Now the fun starts.
From Helsinki to Vancouver, and all points in between, the 2010-11 NHL season is about to begin, and with it the hope for another entertaining, outstanding campaign.
All 30 teams enter the season with the same amount of hope. That only one will ultimately go home with the Stanley Cup isn't the point right now. No, the present is about new beginnings and unlimited opportunities.
The initial opportunity belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild, who will take part in the first puck drop of the season at noon ET on Thursday at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series. They'll play again Friday in Helsinki, and the long opening weekend also will see the Sharks and Blue Jackets meet for two games at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, while the Coyotes and Bruins will play a pair at the O2 Arena in Prague.
Another opening-night game will feature the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Flyers in the first game at the Pens' new home, Consol Energy Center. The newest building in the League replaces the oldest, Mellon Arena, which had been the Penguins' home for the franchise's first 43 years.
Taylor Hall, the first pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, will lead the Oilers' trio of highly touted rookies into their first game Thursday when the Flames visit Rexall Place.
And there will be a celebration in Colorado, as the Avalanche welcomes back Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and other members of the 1996 Stanley Cup champion team prior to hosting the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks will have their own special celebration Saturday, when they get to raise the first championship banner for a Chicago hockey team since 1961. Then it will be down to business against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Friday's openings include Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals with their first chance to move past last spring's playoff disappointment when they travel to face the new-look Thrashers, while the Devils will get to see what Ilya Kovalchuk looks like after his first training camp with New Jersey when they host the Stars.
The Vancouver Canucks, another team picked by many to be a Stanley Cup favorite, open their 40th anniversary season Saturday by hosting the Los Angeles Kings in a rematch of one of last spring's most dramatic first-round playoff series.
By the time the weekend comes to a close following the three games scheduled for Sunday, the season will be off and running. They're just the first steps on what will be an exciting journey.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org