Swept out of the playoffs, Evgeni Malkin is itching to get back on the ice with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates.
“I miss hockey,” he said. “It’s (a) long summer.”
Actually, it’s the NHL’s shortest summer in recent history. Training camps open around the league Wednesday, just 79 days after the Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up the lockout-shortened 2013 season by winning the Stanley Cup.
“I think for us, it’s a short offseason, but we’re excited to go back to camp and be together with a team again, get things started and just get back to our daily job as hockey players,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said last week.
Condensing a 48-game regular season and playoffs into a window from mid-January to June made for a June 24 ending. The draft and free agency came and went in a blur.
Blackhawks players got to celebrate with a parade and now must shift focus to the business of trying to repeat. For players from the runner-up Boston Bruins and everyone else, preparations for training camp have been underway for a while.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the offseason was so brief.
“From how you prepare for a season, I don’t think it has any effect,” Winnipeg Jets left winger Andrew Ladd said. “I think you would always usually come into town a couple weeks early and skate with the guys and start preparing for the season.”
Those informal skates are over, as are rookie camps. Teams have physicals and other off-ice activities scheduled for Wednesday, and the first on-ice sessions Thursday.
For teams featuring new coaches — John Tortorella with the Vancouver Canucks, Alain Vigneault with the New York Rangers, Lindy Ruff with the Dallas Stars, and Dallas Eakins with the Edmonton Oilers — training camp is the first taste of change. As he did when in charge of the Rangers, Tortorella sent a letter to Canucks players detailing what fitness testing would be like, and strength trainers sent videos of what it looked like.
“I heard we need two ice sheets just for the tests,” center Ryan Kesler said. “I heard it’s tough. It’s going to be rigorous, he even says that. I’ve been doing it this summer and, yeah, it’s not fun. I think that’s going to be the mindset, though. We’re going to work hard, some days aren’t going to be fun, but it’s for the better of the team.”
One benefit of the new collective bargaining agreement being in place and an 82-game season on the horizon is that teams will get more than a cursory glance at players, which was the case in January. There are more mandatory off days and limits on ice time under this CBA, which changes a little bit from previous years.
Camps are limited to 20 days for veterans, and each player is required to have two days off.
“Camp is shorter now than it used to be,” Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said. “There’s not a lot of time for making people feel good. So I think Randy [Carlyle] and the coaching staff, they’ll give everyone an opportunity, but we need to get to work pretty quick.”
Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza similarly expects camp to be “full throttle” even with reigning coach of the year Paul MacLean in charge again. The post-Daniel Alfredsson era begins with the addition of Bobby Ryan and a changing leadership dynamic in the locker room and on the ice.
Even in places where not much has changed, players voiced an eagerness to get started.
“I enjoy training camp. I know a lot of guys don’t, but I actually do,” San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture said. “It’s good to see all the guys again. I haven’t seen them in a couple months, and just get back to feeling good about your game and relearning the system. I’m sure ours is going to be very similar to what it was last year and the years before that, but I’m looking forward to that.”