The first day of training camp, the feeling of the first day of school: wind sprints in the hallway outside the locker rooms at Rogers Arena; the grind of construction outside on a new tower; stands of lights for official photographs – smile; and, nearby, owner Francesco Aquilini chatting casually with the core of his Vancouver Canucks, the Sedins, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis.
Even if it's the first official day of the 2014-15 hockey calendar, the Canucks, who had their worst season in 14 years in 2013-14, have well-established mantras, the guideposts of the months ahead.
Mantra No. 1: Four lines
Last year, coach John Tortorella had zero faith in some of his roster and overworked his best players. This year, the Canucks feel they have better roster depth, and cited that numerous times on Thursday. Captain Henrik Sedin invoked depth to underscore his confidence, and later Alex Burrows said four strong lines, and a potential return to the playoffs, explain why he is happy to be demoted to the second or third line from his long-standing spot beside the Sedins.
Mantra No. 2: Make the playoffs, and hope for the best
A modestly calibrated goal issued earlier this month by Aquilini, it was reiterated Thursday by Daniel Sedin. "We want to win. We don't look at this as a rebuild. We have a team that can make the playoffs and anything can happen there."
Mantra No. 3: A kinder, gentler coach
The ghost of John Tortorella faintly floated over the carefully orchestrated morning at Rogers Arena.
References to Tortorella, and his aggressive intensity, were oblique. Chris Higgins brushed at the underlying bad memories, saying Tortorella was not a positive experience for some players. Willie Desjardins, the rookie 57-year-old coach, was presented as the opposite. Trotted out were stories of Desjardins visiting players in the summer: Hamhuis in Smithers, B.C., Burrows in Montreal, the Sedins in Sweden. Laughs were had. Last year it was all about the hard-nosed coach who would revive the underperforming Canucks. This year it's all about the kinder, gentler coach who will revive the underperforming Canucks.
A revival, however, could be at hand, and it doesn't necessarily need a radical reversal of last year to propel the Canucks into a better standing. Training camp begins on the ice in Whistler on Friday, and extends through Monday, with a team scrimmage Sunday. Preseason games start Tuesday.
The Canucks need more goal scoring, and the power play is a prime focus. The Canucks, which in 2010-11 had the league's best power play, fell to 26th last year. But there was a point of promise, the Canucks having registered the fourth-most shots on net in five-on-four play.
General manager Jim Benning said adjustments will include less of a focus on booming "back-scratching" slap shots from the point, the kind the departed Jason Garrison launched toward nets. There will be more player and puck movement. Nick Bonino, acquired from Anaheim, will be an important new piece, possibly anchoring the second power play line along the half-wall boards like Henrik Sedin on the first unit. He'll give the team added special-teams depth.
Confidence used to drive the Canucks power play, when it was at the best, Benning said.
"We can recapture that," Benning said. "The power play is going to be an important part of our team this year."