The NHL off season was only a few months for the 24 teams that made the tournament once the league resumed play following the halt of play in March due to Covid-19. However, for the unfortunate seven who were not in the tournament, it has been a long ten months since official team practices.
The start of the new year means a fresh start, fresh ice and a first practice. For the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, and San Jose Sharks, it was extremely difficult watching the other teams play and not knowing when they’d get a chance to return to the ice.
The players had been skating for significant periods of time in some form or another, whether informal workouts or in leagues across Europe. Now, back on the ice to start the new year, teams are ready to work, albeit rusty.
Bobby Ryan of the Red Wings notes how he’s been working out with teammates for the past couple of months, but mainly in three-on-three. Clearly, the rest showed in early team drills, but it all came back pretty quickly. The non-tournament teams opened camp as early as New Year’s Eve with the rest of the league opening January 2 for a January 13 start date to the NHL season. Although the season is scheduled for only 56 games in realigned divisions, players are certainly just happy to know there’s a set date to begin action.
For Kyle Palmieri of the Devils, he is more excited than usual about the start of the season than he has in all his 11 years in the league. The long layoff was missed and the guys are exciting to get going again, even if it means continued social distancing and other protocols. Time is limited, especially for teams that made numerous changes in order to improve from the depths of the league into playoff contention. The question is whether or not there is a enough time for the teams with the long layoffs to get back into game shape compared to the other 24 teams in the league.
The three days head start doesn’t sound like much, but perhaps it’s enough. After all, we are talking about professional players that shouldn’t take much time to get reacclimated to playing. In addition, the teams with the longest layoffs could be in better physical shape, having had more time to recuperate from injuries. Guys will need time to adjust to the physicality that all the training and skating in the world won’t simulate. The players may need time to get ready, but it will be business as usual when the puck drops on opening day on January 13.