Professional hockey in North America finds itself at a stalemate right now, with the NHL and NHLPA entrenched in a lockout that will slowly threaten more and more of the 2012-13 season in the coming weeks and months.
Fans will remember—all too well— the 2004-05 lockout that cost the sport a whole season. The pessimists among us are fearful that a repeat of the lost season could be on the horizon.
We do not simply miss the highlight-reel goals and saves when we lose portions of the season. We miss out on the things we have anticipated for months, since the Stanley Cup found a new home in June.
Many stories were written throughout the 2011-12 season—some beginning long before that—and fans are deprived of the continuation of those stories.
The lockout leaves us with unanswered questions and unfinished business.
These are 50 major storylines that we looked forward to following in 2012-13, whose unfolding is in jeopardy as long as the business side of hockey takes precedence over the love of the game.
This is a storyline that underlies every NHL season: One team wants to hang onto hockey's Holy Grail, and 29 teams are dead-set on stealing it away.
The Stanley Cup calls Los Angeles home for the first time in its history, and LA's youthful lineup would indicate that all the tools are in place to keep the prize in SoCal. In fact, the only thing the Kings won't do to hang onto the Cup through next summer is allow a lockout to cancel the season entirely.
After missing huge chunks of the past two seasons, Sidney Crosby appears poised to return full force in 2012-13.
His long-term health will be a concern for Penguins fans and NHL fans in general, as concussions and other head injuries have become hot-button issues in hockey. A full season of great two-way hockey would silence those concerns, but you know Pens fans will get a sick feeling in their stomachs anytime Crosby takes a hit.
Some adult hockey fans literally do not remember a time when the Red Wings weren't the league's gold standard. The Red Wings have not missed the playoffs since 1990.
To put it in context, the second-longest such streak belongs to the San Jose Sharks, who last missed the playoffs in 2003.
But the franchise that has gone through Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Chris Osgood and Nicklas Lidstrom finally seems concerned about the future. The Wings have made few offseason additions, have lost their future Hall of Fame defenseman and play in a very competitive division.
We all want to see how the Wings work their magic this year...if they can.
Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle. Ryan-freaking-Nugent-freaking-Hopkins.
The Oilers have no shortage of young talent thanks to a plethora of high draft picks in recent years, yet the team remains in the basement of the league...gathering more draft picks. Justin Schultz.
At some point, the sheer volume of talent on this team has got to turn them into big-time competitors, right? Nail Yakupov.
I'm predicting that either the Oilers burst onto the scene and win the Western Conference, or they get first dibs on Nathan MacKinnon next June.
Last year, the New York Rangers tied for second in the NHL in total points and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy and the team's ridiculous defensive corps gave up 187 goals all season, the third-best in the league.
And then, they got better.
Rick Nash, who was acquired in exchange for very expendable players, makes a good offense great and a great team...well, what's after great?
It has been awhile since hockey had a dynastic family, but the stars are aligning in Carolina. Eric Staal has been a mainstay outside Raleigh for years, but younger brother Jordan will be joining him in 2012-13. The youngest of the clan, Jared, is in the Hurricanes' minor league system.
It'll be tough to get the Rangers to give up one of their top defenders, Marc, but the Staals seem destined to reunite in the PNC Arena. 2012-13 will put at least two of the brothers on display together.
The business side of the Phoenix Coyotes' future can continue to unfold even in the event of a long lockout, but deprived hockey fans in Quebec, Seattle and other hockey-starved cities will be looking hard at the stands if the season does begin.
Hockey in the desert simply has not worked, and quite frankly, Jobing.com Arena might look exactly the same whether the Coyotes are locked out or not. There is no better argument for relocation than a mid-season photograph of totally empty sections of the stadium.
The issue seems to have been swept under the rug after the NHLPA shot down the dramatic realignment proposal mid-season, but the issue cannot be dead as long as Winnipeg is still considered geographically "southeast."
One might assume that the NHL will wait for the ownership situation in Phoenix to iron itself out, but sooner or later a slight overhaul will be needed. We might not see the four-conference format, but look for Winnipeg to join the Northwest and the Western Conference to experience a bit of shuffling.
Thomas is apparently taking the 2012-13 off, a strange action for a goaltender who is 38 years old. For all of his abilities, Thomas has made the news for all the wrong reasons since his record-breaking, Cup-winning 2010-11 season.
Politics seem to be a sore spot for Thomas, who famously chose not to join his teammates in being honored by President Barack Obama at the White House. His erratic behavior of late is sure to lead to more and more interesting tabloid stories for Thomas, especially if he doesn't have that pesky hockey career distracting from his rants.
The Anaheim Ducks have one of the best first lines in all of hockey, and the trio of forwards all find their futures in doubt at the moment.
Because of the lockout, the Ducks are currently unable to extend captain Ryan Getzlaf and former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry. In addition, right winger Bobby Ryan has been the subject of numerous trade rumors (SB Nation), and there are major questions as to whether or not the Ducks can afford to hang onto all three.
We won't know the answer until there is a new CBA in place.
The 2004-05 lockout gave us, among other things, a decisive way to end games: the shootout. Unfortunately, the shootout is still not accepted among all hockey fans, as it changes the entire complexion of the game in order to determine an outcome.
Recently, the idea of extending overtime to ten minutes, with the latter five minutes played three-on-three, has picked up steam (The Globe and Mail). We seem to be getting closer and closer to the season where the shootout, if not eliminated entirely, diminishes dramatically in terms of importance.
Chris Pronger is a future Hall of Fame defenseman, but after dealing with post-concussion symptoms for most of last season and the summer, his future in hockey looks very bleak.
Still, there is a story here. How does Pronger handle it? Does he attempt to make a comeback? Does he hang up the skates officially, saddling his team with a $4.9 million cap hit through 2016-17? Does he remain on long-term injured reserve, putting off Hall of Fame honors and other benefits of retirement in exchange for his paycheck and for the good of the Flyers?
The big-money winners of this summer's free-agency period were...the Minnesota Wild?
Surprisingly, the Wild signed the top available forward and defenseman, beating out hockey giants like the Red Wings, Penguins, Flyers and Blackhawks for the services of Ryan Suter and/or Zach Parise. Minnesota seems to be gearing up for a big playoff run, but we won't know if Suter and Parise's matching 13-year, $98 million contracts pay off without a season.
The Vancouver Canucks have won the Presidents' Trophy two consecutive years, marking them as the NHL's best regular-season team.
Thus far, the team has been unable to win the trophy that truly matters, but a third-straight finish atop the league standings would be a remarkable feat. And with Colorado, Edmonton and Minnesota all on the uptick, Vancouver's days coasting to easy victories in the Northwest Division are very, very numbered.
A new season brings a handful of new alternate jerseys! No new season means...sadly...no new alternate jerseys.
The hockey uniform blog Icethetics has some theories about which teams will give us new alternate jerseys in 2012-13. Grading, discussing and buying new jerseys is one of the most enjoyable extracurriculars for the typical hockey fan.
Without a season, there will be no online forum arguments over whether a team's new third jersey is the coolest looking thing ever, or an absolute disgusting piece of #^$%. There is never a middle ground, is there?
This might be a good one, depending on your opinion of the NBC broadcasting team.
But even the biggest Pierre and Doc haters will find themselves missing Pierre's plethora of unnecessary information about the "big-body presence that is Chris Kreider" or Doc's unique method of framing the last 43 seconds of a game by reporting that there are "two ticks under three-quarters of a minute remaining."
Love 'em or hate 'em (or, like me, love one and hate the other), their voices will be missed throughout the lockout.
There is little argument for the fact that Steven Stamkos is the most prolific pure goal-scorer in the NHL. Last season, he managed to score 60 goals for a bad Tampa Bay team.
That 60 mark will be in jeopardy with every 2012-13 regular season game that gets canceled, but there is little doubt that, no matter what the goal-scoring ceiling is at the end of the year, Stamkos will be setting the bar. Let's just hope we get the chance to see how high he can set it.
Daniel Alfredsson pondered retirement during the offseason, but has decided to give it one more go with his beloved Ottawa Senators.
What a shame it would be if his farewell tour gets canceled thanks to labor negotiations.
The lifelong Senator will be 40 in December, and the young squad being built around him could be enough to give him one last storybook push toward the Stanley Cup that has eluded him for so long.
Normally, when it comes to postseason awards, watching the development of the Hart and Vezina finalists captures our attention. This year, though, the Calder candidates could steal the spotlight.
Chris Kreider impressed in his short playoff stint with the New York Rangers, and he will likely be playing in a top-six role that could produce a plethora of points. Minnesota's Mikael Granlund is ready to burst onto the NHL scene as well, and let's not rule out Edmonton's Nail Yakupov.
Hockey, it seems, is getting younger and better all the time.
These handles and trends will certainly still be active even in the event of a lockout, but we'll be missing out on a cornucopia of new memes, trends and fake accounts to keep us entertained. As long as #NHLLockout remains the thematic hashtag of the hockey season, Twitter is just another place to remind hockey die-hards how depressing life is without their sport.
Last season featured one of the best year-long one-on-one battles between goaltenders in opposing conferences.
Henrik Lundqvist is the veteran of the pair, and his stellar regular season earned him the top individual award a goalie can win: the Vezina Trophy. Jonathan Quick, the relative newcomer, one-upped Lundqvist in the playoffs by earning the Conn Smythe en route to hockey's greatest prize, the Stanley Cup.
They may not face off head-to-head much, but you had better believe that the two netminders were destined to be in a speculative showdown throughout the season. Unfortunately, the lockout has something to say about that debate (and so does Pekka Rinne).
After the 2004-05 lockout canceled the season, the sport of hockey was relegated to the Outdoor Life Network and hit the bottom of the barrel in terms of national attention in the United States.
The sport has been clawing its way back into the national interest since then, as OLN became Versus became NBC Sports Network.
Now, hockey has a major television deal with NBC and was slated to air a record number of regular season games on NBC and NBCSN. Even disregarding the hit the sport will take in terms of recognition, the lockout is standing in the way of a potentially major year of growth for hockey.
The Nashville Predators kept their franchise player in town by matching a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that Shea Weber signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The deal was important for the Predators to prevent themselves from going into total rebuilding mode after losing Ryan Suter via free agency. However, the deal, which guarantees that the Preds have to pay Weber $13 million bonuses for this season and next, could put the struggling franchise on the brink of bankruptcy.
Revenue-sharing is a major part of the CBA negotiations, and will help determine how much of a bailout Nashville gets from the players and/or the other owners. If it is limited, things could get very dicey for Nashville moving forward.
The Vancouver Canucks look poised to make Cory Schneider their starter this season, after he finished out the team's brief 2012 playoff run and the team put starter Roberto Luongo on the trading block (CBS Sports) this offseason.
However, beginning a new era in goaltending is a risky proposition. Schneider played well as Luongo's backup, but being a contingency plan doesn't hold nearly the same pressure as being the guy, especially for a hockey-crazed city like Vancouver.
Martin Brodeur was supposed to be over the hill in 2011-12, especially in a division where the Rangers, Penguins and Flyers all finished ahead of him. He led his team to the Stanley Cup Final.
He's already 40 and his team took a hit by losing Zach Parise in the offseason, but if anyone can overcome the improbable, it's Marty. The tank may be running low, but it isn't empty yet.
Halak and Elliott receive their respective William M. Jennings Trophies, with the lowest combined goal total since 2003-04.
Last season, nobody gave up fewer goals than the St. Louis Blues, who finished two points behind Presidents' Trophy consideration.
The Blues are young, tough and nearly impossible for opposing offenses to solve, backed by the best two-goalie tandem in the league, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. With Ryan Suter and Nicklas Lidstrom absent from the Central, the Blues could easily win the division and beyond.
And if highly-touted prospect Vladimir Tarasenko finds himself comfortable at the NHL level, the Blues could leave the rest of the league in the rearview mirror.
League disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan took his new role very seriously in 2011-12, making it a point to not only suspend players for hits to the head and dangerous boarding penalties, but going so far as to offer justifications and explanations via video.
Once the playoffs rolled around, Shanahan began to be plagued by inconsistency. He failed to suspend Nashville's Shea Weber for one of the most unnecessarily violent plays in recent memory and handed Matt Carkner only a one-game suspension for his full-on assault of Brian Boyle, yet New York's Carl Hagelin was given three games for a hit on Daniel Alfredsson.
Once the lockout is lifted, Shanahan will look to regain respect by instilling consistency back into his decisions.
The Florida Panthers ended a ten-year playoff drought last season by winning the Southeast Division. The prior offseason brought in a ragtag team of players who had underperformed in their previous squads, including Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell.
The formula worked for the Panthers, even if the formula relied heavily upon playing in the weakest division in the league. This season, the Capitals, Lightning, Hurricanes and even the Jets look to be stronger. A second straight playoff year for the Panthers does not seem to be in the cards.
And speaking of playoff droughts, with Florida back in the postseason picture, the only team to have missed the playoffs every year since the 2004-05 lockout is...the Toronto Maple Leafs?
That's right, somehow the most financially successful NHL franchise (via Hockey Fanatic) is currently the least successful on the ice. Forget winning Toronto's first Cup since 1967, the Leafs just want to wind up playing on ice instead of fairways when the playoffs start.
Much like your local swimming pool, the NHL is apparently moving in the direction of a "no diving" policy, and they aren't going to be subtle about enforcing it.
On Wednesday, Puck Daddy featured a story about the NHL specifically calling out Ryan Kesler, Dan Carcillo and Evgeni Malkin for their over-the-top embellishments of hits, high sticks and hooks. This could go as far as posting pictures of egregious offenders in the locker rooms of the teams and the referees.
Diving has long needed a crackdown in the sport, and wouldn't you know that they wait until a lockout to really attempt to do something about it?
Supposedly, when you're at the bottom of the league, there is nowhere to go but up. The Columbus Blue Jackets, however, might be poised to go from last place to last place with an even worse record.
The team added shaky Philly goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the offseason, and got scraps in return for its only true superstar, Rick Nash. A lockout might be the best thing for the Blue Jackets. They could start 2013-14 with two high draft picks on the ice instead of just poor Ryan Murray.
Very recently, hockey players began growing mustaches during the month of November to raise money to fight cancer. The Movember 'staches are a facial hair statement rivaled only by the playoff beard in professional sports.
A lockout that goes through the month of November will deprive us of some of the best upper-lip hair we've seen since the '70s. Thankfully, Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean keeps his Teddy Roosevelt look year-round.
And while we're on the subject of facial hair, can we really bear the thought of a year without NHL playoff beards?
The players have us covered, as some are growing "lockout beards" (via CBS Philly), but without the storied implication that the team who grows the longest, bushiest beards is the champion, the act of solidarity has little emotional impact. Instead, the players are just a bunch of hairy, out-of-work guys.
Remember when the Crosby-Ovechkin debates were more loud, heated and impassioned than any political debate you would see during the 2008 season? Nowadays, anyone who tries to insinuated that Ovechkin is the superior player has clearly been out of the hockey loop for the past few years.
Before 2010-11, Ovechkin's worst offensive season was a 46-goal, 92-point effort in his sophomore year. Now, he has back-to-back seasons with fewer than 40 goals and 90 points, and totaled a mere 65 points last season.
2012-13 stood to be Ovechkin's chance at redemption or proof that he was no longer a superstar, but the lockout could put Ovie's decline on hold for the moment.
"Mr. Universe" didn't exactly wow the Flyers' faithful in the first year of his nine-year, $51 million deal. Blame it on the harsh media, his inability to get into a groove, or the presence of backup Sergei Bobrovsky, none of it matters.
Philadelphia has long needed a hero in net, and Bryz failed at his first chance to become that hero. He must be thankful that the lockout allowed him to skip town for the KHL. The fans in Philly are ready to let Bryz have it if he can't live up to his big deal and expectations.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were only reunited for four months before they won the Stanley Cup, so the Kings' remarkable run overshadowed any potential antics that might reignite the work ethic issues that plagued the pair in Philadelphia.
Even with the lockout, Lord Stanley's most eligible bachelors could find themselves mixing and mingling with Hollywood elite, but boy, would those tabloid stories become interesting once the boys start letting the LA night life interfere with their day jobs.
We all know it's only a matter of time before these party boys get sucked into the LA club scene.
Fresh off a Norris Trophy win in his third NHL season, Erik Karlsson is the type of player you want to go see. It seems that every time Karlsson is on the ice, a goal is scored.
Unfortunately for Karlsson, it seems to happen just as often for opponents as it does for the Sens.
Karlsson took the league by storm, notching an incredible 78 points as a blueliner, but his defensive reliability has been a major criticism early in his career. 2012-13 presents Karlsson an opportunity to focus less on the offensive side of his game and more on his puck movement and positioning in the defensive zone.
Jarome Iginla is the sort of hockey player that is impossible not to like, unless you're an Edmonton Oilers fan. It is difficult to imagine him playing for any team but the Calgary Flames, but this season's trade deadline could produce the unimaginable.
Calgary seems to be in full rebuilding mode, and at 35 Iginla isn't getting any younger. The Flames could trade Iginla for some prospects and give the face of the franchise a fair shot at hockey's ultimate prize. Bidding on Iginla would be high, but there's no denying how tough it would be for the Flames to let him go.
The Islanders' lease at the Nassau Coliseum runs out in 2015, and prospects of a new arena being built on Long Island look dim, according to a CBS Sports report. This could mean that, unless this team gives fans a reason to keep the Isles on the Island, relocation could be in the near future.
The young team includes bona fide superstar John Tavares, but even the presence of one of hockey's true gems isn't enough to bring fans to the Coliseum. This could be a make-or-break season for the Islanders...if there is a season at all.
The Winter Classic is a hit with NHL fans, and for all the spectacle of the roots of the game, the event seems to produce as much in the way of argument as it does nostalgia.
Some fans feel that the Classic should focus on big, marketable teams, while others feel that the game should be given to a new pair of teams each year, the way the All-Star Game host duties are rotated.
With the lockout affecting the season, we are missing out on one of the quintessential hockey debates: who plays in the next Winter Classic, where should it be held, and what should the "old school" jerseys look like?
John Tortorella has always been notoriously brash with the media. In the last season though, he seems like he's simply trying to make a name for himself as an abrasive person.
Whether ignoring questions, giving sarcastic answers, or labeling Sidney Crosby as a "whining star" and implying that refs show favoritism to Pittsburgh's top players, Tortorella knows how to simultaneously annoy anyone watching his interviews and yet get a little nod of respect for sounding like a passionate hockey fan in a bar.
If the lockout goes too long, the media should make it a point to follow Tortorella around and get his reaction when his steak is overcooked at a restaurant. That's good TV.
Last season, we watched with anticipation to see how Matt Cooke would earn himself a suspension that could cost him his hockey career. Amazingly, Cooke was well-behaved all season long, apparently having turned over a new leaf.
This year, it's Raffi Torres, who will be sitting on the bench for the first eight games of the season after this blatantly illegal hit on Marian Hossa.
Torres claimed he would clean up his act in this USA Today piece:
"I don't think I can afford to go through something like that again," (Torres) said. "I'll just focus on my timing, being a little more smarter, and instead of launching myself just remember to keep my feet on the ice and kind of go through guys."
Anytime a player refuses to play for the team that drafted him, he'd better be good. Like, Eric Lindros-good.
Schultz decided he was too good to play for the Anaheim Ducks, who selected him in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Or at least, he was too good to play for them under their contract terms.
Not that his $3.775 million cap hit is completely astronomical, but for a guy who went 43rd overall in 2008, he's certainly made a big stink about his NHL career already.
Before being traded to Los Angeles, Mike Richards was well known for his personal dislike for Sidney Crosby. Now that the role of offensive leader has fallen to Claude Giroux, Philly's rising star seems to have no qualms about picking up where Richards left off.
The two players engaged in more than one scrum during their six game matchup in the first round of the 2012 postseason, and Crosby famously commented that he doesn't like the Flyers.
The lockout could reduce the number of times these two teams square off, and limit the potential for the Pennsylvania powder keg to completely explode. What a shame that would be.
The Colorado Avalanche are far from the glory days of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy, but the rebuilding process is well underway. The youth movement came to a head last month when Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest captain in NHL history.
Expectations won't be astronomical for Landeskog's Avalanche just yet, but any new captain is put to the test right away. Will he flourish like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, or will his team need to take back the "C" and let his leadership skills become polished the old-fashioned way, like Vincent Lecavalier?
It's inevitable. Every year, one or two teams who should be in the rebuilding phase take a great leap forward, qualifying for the playoffs and sometimes going well beyond.
Last year, the Panthers were surprise Southeast Division winners in the Eastern Conference, and the Ottawa Senators shockingly finished second in the Northeast Divison, ahead of teams with higher expectations like the Leafs and Sabres.
With the lockout depriving us of hockey, we have no way of knowing which team is silently ready to catapult to a playoff spot.
The last time the NHL season began in the height of an election year, politicians grew opportunistic. Vice Presidential Candidate and self-proclaimed "hockey mom" Sarah Palin dropped the ceremonial first puck at a St. Louis Blues game, as well as a Philadelphia Flyers game.
In true Philly fashion, Palin walked out to a rain of boos, which probably had less to do with political alignment and more to do with the fact that politics have no place in hockey. With arenas closed as the home stretch of the 2012 election season begins, who knows what voting gimmicks hockey fans are missing out on?
I lament the fact that next month, we won't get to witness Mitt Romney making a claim that 47 percent of the fans in the stands don't pay their share of the tickets, nor will we get to see President Obama try to redistribute seating so that everyone sits the same distance from the ice.
The Montreal Canadiens captured their 24th Stanley Cup in the late spring of 1993, further solidifying their well-established spot in the heralded halls of hockey and placing the Stanley Cup in the nation of its origin, Canada.
Since then, no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup, but every year there are competitors. The Flames, Oilers, Canucks and Senators have all made the Cup Final, with nothing to show for it.
Each season brings a new chance for the sport's motherland to recapture her trophy. Without games to be played, Canada will remain the bridesmaid at its own wedding.
Even with the rise of the KHL in Eastern Europe, North American hockey can still boast the best players in the world, as nearly all of the premier stars from Canada, the United States, Europe and beyond aim to play in the NHL.
And every season, fans argue and debate the best of the best.
Who will show they are hockey's top player this year? Can Evgeni Malkin stand out with Sidney Crosby back in the lineup? Will Steven Stamkos's offense produce results in the standings? Is there any combination more potent than the Sedin twins?
A lost season is a lost opportunity to discuss who truly sits at the top of the sport.
Aside from the presentation of the Stanley Cup itself, no storyline will be more missed than the potential 2013 Winter Classic matchup and location.
For starters, while the Winter Classic has been a gimmick to draw the attention of the American media to hockey, an appearance from a Canadian team is long, long overdue. Those who gave us the game will finally be honored, as Canada's most valuable franchise faces off with the inhabitants of Hockeytown, U.S.A.
But the real story is the size of the spectacle. The Big House in Michigan has a record crowd of 114,804 attendees. In a report on ESPN.com, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seemed ambitious about exceeding that number:
"Even with 115,000 or more tickets available, we still won't have enough to satisfy the demand," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Of course, unless this lockout is a short one, Bettman can expect to not only fall short of that 115,000 person goal, but he very well could cost the sport hundreds of thousands of fans every single day.