50 Things We're Desperately Hoping for in the 2012-13 NHL Season
The midnight hour is less than a month away when Gary Bettman could potentially pull the plug on the the 96th NHL season. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15, and the always overcompensating Bettman has declared that the players will be locked out if an agreement is not in place.
The Napoleonic negotiating tactics of hockey's commissioner are nothing new to those who follow the sport. It seems the term negotiating has been mistaken by Bettman to mean "agree to my (the owners) terms or I'll take my puck and lock the door."
With so much at stake, it confounds me as to why both sides haven't attempted a 24/7 negotiating mandate to get a deal done. The NHL has actually come a long way since the last work stoppage eight years ago. The success of the league can be measured in dollars earned through game attendance and (until last years SCF) television ratings.
The NHL has an image issue and front load what little star promotion they have with Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Hey, NHL, you have viable, entertaining stars in every market. There is a compelling and goofy story in every locker room. Sure, the tradition of the NHL is something to be proud of, but it's a little arrogant to the passive or non-hockey fan to assume that you should watch "Because It's the Cup."
Of course, I'm biased, but I think hockey is the greatest sport on earth. It combines speed, skill, contact and drama with some of the most genuine and humble athletes. The passion of the crowd in some arenas can only be compared to international soccer stadiums with the chants and songs supporting their team. Hockey is steeped in tradition as much as any other sport, but it has also evolved and streamlined itself into a slick, marketable product.
So until the second hand hits 12, here's to hoping for all the great things we have to look forward to in next season's NHL. 2011-12 was a fantastic year for hockey. The talent on display, the venom from renewed rivalries and the balance of power across the league kept every fanbase interested until the Stanley Cup was lifted.
Here are 50 things we are hoping the 2012-13 season brings. Enjoy now!
Let's start with the obvious, if for no other reason than to just get it out of the way. For something that both sides saw coming for so long, it absolutely vexes me how a deal couldn't have gotten done. This doesn't generate fan interest unless you announce that a deal is imminent. It puts off the casual fan and makes the hardcore fan crazy.
Hey, I knew that Christmas was coming up 364 days ago, but I figured I'd wait until the day before to pick out something for you. Something reeeaaal nice.
Edmonton's Young Guns Are as Good as Advertised
The last time the Oilers had four dudes with this much talent, they went on a Stanley Cup binge for four out of the next five years. Not saying that Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Yakupov should start getting fitted for rings just yet, but Oiler fans have plenty of reason to expect their team making the playoffs because of their young stars.
Toronto Makes the Playoffs!!
With apologies to Leaf Nation, formal invites to another failed season should be a thing of the past. Toronto's most recent collapse was a lethal combination of untimely injuries and inconsistent play. With the advent of every new season, optimism springs forth among the NHL's most passionate fans.
Sidney Crosby returned to ice with all the fanfare and anticipation of his NHL debut and certainly did not disappoint. He showed why he will have a seat at the table with the best of the best in the NHL when he is healthy.
Hopefully, another year older will be another year wiser and he can focus on being the world's best player and stay away from the petty stuff that clearly took him off his game. Love him or hate him, a healthy 87 is great for the sport.
While hockey welcomed back one of its superstars in Crosby, his Washington nemesis seemed to find himself in a funk for stretches of the 2011-12 season. A lot can be made of center Nick Backstrom's absence, but Alexander the Great seemed to have lost some of the youthful exuberance that made him a fan favorite.
Thirty-eight goals last year would be a great season for almost anyone, but for Ovechkin, we want and expect more.
There was no more pleasant surprise for the Philadelphia Flyers than the emergence of their next superstar in Claude Giroux. Giroux challenged eventual Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin all year in the scoring race and had a signature type of series by leading his team past Malkin's Penguins in the playoffs.
With a personality to match his on-ice talent, Giroux is the type of player the NHL needs to put in front of the cameras as much as possible.
Bruins-Sabres Rivalry to Have Some Legs
The Buffalo Sabres have spent this offseason getting tougher and meaner. While it might be argued that the team could and should focus on getting back to the playoffs, the rugged and chippy element that they acquired could help them get there.
Oh, and then there is the whole Ryan Miller-Milan Lucic thing that has yet to be resolved in the eyes of the Sabre faithful. Rivalries are good, folks. Hockey needs more of them.
Montreal Canadiens Return to Relevance
A catastrophic season in Montreal had the Canadiens hoping for a reset button. The Habs have talent and some emerging stars in Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and P.K. Subban. A fresh start and a year to grow together could help Les Habitants get back to the playoffs.
Epic Winter Classic
The Winter Classic has taken over January 1st as the must-see television event for those recovering from the festivities of the previous evening. Sorry college football, but all your meaningful games are scattered about over the next week.
This year's edition features the second matchup of Original Six teams, as Toronto and Detroit will play in Michigan's "Big House" in Ann Arbor. With attendance numbers certain to fall, this year's edition is sure to be just as spectacular as the previous six.
Keep a Camera on Bryzgalov 24/7
The Russian quote machine pauses between interviews to play a little hockey for the Philadelphia Flyers. Though most of the Broad St. faithful would prefer their goalie to be seen rather than heard, the HBO series 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic catapulted Ilya Bryzgalov to stardom.
Hockey in Phoenix
Say what you want about hockey in the desert, but the Coyotes' run through the Western Conference would have been equally impressive had they—not the Kings—made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
Quality ownership needs to stabilize the franchise. The fans may never approach the level that the team deserves, but Dave Tippett has done a great job keeping the Coyotes relevant in spite of the ever-present turmoil.
Free-Agent Results: Minnesota
There is certainly no better way to measure the success of a free-agent shopping spree than to look at the standings. The Minnesota Wild were the clear winners this summer and their investment will need to pay off immediately.
With the kind of cabbage the Wild dropped on their new toys, the playoffs are no longer optional. Of course, ownership can measure success by increased attendance, merchandise sales and an improved bottom line.
Trade Results: Carolina-Pittsburgh
NHL draft day was knocked on its keister momentarily when Pittsburgh traded Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the Hurricanes' first-round pick. The partisan Pittsburgh crowd let out a collective groan for the departure of fan-favorite Staal, who will join his brother, Eric, on the Hurricanes.
The trade helped both sides, but Staal is the centerpiece of the trade and should flourish with the larger role on the Hurricanes.
Free-Agent Results: Calgary
Calgary threw its cowboy hat into the free-agent ring with a couple of notable and pricey signings. Defenseman Dennis Wideman and left winger Jiri Hudler were shipped to Alberta for a collective $9.25 million annually. Calgary GM Jay Feaster believes the Flames are just a couple of pieces away from being contenders. Time will tell if Calgary are buyers or sellers in February.
Lots More Goals from Stamkos
Steven Stamkos was a one-man show last year in Tampa, and though the Lightning missed the playoffs, their star center scored a league-high 60 goals.
Tampa got better defensively and older offensively. It will be interesting to see how this affects Stamkos' goal-scoring totals. Winning is the most important thing, but a solid Stamkos highlight reel is a close second.
How Will Detroit Do Without Lidstrom?
Detroit lost more than their top defenseman when Nick Lidstrom skated off into the sunset. They lost leadership and Lidstrom's calm influence over what immediately became a shallow and less talented defensive corps. A new captain has also yet to be named in Hockeytown, and the Red Wings' transition to life after Lidstrom will be much bigger than people think.
Don't go crazy now. I'm not just some goofy American who loves monster trucks, Budweiser and 8-6 hockey games. I love great goalie play as much as the next guy, but the fact is, goal scoring is trending down again.
I don't want any rule changes, or any adjustments to the keeper's pads. Don't make the goal bigger or the crease smaller. Just saying, if the trend continues, we might need to adjust some of the neutral zone defensive strategies to increase the flow of the game. I'll take 5-3 over 3-2 all year.
Los Angeles Playing with Actual Expectations
The Los Angeles Kings caught everyone by surprise this past postseason. While some are wondering how an eight seed could have made it through the rigors of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they are forgetting how badly the Kings underachieved all year. That being said, the Kings finally seemed to play up to their potential at the right time of year.
As the next season begins, we'll see how the Kings come out of the gate, playing with a bull's-eye on their back as the defending champs.
Was their any rivalry in the NHL more heated and animated than the Pennsylvania turnpike rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers? The final two games of the regular season and then the playoff series was indicative of the legitimate disdain each side has for one another.
As I said in the earlier slide, rivalries are good for hockey.
The Next Star?
Calder trophy boy Gabriel Landeskog went to the Avalanche with the second overall pick in last season's draft. Top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins certainly would have given more serious consideration had he not battled injuries through his rookie campaign.
So who will be this year's top rookie? The top 10 drafted players were heavily loaded with defensemen, with Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk being the only two forwards taken. Both players have the potential to be elite, but the large defensive pool could produce the Calder winner, too.
New York Islanders
Could this be the year that the Islanders return to respectability? The talent they have grown offensively could put them back in the playoffs, but they have definitely struggled at keeping the puck out of their own net.
A trade for Ducks defenseman Lubo Visnovsky certainly couldn't hurt, but the Isles need to get tougher and meaner to compete in the rugged Atlantic Division. We'll see if free agent Matt Carkner can help with that.
Will Tuukka Rask Be the Answer in Goal for Boston?
I think it's fair to say that fans and management alike are happy to see the new face of Boston goaltending. Tuukka Rask will be handed the job, but can he handle the pressure of being the guy? He filled in admirably for Tim Thomas when called on before and has sparkled at various points in his young career. Time will tell if he can fill the big, but annoying, shoes of Tim Thomas.
Can Cory Schneider Replace Roberto Luongo?
The Stanley Cup finalists from two years ago will both have new faces in net as the season begins. Cory Schneider has supplanted Roberto Luongo as the man in Vancouver, with the latter requesting a trade. GM Mike Gillis knows the market for a top-flight goalie but may be deliberately keeping Luongo on the roster as an insurance policy.
His asking price for Luongo is said to be borderline obscene.
Discussions for Realignment
There was a proposal for realignment a year ago that was shot down by the league. With collective bargaining taking up most of the discussion right now, the realignment can wait. The Winnipeg Jets will probably be at the front of the discussion once this topic takes center stage. Playing in the Southeast Division puts a lot of travel wear and tear on a team trying to compete for a playoff spot.
Free-Agent Results: Colorado
Colorado didn't make too much of a free-agent splash, but many experts feel that they may have rolled the dice with free-agent acquisition P.A Parenteau. Coming off a career year, Parenteau's free agency got him a sweet four-year, $16 million deal. Parenteau's playmaking could integrate well into the Avalanche core of young players.
EA Sports Cover-Dude for NHL 14
EA Sports went with a pretty unique and interactive way to find the face of their NHL video game in 2012. Submitting a total of over 25 million votes, fans chose Claude Giroux over Pekka Rinne for this season's cover.
Who will be next year's choice? Rob Klinkhammer?
The Emergence of the Projected No. 1 Pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Nail Yakupov emerged as the perennial No. 1 pick well before the Oilers selected him. The scouting has gotten so thorough and intense that there are rarely surprises by draft day.
This next crop of youngsters has a few names to watch like Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. Plenty of time and junior hockey to be played to see who will emerge as next year's favorite.
For Gary Bettman to Just Leave
Motley Crue wrote a song in the mid-1980s called "Don't Go Away Mad, Just Go Away." I think that would be just as appropriate as the "Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye" song for Gary Bettman's departure from the NHL. While Vince Neil was screeching about a disenchanted groupie, couldn't we say the same about our little commissioner friend?
NHL All-Star Weekend
The NHL All-Star weekend is scheduled to be held in Columbus this year, which will showcase the state-of-the-art Nationwide Arena and give Columbus fans something to cheer for. It will also be a chance for them to see Rick Nash again, should he make the roster. "Hi Rick! Remember us?!"
The NHL All-Star game and skills competition has closed the gap considerably on the NBA equivalent. The world's best pick-up game truly showcases how talented the NHL players are, though it could easily qualify as goalie abuse.
No Touch Icing: Come on Now, NHL
Another topic on the table at the NHL discussions is the concept of "No-touch icing." This could potentially eliminate any injuries suffered when two players are chasing down a puck to get the icing waved off. Though the compound fractures are few and far between, they are memorable enough to make this rule official.
Free-Agent Results: Carolina
The Hurricanes continued their offseason retooling with the signing of former nemesis Alex Semin. As a member of the Washington Capitals, Semin caught the eyes of the 'Canes by filling their net with pucks on the regular.
Though GM Jim Rutherford only signed him to a one-year deal, it happens to be for $7 million. Semin makes Carolina look more menacing on paper, but the financial investment for a player who has been so temperamental will be an interesting development.
Diving Rules Will Be Enforced (Allegedly)
Sorry Penguin fan, but when you do a Google search of "NHL dive," this is the first relevant picture that comes up.
Another topic of discussion at the NHL meetings was the concept of player diving. Some NHL players went so far as to suggest that there be a posted list of divers hanging in every NHL locker room in an effort to shame players out of diving.
While it's an interesting suggestion, the subjectivity of the list and subsequent enforcement could prove to be impossible.
In case you weren't aware, there is not a lot of NHL-related television programming on the air. NBC Sports Network developed a pretty cool show called NHL 36, which has a camera crew follow a player around, starting a stopwatch 36 hours before their next game. Featured players last year were: Nick Lidstrom, Patrick Kane, Mike Richards, James Neal and Patrice Bergeron.
A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and a great insight into the lives and pregame rituals of some of the game's top stars. Must-watch for hockey fans.
More Kesler Bombs
If you aren't a Canucks, fan it's easy to dislike Ryan Kesler, but it's hard not to laugh at his innate ability to crash almost every interview with another Canucks player. These are the interviews that actually make it on the air. I can't imagine the amount of footage that they couldn't air.
New Hall of Fame Class
- Chris Chelios
- Scott Niedermayer
- Dave Andreychuk
- Rod Brind'Amour
- Phil Housley
- Rob Blake
- Eric Lindros
The upcoming season promises to have an interesting look at the possible inductees to the 2013 class of Hall of Fame candidates. Brendan Shanahan was a surprise omission to the strong class of 2012, but he could be inducted next season. Other possible candidates would include the following:
Hockey season is another excuse for my wife to make fun of my sports nerd-dom and my fantasy hockey league. I held out for as long as possible before plunging into the world of fantasy sports. While maddening because of the amount of sheer luck involved with fantasy sports, it's one more opportunity to talk crazy amounts of smack to co-workers and friends.
Also a great excuse to have a top-notch draft party in the man cave.
#bucciovertimechallenge: John Buccigross Overtime Challenge
While Buccigross makes it clear that you can purchase one of his stellar BOC t-shirts(all proceeds go to charity), it's just not the same as the Twitter-inspired overtime bingo of selecting players who could net the overtime winner. I've been playing for the past couple of years and though I got a goal scorer correct, I failed to retweet my correct answer fast enough. #FAIL
Free-Agent Results: Dallas
Dallas had an interesting offseason after missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. In addition to their trades that shipped out Steve Ott and Mike Ribiero, the Stars signed a pair of 40-year-old goal scorers in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. Between the two elder statesmen, Dallas will pay out over $9 million.
If Derek Roy can mesh with the new free agents and Jamie Benn can build on his breakout year, maybe the Stars can get back to the playoffs. Leading scorer Loui Erikkson is a star on the rise and will only get better as the roster improves.
Jay Onrait Yelling "BOBROVSKY!!!!"
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus, the Blue Jackets upgraded a dire situation in net. More importantly, for Jay Onrait of TSN, it means that the Russian Bob-cat of a netminder will get more starts in goal. Who wins here? Everyone, that's who.
Wait, this might be a silver lining if there is a lockout. No Melrose. I'm torn.
Baaaahhhh, I'd still rather have hockey. At least if I see the mullet, I can hit mute or turn the channel.
Pierre McGuire Invading Personal Space
With all that studio space available, why shouldn't Pierre be right up in your grill? Of course, you can take the Mike Babcock approach and tell him to shove off.
There is no more awkward point in the NBC coverage of the NHL than when McGuire corners someone and barrages them with cunning and provocative questions. Then, falling just short of the butt-smack/good game, McGuire tells token uncomfortable player to go have some fun out there.
I wonder if he drives a van?
Parity Is Maintained
One of the great things about the NHL is that every team legitimately has a chance to win. Los Angeles proved last year that the playoff seedings mean absolutely nothing. With the exception of maybe Columbus, there is no team that would be a total shock to lift the Stanley Cup in 2013.
Detractors could say that a polarizing dynasty builds interest and resentment while their greatness is perpetuated, but I think that the NHL needs to continue to grow itself in certain markets before we anoint the next great dynasty in the NHL.
HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic
In the limited world of NHL programming, the HBO 24/7 series is a welcome look into the lives of the Winter Classic participants. It puts the NHL in a forum that would not reach the casual fan, giving an uncensored (thanks, Bruce Boudreau) look into the locker room. With the magnitude of the game ahead, it's cool to watch a game, then see a behind-the-scenes look at the game a couple days later.
Great, great television.
Trade Results: Columbus and New York
In the big but unsurprising blockbuster trade of the summer, Rick Nash moved to the New York Rangers for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick.
Nash immediately helps the Rangers as they wait for Marion Gaborik to return from shoulder surgery. The trade helps Columbus as they can now look forward to rebuilding...again.
Swan/Duck Song for the Finnish Flash
Teemu Selanne must have told everyone that he would only play for the Ducks this year. Not the best negotiating ploy, but maybe Teemu isn't hurting for cash. That is the only reason I could think of why nobody offered the prolific Finn a contract when free agency started.
Though he just turned 42, Selanne has spent the last two years scoring 80 and 66 points. In their last two full seasons, Zach Parise has only five more points than Selanne despite being 15 years younger.
Anaheim inked him for a one-year deal at $4.5 million in what could be his final year.
Patrick Kane Image Rehabilitation
Amateur photographers don't often confuse Tim Tebow and Patrick Kane. For one, Tebow doesn't often find himself in the same social environment that Kane has found more than once. In spite of the fact that Tebow looks more like an athlete than Kane ever will, Kane will always be the more viable athlete in his sport compared to Tebow's novelty act in the NFL.
Kane did acknowledge some bad decisions this offseason, but the coming year could be a crossroads for the talented Chicago forward. His stats have been on the decline since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, yet he is only 23. Granted, Kane has done more in his brief career than 95 percent of NHL players will ever do in theirs. However, the questionable public behavior becomes more questionable after a first-round loss than it does when you score the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Goalie Wars: Who Is the Best?
Henrik Lundqvist won the trophy in Las Vegas, but Jonathan Quick won the trophy that matters on the ice. While the title of Vezina Trophy winner certainly helps the resume, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner take it to the next level.
Quick and Lundqvist are two of the league's absolute best and will battle all year for the unofficial title until it is awarded again at the 2013 Nickelback concert/NHL Awards show.
Will Paul Bissonnette Dress for More Than Half of Phoenix's Games?
Phoenix tough guy, Twitter icon and international man of leisure Paul Bissonnette played in 31 games last year for the Western Conference finalists. He matched his goal-scoring total of the previous year with one and finished tied for ninth on the team with one game-winning goal.
While Bissonnette acknowledges that he has "hands like feet," he brings enough to the table to dress for 42 games. Certainly, for the sake of putting some butts in the Phoenix seats, Dave Tippett can put the Coyotes most marketable player on the ice for five minutes a night.
How Much Better Will Erik Karlsson Get?
Conjuring up comparisons to Paul Coffey and another offensive defenseman that used to play in Boston, whom I won't mention, the Swedish blueliner brought the Norris Trophy back to Sweden on the eve of Nick Lidstrom's retirement.
Erik Karlsson has got the game, the flow and now the (individual) hardware. Could someone please speak to him about the mustache? He is only 22, so we'll give him a pass for now. The Senators took the mighty Rangers to seven games this spring before bowing out. Karlsson will be fun to watch for years to come.
Penguins' Batman and Batman 1A
For all of the talk of parity in the league, there is a team that is pretty top-loaded in the talent department. People cringed when there was talk of Parise and Suter possibly going to Pittsburgh to join the wealth of young stars there. Without adding the two prized free agents, the Penguins are still loaded.
Crosby and Malkin are head and shoulders above the next one-two punch in the league, Kris Letang is emerging as a Norris-level defenseman, James Neal had a breakout year on Malkin's wing and Fleury is a much better goalie than he displayed in the playoffs.
With a fresh start and a full season with Crosby, the Penguins could run away from the rest of the standings.