Locked out NHLers look to embrace chance with AHL Marlies
There were no long faces as the Toronto Marlies reported for the first day of work in a season that began with as much excitement as it did uncertainty.
Even the handful of players that were bound to be Maple Leafs rather than Marlies — at least if there wasn't a NHL lockout — had no trouble seeing the bright side of their situation.
"It's going to get us ready," forward Nazem Kadri said Thursday. "Once something does get resolved, we're going to be already in skating shape and mid-season form [and we'll] be able to step into that NHL training camp all ready to go."
Kadri split time between the American Hockey League and NHL the last two seasons and spent part of his summer working out under the watchful eye of Gary Roberts. It was done with the goal of playing out of the Air Canada Centre rather than Ricoh Coliseum this year, an aspiration that remains on hold because of the NHL's labour dispute.
Goaltender Ben Scrivens and blue-liners Jake Gardiner and Korbinian Holzer were also expected to play for the Maple Leafs, and might yet get to do so if a new collective bargaining agreement can be drafted.
The possibility of only spending a short amount of time in the AHL is something Scrivens admits will be in the back of his mind, although he was quick to add that he's grateful for the opportunity to have somewhere to play during the lockout.
"You can't help but acknowledge that [a promotion to the NHL is] a possibility, but I can't control anything like that," said Scrivens. "All I'm going to go out and do is try and have a good start with the Marlies here. We'll see where things end up."
The Toronto players are hardly alone in their situation. Training camps around the AHL opened Thursday with established NHLers, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle reporting to Oklahoma City, Jeff Skinner suiting up in Charlotte and Adam Henrique joining Albany.
The presence of so many quality players and the extra attention being paid to North America's top developmental league during the lockout has brought a noticeable buzz to the AHL.
For the Marlies, that only added to the positive momentum they built during a running to the Calder Cup final in the spring. The team expects to start the season playing in front of sellout crowds that include key members of the Maple Leafs hockey operations staff, including general manager Brian Burke.
Above all else, that's why Marlies coach Dallas Eakins isn't worried about seeing a letdown from the players who might otherwise have been in the NHL.
"You're being watched every night here," said Eakins. "There is not a night where one of my bosses are not upstairs watching these players and our guys know that. So if you're going to come in to camp unmotivated, I'm going to drop you down to the bottom of the list, your ice time will be cut and it will be impossible for you to get a shot."
Making a strong impression in the AHL will be more important than ever because NHL training camps will almost certainly be shortened once a new agreement is reached.
That's just another reason why players are viewing their chance to spend the lockout in the minors as an opportunity rather than a burden.
"This is a developmental league, it's a league to prepare you," said Kadri. "Being here for one more year or one month or two months or three months is really not going to hurt anybody."