Jack Eichel had a plan this summer.
The idea was simple – a little less would have to do.
After helping the Vegas Golden Knights capture their first Stanley Cup on June 13, Eichel and his teammates had just over three months to celebrate and recuperate.
Getting back in the gym to ensure his body was ready for this season, while important, wasn’t the sole focus with a short runway.
“I didn’t try and overdo anything,” Eichel said before training camp. “I tried to understand the value of rest. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.
“It was a long year.”
The much-talked-about Cup hangover hasn’t impacted Vegas so far in 2023-24. The Golden Knights are off to a standings-topping 7-0-0 start following Tuesday’s last-minute 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
After expending so much energy to climb to the top and hoist hockey’s holy grail, it’s a daunting challenge to get back.
Eichel said he spoke with friends on other teams who previously experienced short summers.
“The message they relayed was you’ll be surprised by how good you feel come training camp with having trained a little less and maybe spent a little less time in the gym,” said the Vegas centre, who has three goals and eight points through seven games. “Maybe more so now than in past summers, it’s about trying to get your body healthy and feeling good heading into camp.
“That’s how a lot of guys probably viewed and attacked the summer.”
Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson and his teammates enjoyed their time off after winning the Cup in 2018.
Then it was back to work.
“When you get through it, and you win, there’s a bit of a letdown,” he said. “You’re like, ‘That was amazing. It was extremely hard.’ You’re sore, you’re tired, and then the next season starts pretty quick.
“You gotta be ready for it.”
Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who won the Cup in 2012 and 2014, said coming back the second time was the big challenge after their first title defence was delayed by a lockout.
“Long couple years,” he said. “Won in ‘12 and then lost in the conference final in ‘13 and then won again, played a ton of games. The [2014-15 season] was a mental grind. There’s no time off and the celebrations are going on at all times.
“Hard to get going the next year.”
Kopitar also wouldn’t change a thing.
“Are you gonna tell a team that you can’t celebrate the ultimate trophy?” he said. “I don’t think there’s one person that won’t celebrate.”
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev said his group didn’t experience a hangover after winning two pandemic Cups (2020, 2021) in just over nine months.
“It was really close, the two seasons,” he explained. “That helped us. We won one and we’re like, ‘OK, we’re going to next season already.’ We wanted to be a part of history.
“We had the same team, so why not go get a second?”
Colorado Avalanche blueliner Bowen Byram said the compressed time frame was an “interesting feeling” after denying Tampa its three-peat in 2022.
“Got back to Denver, late [August], early September, and it felt like I just left,” said Byram, whose team was upset by the Seattle Kraken in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
“A little different than anything I’ve had in the past, but to win a Stanley Cup, I’d take that every year.”
Wilson’s Capitals also weren’t able to repeat, but he said having a solid roster foundation is key when attempting to run it back.
“When you’re at the top of the mountain, you look around and you’re like, ‘Well, that was amazing. Let’s try and do it again,”’ he said. “Everyone wants to get back there. But it’s tough couple of months after you win, you gotta get right back to the drawing board.
“That summer was a bit of a blur once you feel that excitement to get back out there and start training again, it’s happens pretty organically.”
That’s how Eichel and the Golden Knights approached the 14 weeks between realizing their dream and returning to work.
“Enjoyed the summer as a Stanley Cup champion,” he said. “But you still find that hunger [of] trying to find ways to improve yourself.”
Two weeks into the new season, there can be few complaints about the results.
Sunday’s Heritage Classic outdoor game featuring the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames has lost a bit of its lustre. Oilers captain Connor McDavid looks extremely doubtful after suffering an upper-body injury last Saturday that’s expected to keep him out up to two weeks. The Flames, meanwhile, will be minus Rasmus Andersson. The minute-crunching defenceman is set to serve the final contest of a four-game suspension for charging on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine when Calgary and Edmonton hit the ice at Commonwealth Stadium. Both teams are also struggling – the Oilers are off to an ugly 1-4-1 start, while the Flames aren’t much better at 2-4-1.
The Winnipeg Jets have experienced something that used to be hard to fathom – empty stands. The club has averaged just 11,823 fans through four games at the 15,325-seat Canada Life Centre in 2023-24. The Jets, who had a long sellout streak after NHL hockey returned to the Manitoba capital in 2011 following the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers, had a crowd of 13,410 for their home opener against the Florida Panthers, but have failed to crack 12,000 since. A visit from former Winnipeg centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Kings attracted just 11,226 spectators, while a rematch of last season’s first-round playoff series with Golden Knights saw 11,521 tickets sold. The lowest total came Tuesday night when a crowd of just 11,136 watched a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues. The original Jets moved to Arizona and became the Coyotes in 1996.