Sports fans, rejoice. After 113 days of night, the NHL lockout is finally over. I refuse to write another word about the most embarrassing episode of Gary Bettman’s very embarrassing reign as commissioner. If you would like words on the lockout, I suggest you turn to my previous work here and here, or to my friend Jason Clinkscales’ thoughtful piece here.
I won’t implore any fan to return to the league either. We have been taken for granted for far too long by both sides of the labor dispute. We pay for the $100 tickets, $150 jerseys and all of the other merchandise that feeds the NHL machine. And what do we get in return? Tireless arguments over billions of dollars and loss of games while both sides claim to have us in mind. So if you truly are done with the NHL, then all the power to you. I understand.
With that being said, those of us who forgive and forget will witness the most exciting season in years in 2013 (Side note: I’m stoked that I can refer to this season as simply “2013” instead of clumsily spewing out “2012/13″ and what not. End note). A 48-game schedule leaves little room for error. A five-game slump could derail a team’s campaign; a hot start could define it.
Without the chemistry builder that is an extended training camp, teams will be forced to gel in a matter of days let alone weeks. Add in that every game will be intra-conference — de facto rivalry games — and you have chaos. And friends, offense rules the day in chaotic hockey. Look no further than the Flyers-Penguinss series from last year’s playoffs — shoddy (some would use a different word but my mother reads my words) goaltending, porous defensive play, and a heavy dose of tension led to 8-5, 8-4 and 10-5 score lines. Will these be the norm in the 2013 season? No, but there will be a noticeable uptick in scoring.
Two types of teams will find success in the coming months of this chaotic season: those who are well-established and the young and talented. Teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, they of three consecutive first overall picks as well as additional young guns Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and newcomer Justin Schultz, and the New York-soon-to-be-Brooklyn Islanders will at least threaten to capture a playoff berth. While other teams’ stars found refuge in European leagues, the youthful cores of the Isles and Oilers stuck together in the American Hockey League. Moreover, their younger legs will adjust to the packed schedule much faster than their elderly rivals. Now, these aren’t your older brothers’ Oilers and Islanders who won a combined 9 Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1990, but they will play some of the most compelling hockey of the short season.
Still need a reason to tune in and pretend you blacked out the lockout? Maybe you forgot the notable player movements of last summer. In my home state of Minnesota, Wild fans have been itching to watch Zach Parise and Ryan Suter wear the Iron Range red and forest green sweaters since the Fourth of July signing spree. Parise returns home with a relentless work ethic, a 40-goal pedigree, a Silver Medal at the 2010 Olympics and a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. As far as Suter goes, well, Minnesotans would much rather watch Suter quarterback the power play than Joe Webb quarterback the Vikings.
In the NBA, both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks have (or had in the Nets’ case) title aspirations. The New York team that has the best chance to win a championship this year, however, may just be the Rangers. They finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record last year behind a stellar defensive core and the brilliant goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. In the offseason, they rescued behemoth scorer Rick Nash from perennial exile in Columbus.
We were two games away from a LA v. NY Stanley Cup match-up in 2012 (eons ago the Kings won the Cup, remember?). Only Gary Bettman would be so lucky to see that series come to fruition in 2013.
A shorter season brings with it plenty of talking points. I hope you watch with me if you so choose. Because although we lost 34 games off our favorite teams’ schedules, we’re only 48 away from the Stanley Cup playoffs. All will be forgiven then.