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!