RALEIGH, N.C. - After their first official practice Sunday, many of the Carolina Hurricanes skated toward the centre of the ice and raised their sticks to thank the fans who came out to watch the opening day of training camp.
With the lockout over, the Hurricanes and their fans can finally look forward to a season that will begin Saturday at Florida with an elevated level of anticipation.
After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, Carolina acquired Jordan Staal in a trade with Pittsburgh and signed free-agent forward Alexander Semin from Washington before the lockout put a temporary delay on the enthusiasm.
"There was definitely a little bit of excitement around here in the off-season with all the deals that we got done," said centre Jeff Skinner, who signed a six-year contract extension in August.
"I think for now, it even makes it more exciting. Having a tighter schedule and having less time to get ready for camp to jell together—I think it adds to the excitement even more. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Carolina continued its wheeling and dealing Sunday by making a pair of trades and signing a backup goalie.
The Hurricanes acquired forward Kevin Westgarth from Los Angeles for forward Anthony Stewart and two draft picks. That move came after Carolina sent goalie Brian Boucher and minor league defenceman Mark Alt to Philadelphia for minor league centre Luke Pither.
The team also signed goalie Dan Ellis to a one-year deal worth a prorated $650,000 this season.
Westgarth was in Raleigh last week skating with some Hurricanes during an informal workout. He wasn't at Sunday's session but seems likely to earn a place on Carolina's fourth line.
"We're really excited to get him," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "He's going to be a great addition to our hockey club. ... Some areas that we felt we needed to get better at and stronger at were a little more size, a little bit more physical play in our game. He brings that."
With forward Tuomo Ruutu out until April after hip surgery, the Hurricanes' plan is to have brothers Eric and Jordan Staal centre their top two lines.
Eric skated with the top unit during Sunday's practice, forming a partnership with Semin and Jiri Tlutsy. Muller said the Semin-Eric Staal combination is one the club will stick with for the foreseeable future to see if chemistry develops.
While Muller said Semin was still feeling a little jet-lagged after flying from Russia to Raleigh last week, he was alert enough to show off his fearsome wrist shot during practice.
"He's definitely got the skill," Eric Staal said. "We know that, playing against him for years. Some nights when you don't have it, I think just that threat—he's going to back off defences and give other guys opportunity. He's one of those guys that with his release and his shot, he's going to be able to score a lot of goals in tight areas."
Jordan, meanwhile, partnered with Skinner and Chad LaRose. Muller said the hope is that Skinner and Jordan Staal can forge a bond, just like Semin and Eric Staal.
The first step in that process happened Sunday, although Jordan Staal confessed he was a bit nervous skating with a new team after six years with the Penguins.
"It's part of it, I guess," he said. "It's just a new team. Not being on the ice with the guys for so long—it got a little anxious. I'm obviously excited to be here.
"It's just nice to be in the room with the guys and move forward toward a season."