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.”

Seattle Kraken promote Alexandra Mandrycky to assistant GM

Seattle Kraken promoteAlexandra Mandrycky to assistant GM

SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken have promoted Alexandra Mandrycky to assistant general manager after three years as director of hockey strategy and research.

Mandrycky was one of the first front-office hires by the Kraken after the expansion franchise was awarded by the NHL. She becomes the sixth female assistant general manager currently in the NHL.

“I am extremely honored to step into this role with the Kraken,” Mandrycky said in a statement. “I’d like to thank my team, who have been an essential part of the day-to-day success of our department and organization. I appreciate the trust Ron and Tod Leiweke have shown in not only me, but our whole department, and I’m excited to continue to grow with this team.”

Mandrycky will join Ricky Olczyk and Jason Botterill as assistant general managers working alongside GM Ron Francis. Mandrycky will continue to lead Seattle’s research and development team but also oversee amateur scouting as part of her promotion.

Mandrycky spent four seasons as an analyst for the Minnesota Wild before joining the Kraken.

Seattle Kraken add Dave Lowry to staff as assistant coach

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken have added former Winnipeg interim coach Dave Lowry to the coaching staff for the upcoming season.

Lowry spent most of last season as the interim head coach for the Jets. He took over on Dec. 17 and went 26-22-6 while in charge. Lowry had joined Winnipeg as an assistant coach before the start of the 2020 season.

Lowry has also worked as an assistant with Los Angeles and Calgary, along with stints as a head coach with three different teams in the Western Hockey League.

Lowry spent 19 seasons as a player in the NHL with Vancouver, Calgary, St. Louis, Florida and San Jose.

Kraken sign Ryan Donato to 1-year, $1.2 million deal

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken re-signed forward Ryan Donato to a one-year, $1.2 million deal after initially choosing not to offer him a contract as a restricted free agent.

Donato was one of the offensive bright spots during the inaugural season for the Kraken. Donato set career highs across the board in games played (74), goals (16) and assists (15). Donato’s 31 points ranked sixth on the team and his 16 goals were fourth-most for the Kraken.

Donato was also responsible for the first goal in team history in Seattle’s opener against Vegas.

Donato was surprisingly missing when Seattle announced which restricted free agents were offered contracts for the 2022-23 season prior to the start of free agency. General manager Ron Francis said earlier this month that Donato had arbitration rights and that led to the initial decision not to offer a deal.

“He had a hell of a season last year and to be honest, we just didn’t want to go to arbitration with him,” Francis said on July 13. “So that’s why we didn’t qualify (him). We certainly like the player and we’ll continue to have discussions there.”

Blue Jackets re-sign Laine, trade Bjorkstrand to Kraken

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Patrik Laine signed a long-term deal to stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets, completing the final major item on their checklist to cap off a successful offseason.

The winger re-signed for four years and $34.8 million, a contract that carries an $8.7 million salary cap hit through 2026. The deal allows Columbus to keep the high-scoring winger even after adding top free agent Johnny Gaudreau.

When they surprisingly landed Gaudreau, the big question was whether the Blue Jackets would be able to fit Laine under the cap as a restricted free agent. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen made sure that wasn’t an issue.

“One of our priorities this summer was signing Patrik Laine to a contract extension,” Kekalainen said. “He is a special player, one of the truly elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League, and he has fit in extremely well with our group since his arrival. He is an integral part of the team we are building in Columbus.”

The Blue Jackets made room for Laine by trading forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken for a third- and a fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft.

“It was a difficult decision to trade Oliver, who has given so much to our organization over the past seven years,” Kekalainen said. “However, a move like this needed to be made in order for us to be salary cap compliant after the Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine signings. We are thankful for Oliver’s many contributions to our club, on and off the ice.”

Laine was a point-a-game player last season in his first full year with Columbus. The 24-year-old Finn has 184 goals and 158 assists for 342 points in 431 games NHL regular-season and playoff games with the Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets.

Columbus acquired Laine along with Jack Roslovic from Winnipeg in January 2021 in exchange for disgruntled center Pierre-Luc Dubois. The challenge was always keeping Laine around.

This deal does that, and it comes in the aftermath of Gaudreau blowing away the myth that players don’t want to go to or stay in Columbus, after the likes of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Seth Jones all wanted out rather than signing long term.

“I thought it was a good spot for me personally,” Gaudreau said after signing. “I think we can have a lot of success here. It’s somewhere that I had circled on my list for a while now. It’s not only from what I’ve heard about the city and where you live, but they’ve got good players on this team, too, and I’m really looking forward to jumping in with this group.”

Beyond Gaudreau and Laine, that group includes top defenseman Zach Werenski, rookie center Kent Johnson, 2021 first-round pick Cole Sillinger, captain Boone Jenner and 27-year-old goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. With Laine under contract, the Blue Jackets are another step closer to returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

Seattle added more talent by acquiring Bjorkstrand, a 27-year-old from Denmark who is coming off a season in which he set career highs with 28 goals and 57 points and matched his previous NHL season best with 29 assists.

“We’re excited to welcome Oliver to our organization,” Kraken GM Ron Francis said. “He’s coming off of a career year offensively playing top minutes in Columbus. His creativity and hockey sense will be good additions to our forward group.”

Going into their second year in the league, the Kraken already this offseason signed Stanley Cup-winning winger Andre Burakovsky, defenseman Justin Schultz and goaltenders Martin Jones and Magnus Hellberg.