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NHL back in business - training camps get underway across the continent

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

All the teams are in the playoff picture and more than a few fashion themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders. Nowhere is optimism higher than in Ottawa, where the Senators look to become the first team since the 1984 Edmonton Oilers to win the Stanley Cup one year after losing in the final.

"Everybody's talked about it so much," centre Jason Spezza said at Scotiabank Place, where the players were put through medicals.

"Everyone was sure not to take off too much time in the summer. The whole organization is aware of that stat, so we're going to do our best to make sure we're not a part of it."

Some teams just held medicals. Others skated. Camps are now open in all six Canadian cities.

The biggest change in Ottawa is John Paddock getting promoted to head coach after Bryan Murray took over as GM.

With so many players returning that were part of the Stanley Cup loss to Anaheim, the Sens are eager to prove there's no truth to the hangover theory.

"Personally, I don't believe in that," said captain Daniel Alfredsson said.

The Calgary Flames are also looking to get back to the Stanley Cup, as they did in 2004.

Coach (Iron) Mike Keenan takes over a team that could be among the best in the West. Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr have been signed to long-term deals and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will be back in net this season.

On top of that, Keenan liked the look of his players as they reported for training camp at Pengrowth Saddledome on Thursday.

"It's a very important day because if they haven't done the work they need to, it's hard to catch up," he said. "And I think just by looking at them at this point, they've done a lot of work."

In Toronto, Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice was predicting bigger things for his team.

The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point last season and the second-year coach promised it wouldn't happen again.

"We'll make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup," Maurice said.

Even the rival Montreal Canadiens feel like they have a shot.

Pundits have predicted a long, cold year in Montreal after the team failed to land any high-profile free agents. The Habs didn't qualify for the post-season a year ago and are looking for some of their younger players to step up and change that this year.

They're not buying into all the dire predictions.

"We don't take much stock in that," said forward Chris Higgins. "Every year is different. We have to have that belief that we can win games. Everything is a wash right now, everyone has no wins, no losses.

"We have to believe we have a winning team and that we can reach our goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Most people don't have us doing that, but that has to the goal every year."

There's even hope in Edmonton, where the Oilers won just two of their final 20 games last season and finished 12th in the Western Conference.

Free-agent signings Sheldon Souray and Dustin Penner were among the players who showed up for medicals on Thursday. Rather than thinking about last year, many of the Oilers were pointing to 2006, when they made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup.

"Nobody was happy with the way we finished last season," said forward Shawn Horcoff. "We all feel like there's something to prove right now.

"Not just individually, but team-wise also. We want to get back to the level we were at two years ago. We feel, with the changes we've made, there's really no excuses for us."

The one place expectations seem to be tempered was in Victoria, where the Vancouver Canucks broke camp. They're coming off an appearance in the second round of the playoffs and GM Dave Nonis says he hopes they can get back to the post-season this year in the tough Western Conference.

Canucks fans who thought they had a Stanley Cup contender might be surprised to hear it.

"Our first goal is to compete in our conference and make the playoffs," said Nonis. "I don't think you can look past that. It's going to be very difficult to do. I think we have a very competitive, not just division, but conference.

"There's a lot of hard work ahead to make the post-season but that'll be our first objective."

One of the teams the Canucks might end up battling for a playoff spot is the St. Louis Blues.

St. Louis played well after bringing in coach Andy Murray last year and signed veteran forwards Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya in the off-season. As the Blues opened camp, the hockey buzz had returned in St. Louis.

"Huge, huge, huge," said Blues president John Davidson. "The catalyst was two things - first, Andy Murray coming here. Everybody understands that we play hard now. And then the Paul Kariya signing got people jump-started here."

In Columbus, the Blue Jackets took care of some housekeeping after conducting physicals and fitness training at Nationwide Arena.

The team suspended centre Alexander Svitov for failing to report to camp. He signed with Avangard Omsk in Russia last month and told the Blue Jackets he wasn't coming to North America. Svitov had earlier signed a two-year contract with Columbus on July 2.

"There was some family pressure on him to stay over there. He's connected to the team through relatives as well," said Jackets GM Scott Howson. "He told me he just wanted to try it for a year. That's how it was left."

And in Buffalo, the Sabres got some bad news. The team announced that defenceman Teppo Numminen needs surgery to correct a cardiac condition and will be out indefinitely.


With files from Pierre LeBrun, Bill Beacon, James Stevenson, Chris Yzerman and Robin Brownlee.


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