At this time of year, optimism is easiest to find in NHL cities that have endured the longest summers.
With training camps set to open around the league on Friday, there’s a palpable level of excitement in places like Toronto and Edmonton.
The Maple Leafs and Oilers may have finished 29th and 30th last season, but there seems to be hope that things will be different when the puck drops on this one. In Toronto, there weren’t any sweeping changes, but a young core that put together a decent stretch in March is looking forward to a full season together.
“It’s going to be an exciting camp,” said Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who was named captain over the summer. “I know everyone’s excited to get going. We’ve been here for a couple weeks skating together, almost every guy.
“Everyone’s ready to go. Everyone’s excited about the start of training camp.”
The majority of NHL teams will conduct medical testing on Friday and hold their first on-ice sessions Saturday. The exhibition schedule opens next Tuesday and the regular season begins Oct. 7.
It will be interesting to see who Tom Renney has on the ice at Rexall Place that night when the Oilers face rival Calgary. Top draft pick Taylor Hall joins former first-rounders Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi in a bid to crack to the roster—potentially giving Edmonton the kind of young scoring lineup it hasn’t seen in a couple decades.
Hall has the team’s rabid fanbase rushing to purchase new No. 4 Oilers sweaters. However, the 19-year-old is more than happy to share the spotlight with Eberle and Paajarvi.
“Hopefully all three of us can have a really good camp and crack the squad and make a big difference,” he said.
There are bound to be other players from the 2010 draft class who make the jump to the NHL as well. No. 2 pick Tyler Seguin should get a good look from the Boston Bruins, as will the other top-5 selections: Florida’s Erik Gudbranson, Columbus’s Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter of the New York Islanders.
After a short summer, training camp will get underway in Chicago with coach Joel Quenneville having signed a multi-year contract extension. A number of other personnel will be missing from the Stanley Cup champions, who had to part with a slew of players over the summer to get under the US$59.4-million salary cap.
Even still, Quenneville is looking forward to the season ahead.
“Winning the Stanley Cup was a special season for all of us involved and I am looking forward to more opportunities in the years to come,” he said in a statement.
Ilya Kovalchuk will be among the players who report to training camp with the New Jersey Devils after spending two months of his summer waiting to see where his future lies. He ended up getting a $100-million, 15-year contract—probably making him a Devil for life.
Others won’t be as fortunate because the team is currently over the salary cap by about $3 million. Training camp will likely help determine who is shipped out of town before New Jersey opens the regular season on Oct. 8.
Every team will have important decisions to make, many of them in goal. Will Antti Niemi or Antero Niittymaki see the bulk of the work in San Jose? How will the young tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth be used in Washington? Can Michael Leighon pick up where he left off last spring in leading Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup final?
There will be no such questions in Montreal—at least for now. Carey Price enters the year as the undisputed No. 1 man for a team that is hoping to build on its appearance in the Eastern Conference final last spring.
Naturally, there’s excitement in that hockey hotbed as well.
“What last season did was give us a chance to figure out a bit about each other and what we need to do to be successful,” said Habs forward Mike Cammalleri. “Based on what took place, now what you have is expectation. Not crazy expectation, but there is from the fans, the media and probably the highest of all from our room.
“So the big challenge for us now is to build off that and we’re excited about it. It’s an optimistic feeling.”
There’s no shortage of optimism to go around. Most players can’t wait to get going.
“It’s an exciting time of year (and it’s) great to be back here,” said Phaneuf. “I know from talking with every guy that we’re ready to get going. It’s been a long enough summer.”
With files from Dan Ralph in Toronto, Donna Spencer in Penticton, B.C., and Bill Beacon in Montreal.