Training Camp is almost upon us. We are about to find out which players from which teams ‘put in’ over the summer and improved their physical condition.

There is almost always one standout at each club, well lets say two. One who is considered trending in the right direction and one who leaves coaches and fans scratching their head wondering what was going on over the last 4 months.

Something I have noted with those players who come into camp in ‘the best shape of his career’ is it doesn’t always translate to improved play on the ice.

Off ice conditioning can be a bit of a trap. A player can leave their exit meeting at the end of the year and have been asked by the coaching staff to improve on certain areas of his game. Players can sometimes take that information away and put their efforts into improving the wrong skill sets.

Players with new head coaches have issues here too. The exit interviews from the old coach will have laid out objectives in accordance to what his perceived role of that player was in his system. A new coach can have different objectives; if these have not been passed on quickly, a player can ‘train’ himself out of his new position description with the new coach.

Every player has strengths and weaknesses, all training is designed to improve on those strengths and reduce the weaknesses. Some training is counter intuitive and you have to make sure that reducing one weakness isn’t also reducing a strength of a player.

For an extreme example:

We have player X who is a sniper, scores 60 goals in a year but is considered soft because he doesn’t go into the hard areas on the ice because he gets knocked off his skates too easily.

The coaching staff decide if they can get the player stronger he will go to the front of the net and get some dirty rebounds and tip ins on top of what he is already getting.

So player X spends all his off season improving his baseline strength and specifically his static strength so he hold off opponents on his back in front of the net.

Half way through the year, player X has 15 ‘dirty goals’ but only 20 total. He is down on his shooting percentage, and shots taken. He cant snipe anything, all his bread and butter is just not going right.

The focus through the off season to reduce a perceived weakness as taken away from player X’s main strength, so the team has ended up at a net loss.

There are certain physical attributes at odds with each other. It is a rare player who is lightning fast at top speed but who is also hard to knock over. The physical skill sets required to be fast and to strong are different enough that to be brilliant at one can make you look mediocre in the other. You drafted that player on those physical talents; don’t train those talents out of the player.

It usually takes the body about 8 weeks to start showing physiological changes to external stimuli. That is two months to begin adaptations, from there you want another two months to continue that path and improve the adaptations before the season starts.

This leaves players and trainers 4 months to make some changes to his physiological output for the upcoming season; it is not a lot of time. It is especially difficult for those players drafted 15-45 who are expected to come in and have an impact straight away.

Some players are looked upon as just needing to add 3-5kgs of muscle and they will be fine in the NHL. Well that 3-5kgs of muscle is not that easy to add on. It can take up to 8 months to add that kind of weight onto a body, legally, anyway.

So those players drafted this year who make their teams are most likely going to make it because they have the smarts to make up for their physical deficiencies against men. There are always exceptions to the rule however.

Coming into camp in the best shape of your life doesn’t guarantee a career year, improving that part of your game will have come at a cost to something else. There are only so many hours in a day and you need to rest to provide your body time to adapt.

So if you concentrate on adding 5kgs to your frame, you will lose time to work on your skating or your stick handling or your shooting, so it is a tough balancing act.

This is where I think the decentralization of player from the club once the season is over can have its issues. Basically every player now has their own trainer or training facility they go and workout at through the summer.

If the coaching staff does not correctly articulate to a player what they want from them in the next season the player can go away and physically handicap his ability to help the team the way the coaching staff intended.

Here is where I think it is imperative the head trainer of the team and the trainers looking after the players in the off season communicate weekly. To ensure that the training goals the player is trying to achieve over the off season will provide the results on the ice the team is wanting.

Improving your maximum bench press is great in showing your upper body strength has improved but that is no good for improved on ice strength and ability to take physical punishment.

Adding 5kgs of muscle is great, but it will not improve your top speed on its own, improvements in skating stride mechanics and the ability to generate power quickly and efficiently will.

What I am saying is there is a reason a player usually hits their peak between 24-30, they have had at least 6 off seasons in their pro career to modify and adjust their body and skill sets to as close to their peak as they can. It is one of the reasons you can get late bloomers.

They finally get that last skill set they were lacking to click and everything comes together, Matt Niskanen comes to mind. So there is no need to panic if a player looks good in all areas but one when they are young. There is time to improve that hole.

By the end of September we are going to get to see what skill sets each coach values and what players have done in the off season to help their coach achieve their playing direction.

Thanks for reading.