For anyone working in or around the sphere of professional hockey, the schedule isn’t much different than that of a student or teacher.

Once the calendar clicks past Labor Day, it’s time to get back to work.

NHL players who haven’t made their way to their respective cities of employment are doing it now. Informal skates are underway for the veterans, while rookie tournaments are on the horizon. Main camps open in less than two weeks. The exhibition season will be here before you know it and in case you’ve forgotten, the NHL regular season kicks off in Europe on October 7, with a two-game set in Prague between Nashville and San Jose, part of the resumption of the NHL’s Global Series.

In many ways, these past seven weeks have felt like the first real NHL offseason in three years.

In 2020, the 24-team bubble playoff started in August and they were down to the final four by the second week of September. In 2021, the 56-game season didn’t start until January with realigned divisions and travel restrictions that resulted in, among other developments, a one-year experiment with an all-Canadian division. The outcome was the same both times, with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.

But by the time the 2021 expansion and entry drafts and free agency were all completed, half of the last summer was gone.

This year, for everyone except maybe Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving (more on his offseason workload later), it seemed like the league finally had a chance for a collective deep breath and then a hearty exhale.

The optimism of September is now upon us and it feels genuine, the batteries collectively recharged all around the league.

When last we left you, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was handing the Stanley Cup to Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog because commissioner Gary Bettman had tested positive for COVID-19.

Colorado celebrated what seemed like a long overdue Stanley Cup, after an epic final against the Lightning, who didn’t give up the push for a threepeat without a fight. That championship series followed an exciting two-month playoff which helped obscure how flat the last NHL regular season was, from a competitive point of view. It was a year that lacked any genuine drama from about Christmas on.

Early on, the Eastern Conference had divided itself neatly into eight haves and eight have-nots and playoff spots were effectively decided months ahead of time. It wasn’t much more competitive in the West, with six teams (Winnipeg, Chicago, Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim and Seattle) all falling far off the pace early and five teams (Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton) all booking their playoff spots with little difficulty.