It's a time for prospects to shine, superstars to get back to hockey after a long summer, offseason signings to get used to their new team, coaches to test out line pairings, depth charts to be determined, and television broadcasts to work out their technical difficulties.
Indeed, NHL training camps and preseason games are not meaningless at all. In fact, some major winners and losers from this preseason may have already proven something, or left something to prove, heading into the 2010-2011 NHL season.
Teams around the league played anywhere from five to nine games this September, slowly working towards their opening day roster while getting a first glimpse of their new team. While we watched, it was clear that some teams brought more to the table than others.
Whether it was simply the result of a reluctance to risk injury or if it was a true sign of things to come is yet to be seen, but there's no question that a few teams might go into the season with a little more, or perhaps less, confidence than we would've figured. Here are a few major preseason winners and losers that might want to take their relative training camp success seriously.
After last season's dismal campaign where the Leafs finished last in the Eastern Conference with just 74 points, this autumn's preseason was a major improvement. Toronto was 5-3-1 in nine games, and that was just the start of their successes.
Team leader Phil Kessel and high-hopes prospect Nikolai Kulemin combined for 11 goals in 13 appearances, newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur, together, had 11 assists, and Jean-Sebastian Giguere looked promising, going 2-0-1 with a .913 save percentage.
Two games to begin the season against Canadien rivals Montreal and Ottawa will give us a better glimpse of the Leafs' strength this season, but a promising preseason certainly didn't hurt.
The two Central Division rivals who have each won a Stanley Cup during the past three seasons, Chicago and Detroit, did not look as sharp as usual this September. The Blackhawks, who were 3-4, and the Red Wings, 3-5, had no player between the two of them seven points, and also both lost a key player.
For Detroit, Patrick Eaves is in question and did not play during the preseason, while Chicago lost key defenseman Brian Campbell for four to five weeks. The two teams will meet Saturday in just their second game of the season, so it will be interesting to see how they compare after such subpar preseason performances.
After producing just one playoff team two of the past three seasons, the usually-dismal Southeast Division showed some improvement during training camp. Four of the five teams within the division, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina, had winning records, and the five teams combined for just 71 goals allowed, by far the lowest total of any division.
Both the defending President's Trophy winner Washington Capitals and 2010 sleeper Tampa Bay Lightning were extremely comfortable together, finishing with 5-1 and 4-1-1 records, respectively. The Caps received solid play from their inexperienced goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, and the Bolts saw both of their major summer additions, Simon Gagne (three goals, six points, plus-six rating) and Pavel Kubina (three assists), play very smoothly in their new environment.
Florida and Carolina also played well. The Hurricanes' measly eight goals allowed was unanimously the lowest total in the league, and seventh overall draft pick Jeff Skinner and recent signee Patrick O'Sullivan both impressed. For the Panthers, third overall pick Eric Gudbrandson made his first appearances, while goalie Scott Clemmenson was 2-0 in goal.
If this past month is an accurate measuring stick, then expect the Southeast Division to be much improved this season.
For the Atlanta Thrashers, at least so far, their massive offseason overhaul hasn't made much of a difference. Despite acquiring half the Blackhawks team, including Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Andrew Ladd, first round draft pick Alexander Burmistrov, former Flame Freddy Meyer, and former King Fredrik Modin, the Thrashers were still 0-5-1 during the preseason. Although Meyer scored twice with a plus-four rating, the rest of the team was very mediocre, which looks even worse compared to their Southeast Division foes.
Along with Atlanta, the Minnesota Wild were also the only other winless team during the preseason. Despite two overtime defeats, Minnesota still finished without any victories out of six tries, and their statistics reflected it. Only Matt Cullen scored more than once out of the entire team, and superstar netminder Niklas Backstrom was 0-2 with a .867 save percentage. With two dates in Helsinki to begin the season, the first of which is just tomorrow, the Wild need to show a lot more effort quickly.
After such an amazing run in last spring's NHL Playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers continued their hot streak with the top record in the conference during this year's preseason. Despite surrendering 25 goals to their 24, the Flyers were 5-2-1, as usual stars Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell jumped back into stride while Nikolai Zherdev surprisingly led the team with five goals.
Philly may also have found their goaltender of the future. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, 22, was 3-0-1 with a .939 save percentage. Backup Brian Boucher was also very solid, a good sign for the shaky goaltending unit.
Although Laperriere's questionable status for the rest of his career is a bit of an issue, a successful preseason to continue the hot run since last April was certainly another encouraging signal for the Flyers' Stanley Cup chances.
This September was a month with plenty of both good and bad news for the Calgary Flames.
The good news was that Calgary was the only undefeated team in the preseason with a whopping 7-0-0 record. Alex Tanguay had a successful return to his former team with six points, and captain Jerome Iginla, Alex Kotalik, Niklas Hagman, and Mark Giordano added five points themselves. Rookie T.J. Brodie also turned quite a few heads with four goals in five games.
The bad news, though, involves the aforementioned Kotalik along with Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan, Daymond Langkow, and David Moss, and the news is that all five of those players will begin the year injured. That is a huge hit for the Flames, who will lose a good portion of their starting forwards during, for them, meaningless training camp preparation games.
It will be interesting to see whether all of this will have a positive or negative influence on the unpredictable Flames at the start of their season.
September in the Big Apple was a bit tough to swallow this year. Both the area teams, the Rangers and Islanders, had their fair share and more of both short- and long-term problems arising.
For the Isles, a 1-4-0 record certainly wasn't what they wanted, but the injuries to defensive veteran Mark Streit and top-line forward Kyle Okposo are a major problem. Streit appears to be questionable for returning in February, and Okposo also had to have surgery on his injured shoulder. Those two combined for 101 points last season and were the respective second- and third-ranked players in team scoring.
For the Blueshirts across the bay, the injury bug also struck extra early this season. Despite finishing with a nice 4-2-0 record, Vaclav Prospal was lost for two weeks with a knee injury, Michael Rozsival is out for a while with a groin issue, and, the biggest hit, Chris Drury was placed on injured reserve with a broken finger.
The two teams will meet next Monday, so it should be a fierce battle between two very depleted sides.
Like their Eastern Conference counterparts from the '09-'10 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton also showed a glimpse of what their fans want to see with a 4-2-0 preseason. Rookies Magnus Paajarva, Chris Vande Velde, and Alex Plante each scored four points, a good sign for the future, and newly-named captain Shawn Horcoff added two goals and two assists.
Taylor Hall, the first overall pick from last June's draft, had one goal, two assists, and a plus-three rating on his own. In goal, Devan Dubnyk was 2-1 with a .920 save percentage.
The Oilers will play two of their first four games against inter-provencial rival Calgary, and also match up against Florida and Minnesota; not one of those teams were in the playoffs last season, so a fast start in Edmonton is certainly possible, based on this preseason.
The top two finishers and only playoff teams from the Northwest Division last year looked like the complete opposite during the preseason. The Canucks and Avalanche finished near the bottom of the division, combining for a 5-10 record.
The top scorer between the two teams only had five points (Henrik Sedin for Vancouver). Furthermore, for Colorado, No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson played frankly awful, posting an 0-3 record.
Both teams don't exactly have the easiest possible schedule to begin the season, so a quick recovery to prove that we shouldn't take the preseason too seriously is definitely on the agenda.