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Predators try to block out distraction of team's possible sale @NHL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -The Nashville Predators are looking forward to making news on the ice again.

It's been a difficult offseason for a franchise that finished third in the NHL last season with a team-record 110 points only to lose in the opening round of the playoffs for a third straight time.

The status of the team has been the biggest question since owner Craig Leipold announced in late May he was selling the Predators to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie.

That deal fell through, and a group of Nashville businessmen has a $193 million deal to buy the team, but is waiting for Nashville's new mayor to take office to rework the arena lease to help secure financing.

"There's not much we can do about it except get ourselves ready and come to training camp and pray and hope the team will stay here," right wing J.P. Dumont said.

This is a very different team than the one that lost to San Jose in the playoffs.

Top goaltender Tomas Vokoun was traded to Florida in June, giving the job to Chris Mason. The Predators swapped the rights to pending free agents Kimmo Timonen, their captain and top defenseman, and forward Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia.

Top scorer Paul Kariya signed with Central Division rival St. Louis, and All-Star Peter Forsberg isn't expected back even if he does decide to return to the NHL.

The Predators did sign veteran defenseman Greg de Vries, left wing Martin Gelinas, center Radek Bonk and right wing Jed Ortmeyer.

"We feel like we have a very good team," center David Legwand said. "Still, some things are going to change obviously in our style of play."

The Penguins' captain at the grizzled age of 20, Sidney Crosby and the rest of his team believe a Stanley Cup championship is a realistic goal.

"Certainly, our confidence is there," Crosby said Thursday as the Penguins opened training camp, five months after their first-round playoff loss to Ottawa.

A year ago, the Penguins' were just hoping for a winning season. They did a lot better with a 47-point turnaround from the season before, fourth best in NHL history.

Now the Penguins are one of the popular picks in the preseason. They've added two proven former Cup winners, defenseman Darryl Sydor and forward Petr Sykora, to one of the best collections of young scoring talent (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal) in NHL history.

Ottawa received something of a history lesson on its first day of training camp.

As players were put through their paces in fitness and medical tests Thursday, their knowledge of the fate of Stanley Cup finalists was also challenged.

Not since the 1984 Edmonton Oilers has the Cup loser from one season gone on to win it the next. It's a dubious distinction the Senators have been well made aware of - both from outside the organization and within. It's also a trend they want to avoid.

"Everybody's talked about it so much," center Jason Spezza said at Scotiabank Place, where the team reconvened for the first time since its march to the final ended with a five-game loss to Anaheim. "Everyone was sure not to take off too much time in the summer."

Other than former assistant coach John Paddock assuming the head coaching duties after Bryan Murray moved upstairs into the general manager's chair, the Senators are a largely unchanged from the one that finally kicked its string of playoff failures by advancing to the final.

Colorado finished last season as the NHL's hottest team and that success carries over this season.

The prevailing hope a day before training camp officially opened is that the team can build on its 15-2-2 finish and start 2007-08 campaign on the right foot.

"We need to have a good camp and get off to a good start this year," captain Joe Sakic said. "We finished on a high note and we did some great things in the offseason."

Despite the finish, the Avs were ninth in the Western Conference, one point behind Calgary for the final playoff spot.

The club addressed two weaknesses by signing a proven leader in left wing Ryan Smyth and a hard-nosed defenseman in Scott Hannan.

Paul Kariya's first day on the ice with St. Louis left his new teammates dreaming of glory.

Making the playoffs is a logical goal for the franchise, shut out of the postseason the last two seasons. Goalie Manny Legace didn't stop there after watching Kariya during a scrimmage Monday.

"I think it gives us a great shot to win the Cup, I really do," Legace said.

Kariya signed a three-year, $18 million free agent deal in July. The Blues also reacquired center Keith Tkachuk and signed defenseman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick of last year's draft.

The Blues were last overall in 2005-06 and were at the bottom for a while last season, but went 11 games above .500 after coach Andy Murray was hired in mid-December.

Toronto coach Paul Maurice didn't mince words on the first day of training camp.

"We'll make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup," he said.

At his first Leafs camp one year ago, Maurice offered only that Toronto would be in a dogfight to make the playoffs. He was right. The Leafs missed, by only one point, for the second consecutive season.

Success is possible this season because general manager John Ferguson has "really strengthened our team," captain Mats Sundin said of the addition of Vesa Toskala, the former San Jose backup who'll vie for the No. 1 goalie job with incumbent Andrew Raycroft, and Jason Blake, who scored 40 goals last season for the New York Islanders.

Calgary turned up for the first day of training camp Thursday, under the close eye of new coach and taskmaster Mike Keenan.

Fitness testing was the first order of business.

"It's a very important day because if they haven't done the work they need to, it's hard to catch up," Keenan said. "And I think just by looking at them at this point, they've done a lot of work."

Keenan said personnel changes will be determined by how well the Flames play and if they match up to high expectations.

Captain Jarome Iginla admitted that most of the Flames appeared to be have taken their offseason training a little more seriously this year, particularly after Keenan took over in June.

The Blue Jackets say Nikolai Zherdev is in better condition and has a better mental approach. To take his makeover to another level, he's going to try a new position.

The 23-year-old Russian will get a shot at centering a line between Rick Nash and David Vyborny when the Blue Jackets begin preseason practice Friday.

"We're going to experiment with a line for the first week to 10 days of training camp that no one's seen before," Ken Hitchcock said Thursday, on the eve of his first full season as the Blue Jackets' coach.

Also Thursday, the Blue Jackets suspended center Alexander Svitov, playing for a team in his native Russia, for failing to report to training camp.

Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen needs a third surgery to correct a heart condition. It's not known when Numminen will have the procedure and how much time he will miss.

The 39-year-old Numminen did not report for team physicals Thursday. He finished with 29 points in 79 games last season.

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