Almost three months to the day after the Boston Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, NHL players are heading back to work.
For virtually everyone who wasn't part of the Bruins or Canucks when Game 7 was played June 15, it's been a long wait.
The majority of players had five months off to rehab injuries and start working towards a new season. In some cases, it was a welcome break.
"The long off-season is good for everybody to get that rest and get the time away from the game we need," Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said recently. "I think we're all excited and eager to get going."
Teams around the NHL will put players through medical testing on Friday before taking to the ice for the start of training camp on Saturday.
While Toews was obviously disappointed the Blackhawks failed to get past Vancouver in the first round, it offered him a chance to spend more time in the gym than usual. Chicago was coming off two quick summers after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and advancing to the Western Conference final in 2009.
As a result, Toews is a prime candidate for a breakthrough season. He expects to improve on the career-best 76 points he had a year ago.
"I'm definitely setting my sights on bigger things personally, not only team-wise," said Toews. "At any level I've ever played, I always wanted to be the best. I think that's what it's all about—in the end, you want to have as much of an influence and affect on your team as you can.
"I think the sky's the limit."
It's the kind of positive thinking that can be found in abundance before meaningful games have been played.
Toews comes by it honestly having spent some of the summer in his hometown of Winnipeg, where there is still a buzz about the return of the Jets after 15 years. The anticipation will only grow with players officially reporting on Friday to begin work towards the regular-season opener against Montreal on Oct. 9.
There is hope in other parts of the country as well. No significant pieces were lost from the Canucks team that fell one heartbreaking game short of ending the country's Stanley Cup drought and they're expected to challenge again.
Edmonton enters training camp facing the kind of difficult decision most teams would love to have—should No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent play in the NHL this season? In Montreal, the Habs are talking about challenging in the East while general managers in Calgary and Toronto believe the've assembled better teams.
Even in Ottawa, where the Senators are rebuilding, there is optimism with a number of highly rated prospects pushing for jobs on new coach Paul MacLean's roster.
On Wednesday, the Hockey Hall of Fame sent the Stanley Cup to be engraved with the names of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. A summer of partying ended quickly for members of that franchise.
"We'll see on Thursday, maybe I'll take a day off and relax because that might be the last day off I can get for a while," Bruins forward David Krejci said at a team golf tournament earlier in the week.
Some of the focus with camps opening will be on who isn't taking part. Bruins forward Brad Marchand and Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian each agreed to US$5-million, two-year contracts on Wednesday, leaving four restricted free agents without deals: Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, Islanders forward Josh Bailey and Coyotes forward Kyle Turris.
After waiting a couple months to get a new contract, Marchand was happy to put the negotiation period behind him.
"I wanted to be here first day," he said on a conference call. "I wanted to show I wanted to be here. ... Now we can just move forward."
The regular season starts Oct. 6.
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