Well, we're here.
Training camps opened across the NHL on Thursday morning with physicals, and as these words are being typed, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going through the paces at the MasterCard Centre out in Mimico.
It's a fairly slow day as players ease back into things, but come Friday morning, it's game on. Jobs are on the line for some, both on the ice and behind the bench, and the pace is high.
Watching an NHL camp up close is fascinating. You quickly realize the extremely high skill level of even the "weakest" participants, as AHL journeymen playing for their next one-year minor league deal are only marginally less talented than those who make the roster.
It's a fine line, and sorting out who's on either side of it happens pretty quickly.
With that in mind, here are a few of the key battles to watch as the Leafs progress toward the season opener over the next two and a half weeks.
The forwards, six through 14
One thing that quickly becomes apparent when you look at the Leafs capgeek.com page is they've got too many forwards on NHL contracts.
Way too many.
That's an easy issue to solve with guys like Frazer McLaren, who you're not concerned about losing on waivers, but when you get into players closer to prospect age like Carter Ashton, you're going to want to either hang onto them or get something of value in return.
That'll be the tricky dance for coach Randy Carlyle in camp: Determine who stays and who goes and, beyond that, who plays higher in the lineup.
There appears to be a gaping hole at right wing on the second line, for example, and if David Clarkson isn't gifted that opportunity again, it's anyone's guess who takes it. Mike Santorelli? Petri Kontiola? Matt Frattin?
Here's betting more than a few folks get an audition alongside Nazem Kadri in preseason.
The Leafs may or may not have enough cap room to carry 14 forwards or could just go with 13. Either way, some one-way contracts are going down to the Marlies come October, and camp will help determine that.
The last defenceman
There's been a ton of noise from management and the other Leafs staff that they'd like to see a youngster step up here, with Swedish prospect Petter Granberg, 22, most often named as the possibility.
But with the top six seemingly set (although not who plays with who), putting a young player in the role of little-used No. 7 on the blueline doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.
It's hard to imagine any of the top six are vulnerable to losing their spots here, so that puts a veteran like Henrik Tallinder in a decent spot to win a job out of a tryout, even if he's 35 and has lost a step or three.
He's been a good mentor to young players in the past, too.
Or they could go with someone like Korbinian Holzer, who's audition on the first pair didn't turn out well a couple years ago but who could be serviceable in a limited role.
Depth is a concern here overall. There are some interesting young players in the system, but the question is if any are ready to step right in in case of injury. Here's betting we find out at some point this season.
And who ends up as the No. 7 will become all that more important.
Jonathan Bernier vs James Reimer
This isn't a battle in the sense that one player will beat out the other. It won't happen in camp. Or early in the year.
This is Bernier's job, and after the season he had, it should be.
But don't be surprised if Reimer mounts more of a challenge than he did a year ago, when a lot of things didn't go his way. Reimer's best route to getting to a No. 1 gig is with another team, and the best way for him to do that is to play very well in the backup role and garner some interest from other teams.
He's capable of doing that, and with Bernier coming off off-season surgery, there could be an opening.
Albeit a small one.
Old school vs new school
The analytics discussion around the Leafs has kind of gone in circles all summer with no games being played, but it'll be interesting to see it continue to play out at camp.
There's no question that assistant GM Kyle Dubas and his new team of stat-heads are going to come up with some ideas, systemic and other wise, that will be much different than what the organization leaned on in the past. Whether or not those are widely adopted remains to be seen, as there'll likely be a push-pull debate on a lot of fronts early on.
The Leafs are trying to integrate a very different way of thinking in a short time frame and that might be hard for the holdovers, especially those that feel their job is on the line if things don't go their way.
Are they capable of some out-of-the-box thinking?
Randy Carlyle vs himself
Which brings us to the man behind the bench.
The bottom line there is that the Leafs need Carlyle to be more adaptable than he was a year ago. It's clear from the way his teams have played, even going back to his last couple of years in Anaheim, that Carlyle's systems are being increasingly exploited by the opposition.
The battle here is going to be getting the decidedly old school coach to realize he has to change his ways in order for this team to win as opposed to simply digging in his heels even further and calling for "more compete" when the team under performs.
That message didn't work last year. It's unlikely to work in this one.