Training camps opened for NHL teams today, marking the end of summer as players get back to work. The focus is on winning games and preparing to take the Stanley Cup from the Boston Bruins.
The summer is also coming to an end for NHL fans. Many are planning to buy game tickets or have already done so. They look forward to once again logging on to their favorite team's website and reading game and practice reports.
The official start of fall is just around the corner, which means hockey jersey weather and October slowly coming around the corner of the calendar.
As a hockey fan, you're probably considering what you're excited about for the upcoming season. Whether it's watching a particular player or how to follow your favorite team throughout the year, I have you covered.
Here are some things that will help drum up interest in the 2011-12 NHL season.
Please feel free to let me know what you can't wait to see this season if I left anything out (which I probably did).
The 2011 NHL offseason was one of the worst in recent memory.
It started when New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard passed away in May from an accidental drug overdose.
Then, in August, Vancouver Canucks player Rick Rypien took his own life after battling depression. Two weeks later, retired enforcer Wade Belak was found dead and his passing was a treated as a suicide.
All three deaths brought the question of whether or not the NHL should step up their substance abuse program and do more for players who may have mental health problems.
Just as fans thought they were done with tragedy, it struck again early this month.
A charter plane carrying the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed into a river, killing the entire team. Only one crew member survived.
Several men with NHL ties, including Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon, were on the plane. The news shattered even the toughest hockey fans and players and it was clear no one could take anymore tragedy.
While fans and teams will always honor these deceased members of the hockey community, they are also ready for the 2011-12 season to get here so they can focus on playing the game.
It's time to have something positive to focus on. The upcoming NHL season will bring that, and I don't know anyone who isn't eager to get things moving.
Once again, NBC and Versus will air several games on national television. More than 300 games will get the national spotlight on NBC and Versus, as well as Canadian networks CBC and TSN.
The schedule is highlighted by NBC kicking off its NHL coverage on the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25.
In recent seasons, NBC has not started airing games until after Christmas, so this is a nice change of pace. On that Black Friday, NBC will show a 1 p.m. matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.
NBC's calendar also gets some new teams in the spotlight.
The Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues have already been booked for games available for a large United States audience.
The flex time also presents a possibility of the Los Angeles Kings getting on NBC when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 11, 2012.
Meanwhile, Versus will give air time to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks. Although these games are non-exclusive (meaning they will also be aired on local affiliates), it is still a chance for fans to see more of talented players such as Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry.
Fans of some of the newer teams on the national schedule should be happy to finally see their team in the spotlight.
The Winnipeg Jets have returned to the NHL after a 15-year absence and their rebirth has been widely anticipated for several months.
The Jets came back after being relocated from Atlanta, the former home of the struggling Thrashers franchise.
Several players from Atlanta will give Jets fans a lot to talk about. Andrew Ladd, Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane are just some of the players who will make their new homes in Manitoba.
The Jets sold out 13,000 season tickets in minutes back in June and there is already a waiting list, with fans willing to pay up to $1,000 per ticket. The new Jets are already a money machine, and they haven't even played a game.
The team also unveiled new-look jerseys, and those are sure to sell just as fast as season tickets did.
Although it's hard to say how well the new team will play together, the first season back in Winnipeg is sure to be a success. Not only will the Jets fans be happy, there will also be some excitement among fans of other teams who anticipate playing a new opponent.
Now that the Thrashers have been sold and moved, the next team on the financial hot seat is the Phoenix Coyotes.
Late last season, the league denied rumors of moving the team and said that was not a possibility.
In late August, officials from Glendale, Ariz., said they were confident that the team would have a new owner and would be able to sign a lease by the end of the year. One of the interested buyers is Greg Jamison, a former chief executive of the San Jose Sharks.
Since that August report, no additional news has come from the Coyotes saga. It will be something to keep an eye on as the team continues to improve and tries to make a push far into the postseason.
This week, Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne signed a new contract and guaranteed he would play at least one more season. The 41-year-old had taken the summer to see how he recovered from knee surgery, and he determined that he was able to keep going.
Last season, Selanne had 80 points in 73 games following a year in which injuries limited him to just 54 games. Although he can still put up good numbers, he will not be able to play forever.
There are two other key players who could be looking to hang them up after 2011-12.
Detroit Red Wings forward Mike Modano said he is unsure whether he will play this season. Modano's teammate and Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom is under contract through this season, but Lidstrom's career is also drawing to a close.
Fans can look forward to one more year of production and great moments from these players, but the next offseason could bring the retirement of three of the greatest players to wear NHL uniforms.
Sidney Crosby's recovery from a concussion sustained last January has been one of the most interesting stories of the NHL offseason.
There was even a press conference held in which Crosby and his doctors cleared up rumors about his recovery and when he would be able to play again.
The Penguins' announced this morning that Crosby has been cleared to practice without contact, which is a positive step forward and the biggest news Penguins fans have received since their captain last played.
There is still no date for his return or when he'll be able to participate in full contact practices, but baby steps are still necessary.
Penguins fans may be able to get relief from stressing about what the team will do without their leader. The rest of the NHL will be watching to see how Crosby performs when he comes back and will once again scrutinize his every move. After all, he is arguably the best player in the world.
On the day Crosby suits up for a game, I guarantee you it will make big headlines.
Evgeni Malkin is another player the Penguins have sorely missed since he went down with a knee injury in February.
Malkin tore his ACL and underwent surgery, which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
Malkin has not gotten as much press surrounding his injury and recovery as Crosby has. But make no mistake, his return is something to get excited about.
Malkin has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, and he got far away from the 100-point seasons he produced in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 campaigns.
His performance helped him earn the Art Ross Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009, and he was also the runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 2008 and 2009.
Will Malkin re-gain the form he had before he got injured, or will he never be the same player? It's a storyline to look out for as the Penguins open their season against Vancouver on Oct. 6.
The Philadelphia Flyers shook up their roster before free agency began, trading captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, making him the starter for the forseeable future.
In addition, the Flyers signed ex-Penguins Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr, with Talbot getting a five-year deal and Jagr signing for one year.
All of Pittsburgh was anticipating Jagr's return to the Steel City, but got a huge shock on July 1 when he inked with their cross-state rivals.
The Carter and Richards trades came out of left field for Flyers fans, who were left surprised and even angry. Carter and Richards were also disappointed, especially Carter, who was set to have a no-trade clause kick in this season.
But what's done is done.
The Flyers have a stable starter and don't have to rely on the carousel of goalies like they did in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There is still young talent in Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, who are still getting better.
Top prospect Brayden Schenn could open the season in orange and black, and Chris Pronger will take over as Flyers captain.
The Flyers will be one of the teams to watch in the Eastern Conference.
Jeff Carter was extremely disappointed when he got traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he is slowly warming to the idea of playing for a team that has the potential to be a playoff contender.
Carter joins Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash and defenseman James Wisniewski in the quest to make Columbus a force to be reckoned with.
The team has only been to the playoffs once in their history, in 2009, and they were swept by the Red Wings. They just have not been able to get the momentum going, and some fans have gotten frustrated.
Carter will be a great option to play with Nash and help contribute to the Jackets offense.
The team also has young starter Steve Mason in net and signed two respectable back-ups in Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich. Sanford and Dekanich have done solid jobs in the American Hockey League and have earned NHL time.
While there is work to be done, things look a lot better in Columbus.
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon is hoping to build a team that will break a 10-year playoff drought in South Florida. This summer, he showed a commitment to doing just that.
He started with bringing in former NHL player and AHL coach Kevin Dineen to be the bench boss.
Then, Tallon went out and acquired Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell, who won the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks while Tallon worked in Chicago's front office.
From free agency, the Panthers signed veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who began his career with the team. Sean Bergenheim, who had a breakthrough performance for the Tampa Bay Lightning during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, also signed with the team.
They also have a new goaltender in Jose Theodore, as Tomas Vokoun signed with the Washington Capitals.
Could this be the year Panthers fans finally have a team worth going to the Bank Atlantic Center to see?