killed him in 2000.

"He's the main person for me in my rehab, because you can talk with your family and the doctors, but it's not the same," Bozon said. "He told me everything I wanted to know. When I talked to him, I had a big smile on my face even though I was in bad shape."

The real test for Bozon will come July 31, when he plays his first game since that night in Saskatoon. Competing for France's Under-23 national team, he will travel to Ostrava, Czech Republic to participate in a tournament against six clubs from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

"It's really exciting. I'm pretty sure that when I play my first game I'm going to be emotional," he said. "To be back on the ice playing a game, being in game situations, with all the routines and rituals I do before games and during the game, I feel like I'm going to be emotional. I'm going to be really happy."

It was Bozon who approached French hockey officials about playing in Ostrava. After conferring with Lapointe and Allard, he decided the tournament would be the perfect opportunity to gauge how ready he will be for Canadiens training camp a month later.

Now back up to his playing weight of 193 pounds, Bozon appears to have recaptured the quickness and hand speed that helped him score 105 goals and 231 points in 203 WHL games with Kootenay and the Kamloops Blazers. But there's still a ways to go.

"I think his determination is going to take him wherever he wants to go. Since the day I met him, I know all he can think of is being a professional hockey player," said Cameron, who visited Bozon in France two weeks ago. "The road he's on right now is going to help him get there pretty quick. His determination and drive is probably higher than anyone I've ever seen."

If he attends Montreal's training camp, Bozon will no doubt be asked about how far he's come in such a short time. The hope is his journey is just beginning.

"It's a long story to tell, but I don't mind telling it. It's part of my life and something that happened," Bozon said. "The fact that I succeeded and I'm in shape right now, I'm proud of that."

Over the Boards: Playoffs taught Avalanche lessons

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov still sighs and struggles to speak about the pain he felt the night of April 30, the agony he and his teammates took into the offseason after their heartbreaking exit from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was a nightmare for all of us, especially for me," Varlamov said.


With so many young, high-potential forwards and defensemen, and two goalies capable of putting up great numbers, why are the Ottawa Senators projected to be so bad? -- @pwjustin

I wouldn't say they're projected to be so bad, but I think they're a bubble team at best. I find it hard to predict they will make a big jump in the standings after losing Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Mika Zibanejad has to be ready for a bigger role. He might be, but he hasn't shown it yet. Is Kyle Turris a No. 1 center? Possibly, but we haven't seen it over an 82-game season. Are you sure about Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner? They both had goals-against averages in the threes last season. Part of that had to do with the defense being played in front of them, particularly on the penalty kill (22nd in the NHL, 80.7 percent). Will that be better? Is Marc Methot going to have a better season than he did last season? Is Jared Cowen going to fulfill his potential? The point is there are a lot of question marks, and losing Spezza and Hemsky doesn't help.

Thoughts and projection for Colin Wilson? -- @EricLGA

I'd look for Wilson to start the season on the wing, likely on the first or second line. Peter Laviolette has options now that he doesn't really have to play Matt Cullen or Wilson at center because of the additions of Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen. I think Wilson has more to offer in that he should become a 20-goal, 50-point player. I think he should be closer to those numbers, if not hitting them, under Laviolette.

What's going to happen to Brandon Sutter in Pittsburgh? -- @jacko1616

I wouldn't anticipate any surprises. Sutter should re-sign with the Penguins and return as the third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He becomes even more important to the Penguins if Crosby's wrist injury doesn't heal properly. The Penguins went after depth this offseason, and I look at Sutter as being the most important player in what should be their bottom-six group of forwards. As for term on the contract, Sutter is two years from being an unrestricted free agent, so shorter term might make sense for him. It could for the Penguins too, provided the cap hit is reasonable for a third-line center.

Which team in the East will make the largest jump in the standings? -- @aketts15

My eyes are on the New Jersey Devils to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They needed offense after finishing 27th in goals per game (2.40) last season. They got it by signing Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat. Cammalleri could be the Devils' first 30-goal scorer since Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Havlat is a health risk, but it's a one-year contract and the Devils are uniting him with countrymen Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky. New Jersey's offense should be better. A lot hinges on the continued development of their young defensemen, particularly Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas. Cory Schneider has to be the No. 1 goalie everyone has long thought he can be.

With some great RFAs out there like P.K. Subban, Torey Krug, Ryan Johansen and Derick Brassard why don't we see any players signed to offer sheets? -- @AndrewForward85

Teams are so keen on keeping their own players that an offer sheet has to be exorbitant for them not to match. However, even to deliver an exorbitant offer sheet a team has to be willing to take on the big contract and have the necessary draft picks to deliver as compensation as laid out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Even then, the likelihood is the other team will just match it. The Colorado Avalanche never wanted to pay Ryan O'Reilly $6.5 million last season, but they didn't want to lose him either, so they matched the offer sheet he signed with the Calgary Flames in January 2013 and are now dealing with the fallout from it (O'Reilly's arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday). The Flyers didn't think the Nashville Predators would match the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet they signed Shea Weber to, but they miscalculated on that.

In addition, general managers are leery of setting the market too high for certain players because of the domino effect it tends to have. An offer sheet sets the market higher for players because of the simple fact a team has to offer what would be an overpayment in order to get the player to sign it and to make it unlikely for his team to match it.

Also, per the names in your question, players who file for player-elected arbitration are not eligible to sign an offer sheet. Subban and Brassard were among the 20 players who elected for arbitration this year.

Could the Rangers sink to last in the Metropolitan Division this year? -- @ndantonio8

I take it you're not a fan of what the Rangers have done this offseason. I'd be shocked, floored, aghast (name your adjective) if the Rangers fell to the bottom of the division. You can make the case that the Devils (I already made that case), Washington Capitals and New York Islanders got better, but they won't all jump the Rangers. And the Carolina Hurricanes aren't better than the Rangers, at least not on paper. Henrik Lundqvist is enough to keep the Rangers out of last place. I think they will make the playoffs. Cheer up.

Your thoughts on Brad Richards fitting in with the Blackhawks and will they raise the Cup in 2014-15? -- @r0bertwaters

Richards will fit in with the Blackhawks, but that's not a concern, the issue or a question. The first question is are they deep enough at center with him? The second is will he eventually lose minutes to Teuvo Teravainen? Other than that, Richards is a veteran leader and he'll fit in perfectly in Chicago's no-nonsense, professional dressing room. He'll take some time, but he'll be a voice that you hear plenty of coming out of that room.

And I'm not making any Cup predictions yet. Too early.

The Devils are overloaded with forwards. Who can be moved to make room for youth? -- @C_Diercks

The Devils have depth up front. Depth is essential to winning. They have a couple of young forwards who might be ready for bigger roles (Reid Boucher and Stephane Matteau), but why trade away depth just to give a young guy a chance? Those players will get their chance through injuries and/or if their play in the American Hockey League warrants it. No reason to force it when you're a cap-compliant team with depth.

With essentially the same team returning, will the Hurricanes be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes? Is that ultimately what we need? -- @dshort_0610

Every team needs a prospect like McDavid, so to say he's what the Hurricanes need is shortsighted. However, all I've seen from the Hurricanes from a player-personnel perspective this offseason is a few depth moves (Jay McClement, Brad Malone, Tim Gleason). That doesn't bolster a roster that wasn't good enough last season. It's not enough to get them back in the playoffs. But the lack of activity suggests Carolina is banking on younger players like Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy to step up. If they do, when you factor in Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, Carolina could have four core players who are 22 or younger. That's good for the future, but it might land the Hurricanes in the McDavid-Eichel conversation leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft.

Leading by a goal against the Minnesota Wild with less than three minutes left in regulation of Game 7 in the Western Conference First Round series, it was right there for the taking for the Avalanche. They had played at a surprisingly high level all season and needed to keep it up for a few more minutes to advance in the playoffs for the first time in six years and face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

It didn't happen, and maybe -- as coach Patrick Roy has rationalized over and over, in public and one can only assume in private as well -- it didn't happen for a reason.

Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored the tying goal at 17:33 of the third period and forward Nino Niederreiter scored the winner 5:02 into overtime as Minnesota capped a thrilling, back-and-forth series by erasing four one-goal deficits in Game 7 to win its first playoff round since 2003.

"I would certainly like to have [2:27] at the end of Game 7," Roy said. "Up by one goal, it would have been a great experience for our players to go on against Chicago, but at the same time maybe it just wasn't our time yet. I think everybody was talking to the players and they were all disappointed. I think it hurt us a lot. I think we learned a lot from it."

How the Avalanche respond to the heartbreak remains to be seen, but the players returning to Colorado universally agree there are lessons to be taken from the loss to the Wild that could be the driving force behind a longer playoff run in 2015.

It starts with overcoming the fear of being a legitimate contender in the playoffs for the first time as a team. The Avalanche hadn't been to the playoffs since 2010. Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Ryan Wilson and Cody McLeod were the only holdovers from that team.

The lesson: Have no fear.

"I think we're going to deal with the word fear. I think we're going to be a winner," Roy said. "Just look at L.A. I mean, down 0-3 against San Jose, they had no fear, just played their game and they won that series. Down 2-3 against Anaheim they did the same thing. Whether we like it or not, it takes time and it's a process. I think we're in this process, and I think we're all learning from it."

Roy said the Avalanche weren't afraid to succeed in the playoffs, but they need to find a way to marry their desire to be a contender with the ability to win under the umbrella of high expectations.

The lesson: Manage what will now be higher expectations together.

"When expectations are there, people expect you to perform at a certain level," Roy said. "That's going to be the key for us as coaches, to make sure we try to boost them up and be with them. I think the partnership is going to be even more important because you don't want to put extra pressure on the players. You want them to feel good on the ice and feeling that they're not alone in this and we're all together. I think this is how we're going to get on the winning track."

The strongest competitors say injuries are an excuse used by the weak, but the Avalanche had their share (Tyson Barrie, Duchene, John Mitchell). Even Roy, a four-time Stanley Cup champion known as one of the fiercest competitors ever in the game, admitted injuries were a factor.

The lesson: Depth is essential.

The Avalanche feel they addressed that issue this offseason, particularly in their bottom-six forward group with the additions of Daniel Briere and Jesse Winchester. They added to their defense by signing Brad Stuart and Zach Redmond.

Jarome Iginla was the big offseason addition and Stastny was the major subtraction, but they can offset each other if Nathan MacKinnon slides over to center, where he excelled as a junior player with the Halifax Mooseheads. Iginla would take MacKinnon's minutes on the wing and MacKinnon would take Stastny's minutes in the middle.

"We added size, we added toughness, experience," Avalanche president of hockey operations Joe Sakic said. "Everything we wanted to do, we feel we accomplished."

Not everything, at least not yet. The Avalanche are scheduled to meet with O'Reilly in front of an arbitrator on Wednesday for their club-elected salary arbitration hearing. They also need to re-sign Barrie, who is a restricted free agent.

Once the formalities are completed and the contracts signed, all the Avalanche players, coaches and executives will be able to give their full attention to the upcoming season. They'll turn the page on the nightmarish conclusion to last season and try to use it to their benefit.

The lesson: Don't let it happen again.

Hitchcock opens up in Twitter chat

If you weren't following the St. Louis Blues Twitter feed Tuesday (@StLouisBlues) you missed an insightful hour-long Q&A session with coach Ken Hitchcock titled #AskHitch.

Hitchcock answered 49 questions ranging from his feelings on 3-on-3 in overtime to his favorite battle in the Civil War (Note: Hitchcock is a history buff and said if he wasn't a coach he'd be a history teacher). Among the followers who asked questions were T.J. Oshie and Brett Hull.

Here are some of the highlights:

* Hitchcock credited Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks and Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks as the toughest coaches to face when it comes to in-game adjustments.

* He likes the idea of the overtime format including 4-on-4 for four minutes and if no winner is decided going to 3-on-3 for four minutes before a shootout. He also is in favor of teams changing ends for overtime, which is likely going to be part of the rules this season.

* The Battle of Gettysburg is Hitchcock's favorite Civil War battle and "April 1865" is his book recommendation.

* He said he prefers Wayne Gretzky over Mario Lemieux and his best all-time starting lineup would be Terry Sawchuk, Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Hull.

* He said the toughest buildings for the Blues to play in are SAP Center in San Jose and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

* Hitchcock uses advanced statistics for "matchups and chemistry."

* Asked for insight into lines to start next season, he said to look for pairs: T.J. Oshie and David Backes, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen and Joakim Lindstrom. He also said Patrik Berglund will play with Backes.

* His favorite players to coach have been Mark Recchi, Sergei Zubov, Derian Hatcher, Keith Primeau and Rick Nash. He called them "great 200-footers." He also said Steen has the same qualities as Jere Lehtinen, a three-time Selke Trophy winner with the Dallas Stars.

* Hitchcock said Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry, in that order, are the best pure goal-scorers in the game today.

* Oshie asked Hitchcock for his thoughts on toe drags and if the Blues should do more of them. Hitchcock responded, "Only in practice with nobody around 74."

* Hull wanted to know why he wasn't mentioned as a Blues alumni player Hitchcock would have wanted to coach. Hitchcock clarified that he loved watching Hull, an indication that coaching him might have been too much.

What Benning sees in Sbisa

Luca Sbisa has gone the other way in trades for Chris Pronger and Ryan Kesler. Each time he's been targeted by the team acquiring him, first the Anaheim Ducks and most recently the Vancouver Canucks, as a defenseman with upside, potential and difference-making ability.

The Canucks think they can be the team that finally unlocks all of that.

Vancouver general manager Jim Benning said he used to scout Sbisa as the assistant general manager of the Boston Bruins and always came away impressed with his skating, ability to make a clean and accurate first pass out of the defensive zone, and his physicality.

"I think if we work with him and we add structure to his game -- he's a good teammate, sticks up for his teammates, physical -- I think we can turn him into a real good player for us going forward," Benning said.

The Philadelphia Flyers brought Sbisa into the NHL as the No. 19 pick of the 2008 draft. He checked off all the boxes as a player with size, speed, skill, intelligence and poise. He played 39 games in 2008-09 before he was sent to Anaheim in the trade that brought Pronger to Philadelphia.


Avalanche coach Patrick Roy on whether a goal for his team is to rely on Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov less than it did last season, when he faced 32 shots per game:

"It's a bit the way we want to play. We're an offensive team. We're a team that wants to go on offense. We have the speed and the skill up front. We give up a lot of shots, yes, but it's not a concern to us in the way we try to cut down on scoring chances. That's what we did at the end of the season. We gave up less chances."

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on how captain Steven Stamkos rose to be a team leader:

"I've watched it. I've only been the coach here a short time, and ironically this is my third captain. But I've watched the progression. I don't know how it's been on other teams, but there's a pecking order and players know it. When Vinny [Lecavalier] was the captain, Marty [St. Louis] didn't say as much and neither did Stammer. When Vinny left, Marty was much more outspoken and Stammer was a little more outspoken, but not the same. When Marty left, Stammer became much more outspoken. I don't know if guys are held back from saying things that they want to, but now they are not. Stammer, it's his team and deservedly so. Because our team is so young, Stammer is the age of the team coming up."

The Ducks thought they were getting a gem, but Sbisa never became that. He signed a four-year contract in 2011 and has been a full-time NHL player the past three seasons, but put up only 32 points in 151 games. He was limited to 30 games last season because of various injuries.

The Canucks need him to play a significant role. They traded Jason Garrison to make room for him.

"He gives us some physical play from the back end," Benning said. "He's strong. He plays a heavy game. I think in our division his heaviness is going to come in handy for our group.

"We feel like Sbisa is going to develop into a real good defenseman for us."

Bowman isn't into numbering things

For the past several seasons a knock on the Chicago Blackhawks, probably the only knock on them, is they haven't had a No. 2 center. The funny thing is general manager Stan Bowman agrees, only for reasons quite different than, say, a fan or critical media member.

Bowman has become famous in Chicago media circles for saying the Blackhawks do not number their lines one through four, but rather try to develop four lines that can contribute in similar ways.

So to say that Brad Richards and Teuvo Teravainen are competing to be the No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews and in front of Andrew Shaw is wrong, at least according to Bowman. He explained his thinking soon after the team signed Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract.

"The strength of our team going back five years has been the depth, and it's the ability of us not to tax one player or one line too much," Bowman said. "For that reason, Brad is coming into a good position here where he doesn't have to carry the load and he can allow his talents to play out that way. Ultimately who he is paired up with and how the coaches structure the lines, we're looking for some balance from our forwards. We like the fact that we can play four lines and have all of them be offensive threats and be responsible at the same time. He's going to be just fitting in with the other guys and hopefully that's going to help him as we look to have a strong four-line rotation."