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.”

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.

Penguins, coach Mike Sullivan agree to 3-year extension

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan doesn’t believe coaches have a “shelf life.”

Apparently, neither do his bosses.

The Pittsburgh Penguins signed their two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach to a contract extension that runs through the 2026-27 season, a pact that doubled as a vote of confidence in the club’s iconic core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and the fiery Sullivan’s ability to lead them.

Sullivan still had two years remaining on his current contract. Yet Fenway Sports Group, which purchased the Penguins from Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle last fall, saw enough to lock down the winningest coach in franchise history for the long term.

The 54-year-old Sullivan joined Pittsburgh in December 2015. If he reaches the end of his new deal, it means he’ll have spent more than a decade with the Penguins, a nearly unheard of tenure in the NHL.

Then again, Sullivan believes he’s in a nearly unheard-of situation.

“I think I had the luxury of inheriting a standard of excellence, a certain culture that has been developed in Pittsburgh,” Sullivan said. “I feel the need to be the custodian of that.”

Sullivan’s 297 regular-season wins are a franchise record. His 44-38 playoff mark includes Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. The Massachusetts native is the only American-born coach with multiple Cups and he’s one of only two coaches in NHL history to win the Cup in each of his first two seasons with a team.

“He has clearly demonstrated what an effective leader he is,” said Fenway Sports Group owner John Henry. “And it’s evident how well players respond to his philosophy and work ethic night after night, month after month.”

Even if, on the surface, it looks like an odd marriage. Of styles anyway.

The grinder who spent a decade in the NHL willfully doing the dirty work others wouldn’t or couldn’t in order to cling to a roster spot leads a group of such preternatural ability it often leaves Sullivan shaking his impeccably coiffed head.

“I wish I could play the game the way that this group of players can play,” Sullivan said.

He couldn’t. Yet the center who mustered all of 54 goals in 11 seasons has found a way to connect with the generational talents that dot Pittsburgh’s roster. Asked to explain what’s allowed him to thrive in a position that is long on burnout and short on sustained success and Sullivan points not to Xs and Os but something deeper.

“I just believe in being honest and candid with our players,” he said. “I think an important aspect of what we do is building relationships … When relationships grow and develop over the course of time they should get stronger.”

Particularly during times of adversity, something that’s become familiar in recent years in Pittsburgh. The Penguins haven’t reached the second round of the playoffs since 2018 and saw a promising season come to an end under somewhat bizarre circumstances last spring in a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in the opening round.

In the aftermath, the players to a man stressed the club’s championship window remained open, even with Crosby, Letang and Malkin all in their mid-30s. Management apparently agreed, signing Letang and Malkin to lengthy extensions in July. Now, they’ve followed suit by doing the same to the coach whose “play the right way” ethos doesn’t seem to have grown stale.

“It’s about selling the message,” Sullivan said. “It’s about making sure that whatever you’re trying to sell, they’ve got to buy in. They have to believe to their very core that this is the game plan that is going to give us the best chance of success.”

And success remains the standard for a team that’s reached the playoffs 16 straight years, the longest active streak in North American professional sports. Yet Sullivan is well aware the standard isn’t simply reaching the postseason, but staying awhile.

While he’s well aware of the advancing age of his superstars, he’s bullish on the future.

“I believe these guys can still play,” he said of Crosby, Letang and Malkin. “They’ve shown no signs of decline. I have the opportunity to watch these guys every day. I know the sacrifices they make.”

The past seven-plus years have given Sullivan an opportunity to watch those sacrifices up close. There have been tense moments. Difficult conversations. Tough decisions. Success can be fickle. Longevity perhaps even more so. The new contract won’t be worth much if the Penguins don’t win and win at a high level.

Bring it on.

“I just love what I do. I love being a part of it. I love being in the heat of the battle,” he said. “It’s part of my DNA I guess.”