It's been three months since the puck was dropped on an NHL game, but that will all change Monday.
The preseason gets under way with four contests, the first of which took place in the afternoon as the Nashville Predators earned a 5-3 victory against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center. In a first for the League, the teams will meet in the second half of a doubleheader at 7:30 p.m. With training camp getting started only a few days ago, both teams have enough players available to play two games. It's not expected that anyone will play in both contests.
Two more games will start at 7 p.m. -- the Buffalo Sabres will host the Carolina Hurricanes and the Ottawa Senators will tangle with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Senators-Leafs game will be broadcast on the NHL Network. It will also be available on the Leafs' web site.
The afternoon tilt marked the NHL coaching debut for Kevin Dineen, who has been charged with getting a group of new faces to play as a team with the Panthers. Tomas Fleischman, Brian Campbell, Scottie Upshall and Ed Jovanovski are just few of the dozen or so players assembled by GM Dale Tallon during the offseason. It will also be a chance for youngsters Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau to show they belong in the NHL.
The Sabres might've made the biggest splash during the offseason, and Monday marks the beginning of showing their big moves will pay off on the ice.
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff signed a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Sabres after having his rights traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the New York Islanders and then to the Sabres. Forward Ville Leino also landed a big deal in Buffalo, signing a six-year, $27 million contract in free agency.
The contest between the Senators and Leafs won't have the regular-season flair that comes with the Battle of Ontario, but it should be a good chance for youngsters to impress.
The Senators were quiet in free agency this summer after finishing 29th in the League, so their young players will be big factors this season. Center Mika Zibanejad, the sixth pick of the draft, could make the team if he shows he can stand up to the physical nature of the NHL. Defenseman Jared Cowen has an excellent chance to make the team and will likely get a chance to prove it starting against the Leafs.
Meanwhile in Toronto, there is optimism the team could be a playoff team for the first time since 2003-04. The Maple Leafs finished the regular season strong -- 18-9-6 in 33 games -- and added forwards Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi and defenseman John-Michael Liles during the offseason.
But the preseason will likely be a chance for prospects Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin and Joe Colborne to earn a roster spot. GM Brian Burke said he only sees one opening on the roster, and those three could be the ones fighting for it.