Rookie Camp Good
In the waning days of every summer, training camps finally get started for the 30 NHL teams. All 30 teams start their annual quest for the Stanely Cup at roughly the same time, and two of those teams will be playing into June. You always know when your season will start but not when it will end. For the Capitals, long summers have been the norm in recent years.
This September brings a shortening of the summer to Washington, even if it is shorter on the “other” end. The Caps started the team’s first rookie camp in recent memory today, and it’s a great feeling to be watching meaningful hockey inside a cool rink. In a perfect world, we’d have nine more months of the same ahead of us. We’re probably a year or so shy of “perfect world” status, but for now lopping a week off an already long summer is a welcome panacea to these hockey hungry eyes.
NHL training camps traditionally get underway around the middle of September. With the rules stipulated in the new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL players and owners, the maximum length of camp is now regulated. Formerly, teams would conduct lengthy camps with 60-some players. Cuts would be made gradually and camps would last for about a month.
These days, camps are shorter. The length of an NHL training camp cannot exceed 20 days for veteran players and 27 days for all other players. With such short camps, it’s just not reasonable to bring in 60-some players and be able to fairly evaluate them over such a short time span. Hence, the rookie camp. Rookie camp allows teams to bring in its prospects a bit earlier, get them on the ice and evaluate their performances. Teams can then keep the impressive players while sending the others off for more seasoning elsewhere. And when the veterans come in a week or so later, they’ll still get enough work and enough preseason action in to be sharp when the regular season gets underway in October.
A recent (and thorough) cleaning of my home office turned up several old training camp guides. In 2000, the Caps reported to camp on Sept. 7 with opening night slated for Oct. 6. There were 68 players on the training camp roster. A year later, players were required to show up on Sept. 11 with opening night again scheduled for Oct. 6. With only 64 players to weed through, perhaps a shorter camp was in order.
The 2003-04 opener fell on Oct. 9. Caps rookies played in the Centre Ice tournament in Traverse City, Mich. that year, and returned to the District from that tournament on Sept. 9. Camp began on Sept. 11. with a lean roster of just 45 players.
For the first training camp after the lockout, teams were allowed 23 days worth of camp for vets and 30 days for all others. The Caps reported to camp on Sept. 12 with an opening night date of Oct. 5. A total of 58 players were on the roster for that training camp.
Last year’s reporting date was Sept. 14 with the first game again scheduled for Oct. 5. Forty-eight players were on the 2006 training camp roster.
There are currently 38 players listed on the 2007 training camp roster, and several others will be added to that list in a matter of days. The Caps are rewarding strong rookie camp performances with invites to the “regular” training camp. Another 10, 12 or 15 players will join the 38 already on the roster when camp begins in earnest on Friday.
“That’s what [Caps GM] George [McPhee] put together with his scouting staff,” says bench boss Glen Hanlon. “That this was the type of environment that we were trying to create. Just because you were drafted here is not a guarantee that you are going to show up with the main camp. If you come here in shape and you’ve done your summer work, and it looks like you have competed here and warranted the honor of coming to an NHL camp, then good for you and we’ll see you next Friday.”
Some of us already know we’ll be there on Friday. And before that for rookie camp, too. Having a rookie camp gets us off the streets early, for which we are grateful. It’s hockey time again. For more on Saturday’s activity, click here.