Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) steps on to the ice prior to taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in NHL Stanley Cup qualifying round action in Edmonton on August 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) steps on to the ice prior to taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in NHL Stanley Cup qualifying round action in Edmonton on August 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

NHL teams getting ready for season-long sprint: ‘It’s going to be different’

The NHL has rejigged its divisions for the shortened 2020-21 season

The sprint to the NHL’s 56-game finish line started in earnest Sunday.

The seven teams that missed out on the league’s summer restart to a 2019-20 season brought to a screeching halt in March by the COVID-19 pandemic opened training camps Thursday ahead of the new campaign.

The other 24 clubs, including six from Canada, that took part in the expanded post-season inside the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles got going with testing and physicals to close out the weekend before hitting the ice Monday.

And with the schedule’s Jan. 13 curtain-raisers fast-approaching — plus no exhibition schedule — time is precious and the runway short.

“It’s going to be different,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said on a video conference call with reporters Sunday. “We’ve got to learn on the fly, we’ve got to learn quick. It’s going to be different for everybody. It’s the times we live in.”

“It’s going to be a little tricky,” Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin added. “But we’re in the same boat as every other team.”

Because of border restrictions related to non-essential travel, the NHL has rejigged its divisions for the shortened 2020-21 season, including a seven-team Canadian circuit that should present plenty of mouth-watering matchups.

“I remember the last 48-game season (in 2012-13) when you woke up one day and you had 15 games left,” Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said. “It just goes by. You play every night.”

That one-time-only North Division will begin in empty arenas — a handful of U.S. franchises, meanwhile, have indicated they will have some fans in attendance from the start — but that’s unlikely to turn the temperature down with teams often playing the same opponent two and three times in quick succession, and up to 10 occasions total over 116 days of action.

“I’m looking forward to it,” McDavid said. “An all-Canadian division’s exciting. It’s never happened before. You look at some of the rivalries, the matchups, it can make for a pretty exciting division.

“Just about anyone can win the division, but with that being said, three teams aren’t going to make the playoffs.”

While the NHL has said it believes it has an agreement on health and safety protocols to play games in Canada, the B.C. and Alberta governments are the only provinces with teams to publicly announce a thumbs up for the puck to drop.

READ MORE: Vancouver Canucks get the green light to play NHL games in B.C.

The Ottawa Senators, who were the only Canadian club not included in the NHL’s summer bubbles, have already been on the ice, but the other six situated north of the border are about to get their first looks at a number of new faces.

And there won’t be any easing into things.

“In years past when you’ve had a 21-day camp … you sort of build up and build your way through camp until right to the end,” Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. “We know that starting (Monday) that on-ice session, the attention to detail has to be really bang on.

“You have to force yourself as a professional to make sure that every little play and practice, every little pass means something, and you’re sharp and you’re crisp.”

Among the biggest moves made by Canada’s NHL teams this off-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs added Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds up front to go along with T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian on defence, while the Canadiens acquired forwards Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry, and also brought in blue-liner Joel Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen.

“Every time you start a new season, you’re always excited,” Bergevin said. “I like what we’ve done, (but) you can put anything you want on paper. It doesn’t matter until you start playing games.”

Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, whose team sits as the betting favourite to win the North, said his team’s focus during camp will be on its details following a string of post-season failures, including during the summer qualifying round.

“Going back to (the 2016-17 season) all the way through last year, we’ve had stretches that have hindered our ability to position ourselves as strongly as possible going into the playoffs,” Dubas said. “What we’re focused on right now on Day 1 of camp is building the foundation that’s going to serve us in the regular season.

“If we don’t do that, then we’re not going to be in a position to have the success that we all would like.”

The rebuilding Senators’ new faces include forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Evgenii Dadonov and Austin Watson, along with defenceman Erik Gudbranson and goalie Matt Murray. Fans in the nation’s capital are also excited to see what Tim Stuetzle — the No. 3 pick at the 2020 draft — can bring after his impressive offensive performance for Germany at the world junior hockey championship.

The Winnipeg Jets brought centre Paul Stastny, an integral part of their run to the 2018 Western Conference final, back into the fold, but questions remain regarding the future of sniper Patrik Laine, whose agent has reportedly said a trade would be best for all parties, and the status of restricted free agent forward Jack Roslovic.

Calgary added goalie Jacob Markstrom and defenceman Chris Tanev in free agency from the Vancouver Canucks, while Edmonton’s biggest moves were the signings of defenceman Tyson Barrie and centre Kyle Turris, and the return of winger and 2016 fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi from Europe.

“Based on what I’ve gone through before in a lockout-shortened schedule, the games are going to come fast and furious,” Flames head coach Geoff Ward said. “Rest is going to be so critical. Depth is really, really necessary.”

McDavid said it’s no secret what Edmonton will key on after a promising 2019-20 regular season was soured by a disappointing showing in the bubble.

“I don’t think we have a problem scoring goals,” he said. “It’s keeping the puck out of our net. Lots has been made about that. No one’s hiding their head in the sand here. Everyone understands where we’re at.”

The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, added Braden Holtby to replace Markstrom, and Nate Schmidt on the back end after their young core took a big step last season.

“It’s going to be an exciting year,” GM Jim Benning said. “Games are going to be intense … they’re going to be playoff-style.

“It’s going to be a sprint.”

One that, after a long wait and plenty of uncertainty, is right around the corner.

-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver and Donna Spencer in Calgary.

___

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Most Read