Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Longtime NHL defenseman Zdeno Chara, 45, retires as Bruin

David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — Zdeno Chara announced his retirement after playing 21 seasons in the NHL and captaining the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011.

The 6-foot-9 defenseman from Slovakia is calling it a career at age 45. He returned to TD Garden in Boston to make that announcement two years after splitting with the Bruins following 14 seasons.

Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2009 and also spent time with the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals. Known more for his ability to keep the puck out of the net than putting it in, Chara still scored 237 goals and added 523 assists for 750 points in 1,880 regular-season and playoff games.

His 1,680 regular-season games played is a record for defenseman. He is a candidate for the Hockey Hall of Fame based not only on his consistency but also his stature in the game from Slovakia to North America.

Chara was the second European captain to win the Cup, following Swede Nicklas Lidstrom with Detroit. He was one of the faces of a winning era for the Bruins, which also included trips to the final in 2013 and 2019, the latter of which he finished while playing with a broken jaw.

Drafted by the Islanders in the third round in 1996, he played his first four seasons on Long Island before getting traded to the Senators. Boston signing him in 2006 remains one of the most impactful free agency signings in the 17 years of the NHL’s salary cap era.

Chara made five of his six All-Star Game appearances while with the Bruins and was one of the city’s most popular athletes during that time. He left in 2020 when the team would not guarantee him a full-time job for the entire season, so he signed a one-year deal with Washington before finishing his playing career with the Islanders.

P.K. Subban announces retirement after 13 NHL seasons

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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Defenseman P.K. Subban announced his retirement from the NHL following 13 seasons playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, and New Jersey Devils.

The 33-year-old former Norris Trophy winner shared the news on social media.

Subban, who is from Toronto, registered 115 goals and 467 points in 824 regular-season games. The 43rd overall pick at the 2007 NHL draft added 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists) in 96 postseason games. The flashy blue liner won the Norris Trophy in 2013 with the Canadiens.

Subban, who was an unrestricted free agent this summer, has done television in the past and hinted at new opportunities in his retirement post.

“I never looked at myself or ever felt I was ‘just a hockey player,’” he wrote. “I always looked at myself as a person who happened to play hockey.

“Having that perspective allowed me to enjoy every shift like it was my last, celebrate every goal with emotion and play every game as if someone paid to watch me who had never seen me play before.”

Flyers’ Sean Couturier in danger of missing camp with injury

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier suffered an undisclosed injury and will be re-evaluated during training camp. He is considered week-to-week. The Flyers did not say when Couturier was injured.

Couturier underwent back surgery in February and missed the rest of the season. He signed an eight-year, $62 million contract extension in 2021 and ended the season with 17 points in 29 games.

The Flyers hired John Tortorella in the offseason for what is expected to be a rebuilding year. The Flyers finished with a 25-46-11 record last season under Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo and were last in the Metropolitan Division.