The Tampa Bay Lightning have a whole lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.
Because the league shut down for nearly four months due to the NHL imposed lockout, Tampa Bay will open camp today and then open the season less than a week later. In between that gives the Lightning coaches and players six short days to find a way to come together without the benefit of any exhibition games.
To get that done, some quick team chemistry has to be developed. While that process is always important no matter the situation, a shortened 48-game season and at least five new players to integrate into the Lightning system has put some extra emphasis on trying to spark that science project.
"Priority number one, for me, is chemistry right now,'' Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher said. "We have a lot of new players. It's all good, but with 48 games, the chemistry better start quick.''
To turn up the heat and help all of that cook a little faster, after the Lightning open camp Sunday morning at The Forum, the coaching staff has planned a four-day side trip out of town. After a 90-minute practice in front of the home fans, Tampa Bay heads down to Estero to hold four days of practice at Germain Arena, home of Lightning East Coast Hockey League affiliate Florida Everblades.
Being away is much more than trying to develop just on-ice chemistry, it's about trying to make it happen away from the ice as well. Secluded in a Naples-area hotel, there will be plenty of group activities to help the players create a bond and get to know each other better from a personal stand point.
It's something the team traditionally does - sometimes during a normal training camp or during extended breaks in an 82-game schedule. So team-bonding activities are the norm and not the exception.
Yet coming off a 113-day lockout that spurned the fans for nearly four months, the timing seems a bit odd. While it certainly would make much more sense to some to keep the team in town and let the fans get an up close look after such a long absence, the team feels it's the right thing to do.
"We want to try and do what is best for our team to get as much success early on as we can,'' right wing Marty St. Louis said. "I think that's one way to give back to the fans, hopefully getting wins. If (four days out of town) is what we need to do to speed up that process, then that's what we need to do. I think at the end of the day (fans) will understand that.''
With only 48 games on the schedule a slow start could spell disaster with little time to recover, while getting out of the gate quickly would put any team ahead of the game. Either way, the focus right now is on a solid start to help ensure a strong finish.
"The magnitude of how important this start is, that's why we don't have time to wait for the guys to gel in the next two weeks,'' St. Louis said. "We have to jump out to speed up the process. We're trying to do the right thing so that we can put ourselves in a better position to have success early on.''
But really, how important is developing chemistry on a team?
"That's huge because if you look at our team four years ago when I first got here and we had all those new faces and all those expectations and how things didn't really work out,'' center Steven Stamkos said. "So you have to make sure that chemistry and that nucleus right away. And I think we have a good leadership group that it's not going to be an issue. So I'm excited, I was excited to begin when we were supposed to begin the year and I'm just as excited when it looks like we are going to begin the year.
"I think we have a legitimate team here in Tampa and we are ready to show the fans and the whole city what our whole organization has gone out and done to make our team the best possible.''
Even if that means waiting a few days to showcase the team in front of the fans.