It would be an understatement to say a lot has happened since we last saw the NHL in action, when the Los Angeles Kings raised their first franchise Stanley Cup. Here are the highlights.
1. Zactly Right
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter celebrated July 4 by spending almost $200 million of Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold's money. Buzz around the Wild is higher than at any other point in their history, save for their miracle run to the 2003 Western Conference finals, and the arrival of these two blue-chip players might even eclipse that high-water mark.
2. Nash Rambler
A summertime trade means Rick Nash is now a New York Ranger, ending his lamentable relationship with the Columbus Blue Jackets after 674 regular-season games and zero playoff wins. He instantly makes the Rangers a Cup favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference and reinforces that Columbus is the worst-run franchise in the league.
3. Montreal Smoked Team
The Montreal Canadiens, free of the constrictive management style of Pierre Gauthier, go to the opposite end of the personality spectrum by hiring Marc Bergevin as GM. Bergevin then hires Michel Therrien to replace Randy Cunneyworth as head coach. Both moves should help move the Habs out of a dark period, although it's going to be an uphill climb.
4. Baggage Claim
Ondrej Pavelec signs a new five-year, $19.5 million deal with the Winnipeg Jets after he is charged with drunken driving in the Czech Republic, something that somehow escapes everyone's attention on this side of the Atlantic. Throw in Evander Kane's new six-year, $31 million deal and his public relations issues in Winnipeg and Las Vegas (where he tweeted a photo of himself joking around with wads of cash) and the remaining four years on Dustin Byfuglien's five-year, $26 million deal -- Byfuglian had a brush with the law last summer and has struggled with conditioning -- and that's a lot of cash tied up in players carrying more than a little baggage for the Jets.
5. Feaster Famine
Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster is reunited with old pal Bob Hartley when Fester makes him the new Flames coach, in place of Brent Sutter. The Flames then spend lavishly on Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman in the hopes of performing the old change-on-the-fly routine and sneaking into the playoffs after missing the past three years.
6. Oil Be Back
Much-heralded free-agent collegiate defenseman Justin Schultz, a onetime Anaheim Ducks prospect, shocked many by signing with the Edmonton Oilers. High expectations will dog Schultz to be sure, but he was a beast in the AHL this fall, along with his young teammates, prompting much discussion about a magical lockout-shortened trip to the playoffs for the Oil for the first time since 2006.
7. Quick Study
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick underwent offseason surgery on his back, but all indications are that he will be ready to roll now that the lockout is over, thus significantly enhancing the chances that the Kings can become the first team since Detroit in 1997 and 1998 to win back-to-back Cups.
8. Straight To The Jackets
As expected, team president John Davidson left the St. Louis Blues where, as president of hockey operations, he was instrumental in reconnecting the franchise with its fan base. The longtime netminder, media analyst and executive would ultimately land a job as president of the sad-sack Columbus Blue Jackets. Uphill doesn't begin to describe the task ahead.
9. No Sleep Until Brooklyn
The New York Islanders strike a deal to move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, effective when their current lease on Long Island runs out after the 2014-15 season. Even if the basketball building isn't designed for hockey, it'll be a giant step forward for the long-suffering fan base. Of course, you could say the same thing if they'd reached a deal to move into a refrigerator box at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.
10. Old-Timer Hockey
The Dallas Stars don't get younger but hope they got better, signing graybeard free agents Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney in the hopes of arresting a four-year playoff drought and making the Dallas Cowboys and their mean-spirited Tweets about hockey's relevance eat their words, er, Tweets.
11. Playing Make-A-Leaf
On the eve of training camp of a truncated season, the Toronto Maple Leafs shock the hockey world by firing GM Brian Burke and replacing him with longtime pal and associate Dave Nonis. Word on the street is that new ownership grew weary of Burke's larger-than-life personality and are likewise enamored of acquiring Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo. Stay tuned.