From here on out, there's no more wearing white; unless, of course, you're on the road. (Personally, I still prefer the home whites.)
After a summer of idly wondering about your favorite team, you can turn some serious attention to rookie tournaments and camps, last-minute free-agent signings and training camp invitations, the start of training camp and some preseason games.
EJ's Instant Analysis
They are just three of many such invitees who will arrive at their September destination with no guarantees. Heck, they don't even earn a salary during camp (players don't get paid until the regular season starts). If they can impress, they have a chance to extend already lengthy careers into another season. If not, they'll weigh their options -- likely the minors, Europe or retirement.
While vets and newcomers battle for jobs, the League likely won't be fast-forwarding too many of the rule variations or changes that were studied at the Research, Development and Orientation Camp last month. There's a chance the shallower net (40 inches deep as opposed to the current 44-inch model) makes it into the 2011-12 season, but most of the other ideas will get further study and more discussion at upcoming general manager meetings, particularly the early March get-together.
With the short hockey summer already sliding into the rear-view mirror, I thought I might take one look back with my three biggest game-changers from the off-season.
1. Philly Shakeup -- After living through another goaltending nightmare, the Flyers sought a long-term solution by acquiring the rights to legit No. 1 stopper Ilya Bryzgalov and signing him to a nine-year deal. Is he the answer?
That wasn't the only move the club wanted to make, though. On the day before the draft, they shocked their fan base and the hockey world by moving Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in separate deals to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. In return, they received young wingers Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, elite prospect (center) Brayden Schenn, the eighth pick in the 2011 draft (center Sean Couturier) and the Kings' second-round pick in 2012.
The club completed a busy few weeks in early July by signing free agents Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot. Those moves are sure to add a little more spice to their intrastate rivalry with the Penguins.
In the aftermath, there is the obvious question: Are they better? I think they might be. I believe they'll be more balanced up front. In the past, they had several centers working on the wing. Now, they'll have a big, strong group of true wingers to surround centers Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and, perhaps, Schenn.
(As a footnote, I have to wish Philly GM Paul Holmgren a speedy recovery after suffering a serious bicycling accident Monday. According to a published report on CSNPhilly.com, Holmgren suffered several broken ribs, a broken shoulder and some cuts that needed stitches. The former power forward is a pretty tough character. He's also a pretty bold one based on his off-season moves. Get well soon, Paul.)
2. San Jose-St. Paul Express -- Sharks GM Doug Wilson and his Wild counterpart, Chuck Fletcher, got to spend a little quality time together at the draft. The two men agreed to a draft-day deal that sent Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick to Northern California for right wing Devin Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle and the No. 28 pick (center Zack Phillips).
The Sharks are hoping that the 6-foot-5 Burns will help solidify their defense, while the Wild were looking to stockpile some offensive talent. For the Wild, in the long-run, Coyle might be the key to the deal. More than a few scouts have been quick to mention the upside for the young center, a 2010 first-round pick.
The two GMs weren't done, though. On July 4, the clubs set off another firecracker of a deal -- the Sharks shipped right wing Dany Heatley to the Wild for right wing Martin Havlat.
I certainly see the logic of the moves from both sides. I'm more curious to see how they'll pan out in San Jose, which has advanced to the Western Conference Finals in each of the last two seasons. Can Burns and Havlat help get them where they want to go? I'd say it's possible. For me, they're better today than they were last May.
3. Risky Business -- Way back on July 1 (it seems so long ago), the Avalanche really threw me for a loop when they dealt their 2012 first-round pick and a second rounder in either 2012 or 2013 to the Capitals for 23-year-old goalie Semyon Varlamov.
I wasn't surprised the Avs would trade for a goalie; it was quite obvious they needed a significant crease upgrade. Rather, I was shocked about what they were willing to give up.
By trading their first-round pick, they could be surrendering a lottery selection, considering the Avs have drafted in the top three in two of the last three years. Clearly, they think they'll be a lot better this season. Doesn't everyone? But if they aren't (and there's a good possibility they won't be in a tough Western Conference), they'll have to sit at the Entry Draft and watch the Caps grab another blue-chip prospect. Avs GM Greg Sherman can ask Leafs boss Brian Burke how that feels.
The Avs would have been much wiser to safeguard themselves by including some sort of lottery protection on the pick. In other words, they could have made the 2012 first-rounder conditional on where they finished in the standings. The Caps might have been willing to do that when you consider Varlamov was poised to sign with a KHL team after not being guaranteed the starting job in Washington.
As it is, the Avalanche just might find itself in a very uncomfortable position next spring.