Now that the NHL lockout has finally ended, it's time to shift our focus to the teams, schedules, players and the season itself.
With such a short period of time to prepare, there's going to be a lot of scrambling as players return from overseas, front offices figure out their roster, and some general housekeeping is done to get ready for the shortened season.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the most exciting young teams in the NHL, but they still have some items to take care of in the next few weeks.
Even for all the talent on the roster, the Flyers aren't quite a finished product yet, and GM Paul Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette will have their hands full getting the team ready.
Here are five of the most pressing issues that Philadelphia needs to address now that the lockout has ended and the season is just a couple weeks away.
I wrote about this issue during the lockout, and it's probably the most pressing item on the agenda for Paul Holmgren. There probably isn't much that can be done before the season starts. But at some point during the season, the Flyers will almost assuredly need to add one or two quality defensemen.
From my previous article, here's a list of the Flyers current blueliners with their ages in parentheses: Kimmo Timonen and Andreas Lilja (37 years old), Braydon Coburn and Bruno Gervais (28), Niklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros (27), Erik Gustafsson and Marc Andre-Bourdon (23) and Luke Schenn and Brandon Manning (22).
Simply put, that just isn't going to cut it. Timonen, Coburn, Grossman, Meszaros, and Schenn are a pretty good group, but that's only five players, and there's no telling how Timonen will hold up.
If someone else goes down, the Flyers will have to rely heavily on average players like Gervais or young, inexperienced kids like Gustafsson, Andre-Bourdon and Manning. Look for Holmgren to try to add a couple quality defensemen as soon as he can.
Last year, after Chris Pronger was lost for the season, the Flyers went with three alternate captains instead of naming a new captain.
But now with Pronger out indefinitely, Philadelphia will almost certainly look to move on and name a new captain. A number of players are deserving of wearing the "C," and I made a case this summer for Max Talbot, although the chances of that are slim.
Rumors have begun swirling about the captaincy, and according to Randy Miller, the new captain will be Claude Giroux, which would not be a surprise.
If that is indeed true and the Flyers intend to make Giroux captain, they should do it quickly so it doesn't become a distraction before the season begins.
As it stands right now, the Flyers will be heading into this season with Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton as their goaltenders.
I don't think there are many fans who would feel great about that situation for an entire season. Bryzgalov is talented, but can't be relied on to make it through the season without having some issues.
This isn't that bad in of itself, but it does require a solid backup to be ready to steady the ship when Bryz needs a break. Leighton had a phenomenal run with the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs, but I'm not sure if he can replicate that performance.
With the signing of Ruslan Fedotenko, the Flyers added some depth to the back end of their forward lines, but there are still at least one or two spots that will be up in the air.
Eric Wellwood and Zac Rinaldo would look to have the upper hand to start the season on the fourth line, but a number of other guys will try to state their case for playing time.
Harry Zolnierczyk, Tom Sestito, Jody Shelley and possibly even 2012 first-round draft pick Scott Laughton could all get a chance to stick with the big club.
If injuries start to pile up, there are a few other longshots like Ben Holmstrom, Nick Cousins and Jason Akeson who may get a shot as well.
Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier had solid rookie seasons last year, demonstrating why they were so highly regarded as prospects before getting called up to the NHL.
Each youngster still has a lot of room to grow, but is talented enough that he could make a significant impact this season. They both stepped up in the playoffs last season and have been tearing up the AHL during the lockout.
With all that momentum and development, the Flyers will undoubtedly give more responsibility to both players this season. But the big question is where they will play.
They both spent time on multiple lines at both the center and wing positions last year, although both are more naturally suited as centers. But with Danny Briere and Claude Giroux ahead of them, some decisions will have to be made.
The Flyers could push Briere to the wing and play Couturier and Schenn as the second- and third-line centers. Or they could keep Briere centering the second line, push Max Talbot to the wing and play them as third- and fourth-line centers. One of them could play with Briere with the other centering the third line. Or maybe they could play on the same line, with one as a wing.
The combinations are endless, but finding the right fit could make a huge difference in the Flyers' season.