Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Blackhawks’ Jake McCabe sidelined by spine surgery

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Blackhawks defenseman Jake McCabe will miss the start of the season after he had cervical spine surgery.

Team physician Michael Terry said that McCabe is expected to return in 10 to 12 weeks. There was no word on when exactly McCabe had the surgery.

McCabe, who turns 29 on Oct. 12, had four goals and a career-best 18 assists in 75 games last season. He signed a $16 million, four-year contract with Chicago in July 2021.

Forward prospect Jalen Luypen also will miss the start of the season because of a left rotator cuff injury. The team said he is expected to return in 14 to 18 weeks.

The 20-year-old Luypen was selected by Chicago in the seventh round of the 2021 draft. He signed an entry level contract in August that runs through the 2024-25 season with a salary-cap hit of $859,166.67.

Blackhawks agree to 1-year deal with D Jack Johnson

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to a one-year contract with Jack Johnson after the veteran defenseman helped Colorado win the Stanley Cup last season.

The rebuilding Blackhawks announced the deal on Wednesday. Johnson’s contract carries a $950,000 hit for the salary cap.

“Jack provides the team with a strong veteran presence, good size and a competitive edge,” general manager Kyle Davidson said in a statement. “We’re excited to have Jack join the organization and, coming off a Stanley Cup championship last year, he will strengthen our defensive group.”

The 35-year-old Johnson broke into the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007. He has 72 goals and 240 assists in 1,024 games, also playing for Columbus, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.

Johnson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 draft, had one goal and eight assists in 74 games with the Avalanche last season. Johnson, listed at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, also skated in 13 playoff games.

Blackhawks announce 1-year contracts for D Jones, F Kurashev

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to one-year contracts with defenseman Caleb Jones and forward Philipp Kurashev.

Jones and Kurashev were restricted free agents. Jones’ deal carries a $1,350,000 salary-cap hit, and Kurashev’s contract is worth $750,000.

The team announced the moves on Friday. Training camp begins on Sept. 21.

The 25-year-old Jones set career highs with five goals and 10 assists in 51 games in his first season with Chicago. He was acquired in the July 2021 trade that sent Duncan Keith to Edmonton.

Kurashev, 22, had six goals and 15 assists in 67 games last season. He was selected by the Blackhawks in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.

Kurashev made his NHL debut on Jan. 15, 2021. He had eight goals and eight assists in 54 games in his first season with Chicago.

Blackhawks face Wild in Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum on Oct. 2

Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
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MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee will host an NHL game for the first time in more than three decades when the Chicago Blackhawks face the Minnesota Wild at Fiserv Forum, the home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

The Oct. 2 preseason matchup marks the first NHL game at Milwaukee since 1993. It’s the first time the Blackhawks have played at Milwaukee since facing the Los Angeles Kings at the Bradley Center on Dec. 1, 1992.

The Bradley Center, the Bucks’ former home, hosted NHL preseason games and regular-season games annually from 1988-93.