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Plenty of familiar NHL faces going to new rinks this season

Marc Staal plays for the New York Rangers against the Flyers on Feb. 28 in Philadelphia. He was traded to the Detroit Red Wigns during the offseason. (AP file photo)

Jeff Skinner was enjoying an afternoon in his parents’ backyard when suddenly the Buffalo Sabres forward thought his father was pulling an April Fools’ joke on him in mid-September.

“My dad came out and told me that Eric Staal is on our team,” Skinner said upon learning Buffalo had acquired his former Carolina Hurricanes teammate in a trade with Minnesota. “I thought he was joking with me at first.”

He wasn’t.

The Sabres’ addition of Staal was completed before the Stanley Cup was even awarded, and it wasn’t the most high-profile move made over the past four months.

But it was among the first of many trades and free-agent signings involving some of the league’s more notable players changing teams during a most unusual offseason. The draft was held in October, training camps opened in late December and the league is preparing to embark on a 56-game shortened season with four realigned divisions — all a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal skates during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 6, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Staal was traded from the Rangers to the Red Wings during the offseason. (AP file photo)

Don’t adjust your TV sets, which is where most fans will have to watch the action, with most arenas closed to the public. It may take a few weeks to get accustomed to some of the NHL’s more familiar faces playing in different places when the regular season opens Wednesday.

Zdeno Chara is no longer in Boston after the Bruins captain signed with Washington. Onetime Capitals goalie Braden Holtby is now in Vancouver. Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo has left St. Louis — where he was replaced by veteran Bruins defenseman Torey Krug — to hit the jackpot in Vegas.

Staal wasn’t even the only member of his family on the move, with younger brother Marc traded from the Rangers to Detroit. And the Sabres made an even bigger splash in free agency by landing 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall in October.

On the west coast, Patrick Marleau is back in San Jose for a third stint in four years, while the Sharks’ lineup for the first time in 15 years will be without Joe Thornton, who is now in Toronto.

“Just soak it all in,” said the 41-year-old Thornton, who grew up a 90-minute drive from Toronto. “I feel like I’m young again.”

Though NHL stars switch teams every offseason, the moves this year were, in part, precipitated by the effects of COVID-19, which has frozen the salary cap at $81.5 million for at least this season and likely the next. That placed teams anticipating the cap to increase in a bind.

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