After a months-long lockout, and with the NHL owners set to vote on the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday, players are starting to work on getting ready for a season that could start as soon as Jan. 19.
Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the NHL's reigning scoring leader, is certainly glad to see the lockout in their rear-view mirror.
"I tried to make the best of it," the 22-year-old said Tuesday after an informal practice with his Lightning teammates at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. "And here we are today, and I'm very excited to be back."
Stamkos scored a league-high 60 goals in the 2011-12 season, but he knows those kind of numbers won't be reachable in the upcoming shortened season. Instead, the center is focusing on team-oriented goals.
"Well, get into the playoffs," he said of what the Lightning are aiming for. "I think that's the big key. And that's our goal here, as an organization, is get back in the playoffs. You just gotta get in, and things can happen."
Tampa Bay was eight points behind Ottawa for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot in 2011-12, and 10 points behind the division-winning Florida Panthers.
The compressed schedule this season gives each game extra importance, something Stamkos is keenly aware of.
"It's gonna be a different year," he said. "It's a sprint. There's no room for taking a couple games off here, especially early on. You gotta get off to a good start, and I'm excited to get an opportunity to do that."
But even through the stress of the past few months, Stamkos is happy to be back with his Lightning teammates.
"It feels like home, and I'm excited to see all the guys and be out here and skate with the guys, just get that camaraderie and that chemistry back with all the players," he said.
"It's fun. These guys are a family to all of us, and to be separated for this period of time has been tough, but at the end of the day we're back here now and we have to put our working boots on and be prepared to start the year."