|Senators centre Chris Kelly watches the action Thursday morning at the Bell Sensplex, where he made a guest appearance with the youngsters at the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camps.
For most everyone in an Ottawa Senators uniform, it has surely felt like the longest of summers.
Missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons can do that to a team.
And to hear Chris Kelly tell it, the Senators will gladly trade in a few months of their down time rather than endure another post-season miss in 2009-10.
"When you watch four rounds of playoffs, it definitely makes for a long off-season," the veteran centre said at the Bell Sensplex earlier today after spending part of his morning working with some of the young players participating in the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camps.
"We want to get back to playing late into the post-season. I think everyone wants that, the players and the city."
They're also itching to get back at it starting on Sept. 12, the opening day of training camp. That's when the Senators hope to carry over the strong play that produced a 19-11-4 finish to the 2008-09 campaign.
"It's been a long summer," said Kelly, who hasn't forgotten what it was like to live through the briefest off-season in Senators history. "Back when we made the Stanley Cup run (in 2007), the summer was so short and you were so busy. This summer, there's been time to reflect on last year and look at the things we did wrong and the things we did right and move forward.
"I'm really excited to get started and get this season going."
Adding to the excitement was the signing of free-agent forward Alex Kovalev, who tormented the Senators often during his five-season run with the Montreal Canadiens.
"It caught me off guard," Kelly said of hearing the news that Kovalev had inked a deal with the Senators on July 6. "I didn't know he was one of the guys (Ottawa management) was after but it was a pleasant surprise to see him sign for two years with us.
"He's a game-breaker. He gets the puck and he can make moves that most guys in the league can't make because he's so gifted laterally. His hands are so good and he's a big, strong guy who's hard to knock off the puck."
"When you watch four rounds of playoffs, it definitely makes for a long off-season. We want to get back to playing late into the post-season. I think everyone wants that, the players and the city." - Chris Kelly
The lengthy off-season hasn't been all bad for Kelly and the Senators. They've taken the extra time to sharpen their preparation and their bodies for the coming grind.
"You address the things that need to be addressed, and this is the time to do it," said Kelly. "Things that maybe hurt or you're uncomfortable with ... the summer is the time to rehab those. The good thing about not making the post-season is that you get a longer time to work on those things and get bigger and stronger and faster."
But that being said, when the puck drops for real on Oct. 3 against the New York Rangers, it's clear this team will have only one goal in mind.
"Last year wasn't what we wanted as team or as individuals," said Kelly. "We want to be playing in the post-season and playing long into the post-season. The Senators have a winning tradition and we want to get back to that.
"Being in the Cup final was a great experience and that's our goal, to get back there. Last year, we were far from that. But if the guys come back and are willing to work like I know we are and we start this season the way we finished (the last one), I think we'll be all right."