The real countdown to the National Hockey League season starts this week with the release of the 2005-06 schedule.
The Ottawa Senators are negotiating with the NHL to start it with a Battle of Ontario bang, a home-and-home series with the Maple Leafs starting at the Air Canada Centre on Wed., Oct. 5. The Leafs would only say that's a preferred home-opening date. The full schedule will be released tomorrow or Thursday at the latest, now that it's confirmed there will be NHL participation in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
Canada's first action in that tournament is Feb. 15 against Italy and the gold medal game is Feb. 26, necessitating a two-week shutdown of NHL play just before and after those dates. Because the 1,230-game schedule will extend further into April because of the Olympics, it was decided to defer a proposal to admit four more teams into the playoffs and keep the number at 16.
With the tight schedule, the Leafs likely are going to hold their training camp around Toronto. Ice is being installed in the Air Canada Centre in late August.
The Leafs once again will play at home predominantly mid-week and Saturdays.