NHL coaching camps open with urgency

Peter Laviolette pulled the mask away from his face to sound out instructions as he pointed in all directions with his cane. Then he put the mask back on and ran around showing his new players what to do.

It was the first day of training camp for Laviolette and the Washington Capitals, as well as most of the NHL. With the regular season starting next week, there’s no time to waste. The camps are now open for the league’s 31 teams and only last 10 days.

There are no exhibition games that need to be voted on before the pucks actually fall.

“There are so many things you want to bring up and time is limited,” Laviolette said after Monday’s first on-ice session. “It’s almost like fear when you get home that you may not have done everything or that you haven’t gotten into what you should be doing.”

While the seven teams that failed the playoffs were a few days ahead, all will be in the same situation at the start of the season on January 13th. After finishing last season in quarantine bubbles, hockey will open the season with the coronavirus The pandemic is still raging for a regular season of 56 games that is slated to last until May 8.

“You have a fresh start,” said Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabers, who hasn’t played a game since March. “If you take a lot of time, that anticipation builds up to come back and now we’re here and it’s an exciting time.”

It’s different too. Coaches were only able to meet with players in person at camp, there are health and safety protocols to follow and there are daily COVID-19 tests.

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said he would make an important point for the players regarding how they practice and play this season: “There are no complaints about anything.”

That includes the length of the camp, which is even shorter than eight years ago when a lockout cut the season to 48 games. Few seem to be concerned about missing preseason games.

“Most players would argue that the camps are a bit long anyway,” Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Games that matter. “

As a reminder that the pandemic is still affecting the sport, three NHL teams must find new spots for top minor leaguers. The American Hockey League announced that three teams would cancel this season, forcing St. Louis to mix prospects for Utica and leave Nashville and Florida to work out a Plan B.

Instead of starting camp with a frantic battle between multiple groups in their practice facility, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins worked in the spacious PPG Paints Arena. Things were so calm that Coach Mike Sullivan’s instructions could be heard clearly in the rafters, even though he never raised his voice.

“Almost everything feels different, to be honest, about the environment and how to wear masks and social distancing,” Crosby said. “But the excitement and anticipation feel the same when you prepare for the game.”

If the Penguins host Philadelphia on opening night, they won’t have striker Kasperi Kapanen, one of the few players to deal with immigration issues that resulted in them missing the start of camp. Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark and his goalkeeping colleague Anton Khudobin from Dallas were not yet available.

In Tampa Bay, trainer Jon Cooper completed another workout for reigning Stanley Cup champion Lightning on Monday.

“There was a lot more class,” Cooper said. “There is so much hype going on the first day, I think the guys are usually so excited to be out there and they are all yelling around so we developed some kind of practice to do that. But because it’s so short, we had to do a little more system stuff than we normally would. “

All over Florida, the Panthers set up equipment outdoors to take advantage of the warm climate. Elsewhere, stars like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Columbus’s Pierre-Luc Dubois took the ice cream after an off-season filled with questions about whether they would still be with their teams.

“I’m here, am I not?” Said Laine. “That’s the only thing I’m worried about right now.”

Some absences stood out like Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, top-line center Mika Zibanejad with the New York Rangers and Capitals newest defender Zdeno Chara. Laviolette said Chara will join the team soon after the quarantine, but information on most of the players is limited for now – another layer of secrecy to start a new season.

“I have been told by our team and the league that if a player is not on the ice during training camp, we should say that he is not available today,” said Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia coach. “I think as soon as the season starts, which is only a few days away, we can be a little more precise.”


AP Hockey writer John Wawrow and sports journalists Mitch Stacy, Tim Reynolds, Dan Gelston, Will Graves, Teresa M. Walker, Jay Cohen, and Pat Graham contributed to this report.

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