NHL: 10 Questions From Opening Weekend

AGELESS WONDER: Teemu Selanne has been a force to start the season, but can he keep it up at the age of 42?

BY JEFF ANGUS

NHL hockey is back, and even though the 2013 season is only a few days old, there is no shortage of interesting storylines to (over) analyze. Let’s take a look at 10 questions from around the NHL that need some answers…

10. LUONGO IS STILL A CANUCK…BUT FOR HOW LONG?
Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks (-175, 5.5)
The Vancouver Canucks haven’t traded Roberto Luongo yet, but a deal may be close. GM Mike Gillis was quite candid in a recent interview with the Vancouver Sun, mentioning a potential “surprise team” in the mix for the services of the former Canucks captain. “We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have — and it’s not who anybody thinks it is — and so we have to wait. (But) we’ve been offered packages that don’t fit what our plan is, what we need,” said Gillis. Who is Gillis referencing? The Maple Leafs and injured (now healthy) defenseman Jake Gardiner? The Islanders and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky? How about the Flyers and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov?

9. WHO EXACTLY IS MIKE KOSTKA?
Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins (-225, 6)
The hometown kid has made an immediate impact with the Toronto Maple Leafs on the back end. Kostka, a 27-year-old journeyman defenseman, has two assists through two games with the Leafs. He is averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game in the two opening contests – the Leafs aren’t keeping him around simply because he is a good story. Toronto’s defense was a bit of a mess last season, and the club liked what Kostka brought to the table during the lockout with the Marlies of the AHL.

8. ARE SELANNE AND JAGR STILL ELITE POINT PRODUCERS?
Dallas Stars at Detroit Red Wings (-138, 5.5)
On opening night, the 42-year-old Selanne recorded four points against the Vancouver Canucks, while the 40-year-old Jagr matched that total against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Dallas Stars were hoping that Jagr could be a regular contributor, but they signed just as much for his experience, leadership, and presence on and off of the ice. It looks like Jagr may have more to give this season than initially anticipated. And Selanne looks like he could play until he is 50 – he was by far the best player on the ice against the Canucks, dominating with his speed, instincts, and terrific hands.

7. CAN CLAUDE GIROUX BE BETTER THAN HE WAS LAST YEAR?
Philadelphia Flyers at New Jersey Devils (-120, 5.5)
You tell me:

6. ARE THE DUCKS FOR REAL?
The Ducks have scored 12 goals through their first two games of the season (both wins), dominating both Vancouver and Calgary. This season could be a perfect storm of sorts for the Ducks – they have some young players playing important roles who have been playing in the AHL during the lockout (including Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri), and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both playing for new contracts. Obviously Anaheim needs to find a way to get their two superstar forwards inked to new deals, but having the motivation of a contract year should be the catalyst to get the duo (and particularly Getzlaf) back on track after a disappointing 2011-12 campaign. Keep an eye on mobile defenseman Cam Fowler – the Ducks brought back Scott Niedermayer in a coaching role, and there are many similarities between the two players. Can Niedermayer help Fowler take another step forward with his play?

5. WILL THE TERRIBLE GOALTENDING CONTINUE?
For the most part, NHL goaltenders have struggled through the first few days of the 2013 regular season. Subpar goaltending was also an issue at the beginning of the lockout-shortened season in 1995 – goalies are rusty and haven’t faced NHL quality competition for nearly 10 months. Expect the level of goaltending to improve as the season continues on.

4. DID THE MAPLE LEAFS OVERPAY FOR JOFFREY LUPUL?
Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins (-225, 6)
The Maple Leafs inked the scoring winger to a massive five-year, $26.25 million contract extension a few days ago. Lupul has found a home alongside Phil Kessel on Toronto’s top line after coming over from Anaheim in a trade a few years ago. He isn’t a superstar, but he has a great shot and a solid overall offensive game. However, he turns 30 this year, and his best production days are very likely behind him. He has found a way to make things work with head coach Randy Carlyle after the two butted heads in Anaheim, though. “Lupes and I didn’t see eye to eye, in the past,” Carlyle said. “Because of the type of player [he was]. He’s a much different player now than what he was then and that’s partly because a) I didn’t give him the right situation or put him in the right situation and b) he suffered almost a career-ending injury and he’s taken a different approach to his preparation, both physically and mentally. Lupul stacks up quite favorably to comparably paid players from across the league, too.

3. WHEN WILL RYAN KESLER RETURN FROM INJURY?
Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks (-175, 5.5)
From the perspective of Canucks fans, not soon enough. Vancouver has struggled to generate offense through two games, thanks in large part to the fact that they only have one scoring line. Kesler is the engine that drives Vancouver’s attack, and he takes a lot of pressure of off the Sedin twins. Look for Kesler to make a return within the next 10-15 days – he is nearing a return to practice.

2. WILL THE CANUCKS REGRET THE ALEX EDLER CONTRACT EXTENSION?
Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks (-175, 5.5)
Even if Edler continues to battle through stretches of inconsistent defensive play, Vancouver will receive a lot of value from Edler under his new contract contract (a six year extension worth an average of $5 million per season). Edler is only 26 years old, and he is already an accomplished two-way defenseman. He has shown the ability to completely take over games (just look at a few of his past playoff performances as an example), but he needs to play with a physical edge on a more consistent basis. He has two goals through two games this season, although he has had some defensive blunders as he adjusts to playing on the right side.

1. IS DAMIEN BRUNNER THE NEXT PAVEL DATSYUK?
Dallas Stars at Detroit Red Wings (-138, 5.5)
No he isn’t, but I wanted an excuse to post this:

What are the biggest questions for you after opening weekend in the NHL? Tell us in the comments below!