Why the first day of Carolina Hurricanes training camp didn’t feel like a ‘first day’

Jordan Martinook looked around on the ice — at his linemates, Jordan Staal and Teuvo Teravainen, at all his other teammates — and realized that on a team where so much is the same, one thing was very different on the first day of training camp.

“I felt like the last few training camps, every line had one or two new guys on it,” Martinook said. “Instead of just doing the drills that we all knew, we were doing a lot of teaching other players to get the other guys into it. It’s nice not doing that so much.”

Just about everyone already knows. And knows well.

There are only a handful of new players on the Carolina Hurricanes, and one of them was an old player from two seasons ago. Michael Bunting, Brendan Lemieux and Dmitry Orlov were the only new faces on the ice when the Hurricanes’ first-team group went through its first practice of the season, along with blast from the past Tony DeAngelo. Andrei Svechnikov, who was injured when the Hurricanes’ season ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the clearly inferior Florida Panthers, was back with the group, testing the boundaries of his yellow no-contact jersey to his teammates’ bemused chagrin.

But everywhere else, from the re-signed captain down to the re-signed goalies, the group that got things started Thursday was very much the same group still unhappy over how they ended.

A day that usually marks a turning point — the beginning of a new season for a new group, so much like the start of any school year — felt very much like the Hurricanes were picking up where they left off in May.

This is unusual in any pro sport, but especially in the NHL’s salary-cap era, where shorter-term contracts are becoming more common and turnover is the norm, not the exception. The Hurricanes too have seen a handful of players come and go in seasons past, especially as the franchise navigated the climb to competitiveness since 2018, even starting the season without Justin Williams in the fall of 2019 but finishing it with him in the Toronto bubble that August.

But generally speaking, the players who might have left under other circumstances are still here. Instead of a fresh start, the bright uncertainty of a season to come, there was a distinct mood of unfinished business, of slipping back into a familiar routine that has brought this franchise so much success over the past five years, just not the ultimate success.

“Having the first meeting yesterday, where all the rookies were and all the prospects were also, it’s the same message that Roddie is telling us,” goalie Antti Raanta said. “Obviously there are some little tweaks and things like that, but that’s our team identity. We’re a hard-working team and that’s why it’s easy to start out straightaway. I’ve been here two years and that’s how we talk every day. … Obviously you get new faces, but our core group stays like that, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to get going again.”

The additions were all carefully targeted to address needs, all proven in their roles, whether it’s another elite two-way defenseman in Orlov or a goal-scoring winger in Bunting or an agitator like Lemieux. There’s actually more uncertainty about Svechnikov’s recovery from a torn ACL, which continues to proceed according to plan and ahead of schedule, to the point where he’s as itchy to get hit as he is to hit someone — although he was certainly veering toward the latter Thursday.

“Otherwise, it’s boring still,” Svechnikov said. “But what else you can do here, right? Nothing else. Stick with that and we’ll see.”

Stick with that and we’ll see.

That’s how the entire practice felt, not a beginning but a continuation, not the first day but one somewhere in the middle.

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