Hope for an NHL season was low after the recent cancellation of the Winter Classic.
Things have changed since, however, with a positive marathon meeting between between Steve Fehr and Bill Daly which ran from Saturday afternoon to early Sunday morning.
If a deal does get reached before the season is sacrificed, the following 40 players are the ones to watch when play resumes.
With 63 points in 71 games last season, Jamie Benn has emerged as one of the best young stars in the NHL.
His success has continued with six goals and five assists in 10 games since joining the Hamburg Freezers in Germany.
When play resumes, the Dallas Stars must lock him down as soon as possible, as Benn has yet to re-sign with his team since becoming a restricted free agent in July.
With Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy joining the Stars, the next chapter of Benn's career should be even more exciting than the last.
Over the past few years, Patrice Bergeron has become one of the best two-way forwards in the league. Last year, he was recognized for his strong defensive play when he was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy.
Bergeron has recently joined HC Lugano in Switzerland and has an amazing seven goals and seven assists in just six games.
Can he bring this offensive domination to the NHL while maintaining his solid defensive play?
Daniel Briere's career has been defined by two things: injury struggles during the regular season and heroic play in the playoffs.
Currently, he's demonstrating heroic play during the regular season for Eisbären Berlin. Briere is tied for fifth in the DEL with 17 points, despite having played in just seven games.
When the lockout ends, it'll be interesting the see if he can keep it up.
Since joining the Philadelphia Flyers, the Ilya Bryzgalov story has been interesting to say the least..and it doesn't look like it ends here.
In six games with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, Bryz has a save percentage of .881 and a GAA of 3.39.
It's safe to say he'll be under the microscope for years to come in Philadelphia.
Last year, the San Jose Sharks finished with their lowest point total since before the 2004-05 lockout and lasted just five games in the first round.
Like the stars they've relied on, the Sharks are on the decline. It's time to pass the torch.
The new star on the team is Logan Couture. He's been impressive so far, but is he ready to lead the team?
Sidney Crosby is always in the spotlight. Why should the lockout change that?
The rest of his career will be one never-ending concussion watch. At least we'll get to see some highlight-reel plays in the meantime.
There's never been any doubt when it comes to the incredible talent of Pavel Datsyuk.
But throughout his career, Nicklas Lidstrom was the leader of the team. With the retirement of Lidstrom, the Detroit Red Wings are entering a new chapter of their incredible story.
When the Wings are back on the ice, they'll rely on Datsyuk more than ever before. We know he has the skill, but will he have the health?
There are a few reasons to keep an eye on Michael Del Zotto.
The first is the question of where he will play. It's rare for restricted free agents to end up somewhere else, but it's not unheard of. The New York Rangers will want to lock him up ASAP.
Secondly, which Del Zotto will we see?
After a strong rookie season, Del Zotto's sophomore campaign was a disappointment. The young defender picked up just 11 points in 47 games and ended up spending time in the AHL.
He bounced back last season, with 41 points and a plus-20 rating, helping the Rangers finish atop the Eastern Conference.
Hopefully he can continue on last year's improvement rather than continue the up-and-down pattern of his career.
Kurtis Foster hasn't done much in the NHL lately, but his career is far from over. He once had 42 points in one season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he could still have that ability.
When the lockout started on Sept. 15, Foster had not signed with an NHL team.
Hopefully he will be able to generate interest as he gets more time with Tappara Tampere of the SM-liiga in Finland.
Cody Franson is one of the more talented young defenders in the NHL.
Re-signing him should be a higher priority for the Toronto Maple Leafs now that Luke Schenn is no longer with the team.
That said, the Leafs are still in need of a starting goalie and could use some help up front as well. Franson could be a piece that helps address some needs.
Whether it was the leadership of Jaromir Jagr or it was just his time, Claude Giroux evolved from a talented young player to an All-Star.
Giroux has continued his domination with Eisbären Berlin, with 17 points in seven games alongside Danny Briere.
All signs are pointing in the right direction, but as is always the case with new stars, Giroux will be the center of attention.
Cody Hodgson was a star in the making as a member of the Vancouver Canucks before he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres last season.
But with just eight points in 20 games and a minus-seven rating with the Sabres, his momentum faded.
He's found his stride again with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, but can he find it in the big league?
Jaromir Jagr started strong in his return to the NHL last season, but injuries and fatigue slowed him down towards the end as he finally looked near his age.
During the lockout, Jagr has once again shown he can still perform, with 20 points in 14 games with HC Kladno in the Czech Republic.
The question is: Can he perform and stay healthy in the NHL?
Now a member of the Dallas Stars, Jagr will have to get it done without Claude Giroux.
Erik Karlsson broke out last season with a whopping 78 points—25 more than the second leading defender.
Was it a one-time thing, or is Karlsson the best offensive defender in the world?
Only time will tell.
Sergei Kostitsyn was recently the subject of controversy when he said he hopes the entire season is cancelled.
Now, he does have a point in that the players just want some certainty. But this is the same player who has also been quoted calling Columbus the "gloomiest city."
Regardless of the intended meaning, his comments will have Nashville fans questioning his commitment to the team and his desire to play in the NHL.
Last season, Ilya Kovalchuk was one of the top players in both the regular season and postseason and helped the New Jersey Devils defy all odds to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now that Zach Parise is no longer with the Devils, the fate of the team really does depend on Kovalchuk's performance.
Does he have what it takes to lead this team to the playoffs again?
Niklas Kronwall is a very sound all-around defender. Throughout his career, though, his pressure and responsibility has been limited, with the weight falling on Nicklas Lidstrom's shoulders.
With Lidstrom's retirement, Kronwall is now the top defenseman on the team. Can he fill the void?
The Colorado Avalanche caught everyone by surprise this offseason when they named Gabriel Landeskog team captain.
Landeskog won the Calder Trophy last season, proving his abilities in the NHL.
But when you take a look at some of the previous names who've been awarded this trophy—including Scott Gomez, Andrew Raycroft and Steve Mason—you've got to wonder: Is one season enough proof that he's the man for the job?
Over the past two seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning have shown us how important goaltending is. When Dwayne Roloson was on his game, the Lightning made an incredible run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The next season, when he played his age, they failed to reach the postseason.
The Lightning picked up former Nashville Predators' backup Anders Lindback this summer as their new starting goalie.
There's a lot of pressure on Lindback, who is fairly unproven with just 38 NHL games under his belt.
Lindback currently has a GAA of 4.22 and a save percentage of .869 through three games with Ilves Tampere of the SM-liiga in Finland. He'll have to play better than that if he's going to be the Lightning's No. 1 goalie.
Roberto Luongo was one of the most discussed players of the offseason, as the Canucks are looking to find the veteran goalie a new home.
Trades can't take place without a CBA, but you can expect the rumors to continue as soon as play resumes.
Last year, Evgeni Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy for the second time in his career.
Leading into next season, there are a few question marks surrounding Malkin.
He has struggled with knee problems throughout his career and hasn't played a full 82-game season since 2008-09. He was healthy for the most part last season, missing just seven games. Can he keep it up?
Malkin has also shown that he plays best in the absence of Sidney Crosby, when he is undoubtedly the most talented player on the roster. If Crosby maintains his health, who will be the offensive leader of the team?
Dominic Moore is a great addition to any team. He's skilled offensively, sound defensively, he plays physical and he's great at faceoffs—plus he's affordable.
Moore is currently a UFA, but I would be shocked to see the season start before someone claims him.
The trade that saw Rick Nash go from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the New York Rangers was the biggest move of the offseason.
The Rangers finished atop the East last season but fell short in the playoffs. Many believe Nash is the piece that will make the Rangers the best team in the league.
Despite his star status, Nash has never hit the 80-point barrier. His limitations have previously been attributed to the talent on the Blue Jackets and the lack of offensive players at his side. There are no excuses now.
I had always believed that Milan Hejduk would remain captain of the Colorado Avalanche for a few more years, at which point in time Ryan O'Reilly would be ready to take the throne.
Of course, that did not happen. Hejduk stepped down during the offseason, and the captaincy was awarded to 19-year-old Gabriel Landeskog.
He may not be the next captain, but O'Reilly is still a talented two-way player with great leadership skills. The Avalanche must sign O'Reilly before other teams start looking at offer sheets.
Like Crosby, Alex Ovechkin always has been, and always will be, in the spotlight.
Ovechkin's production has been dropping considerably over the past few seasons. Fans will be keeping a close eye on Ovi to see if the downfall continues or if he can find his stride under new head coach Adam Oates' style.
Ovechkin has also been in the news regarding comments about players (including himself) not returning to the NHL if there are significant rollbacks.
While his comments are likely out of frustration with no real threat, Washington Capitals fans will be testing his commitment.
The Minnesota Wild made a big splash this offseason by picking up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Zach Parise is a world-class talent and undoubtedly the most talented offensive player on the Wild. With a new 13-year, $98 million contract, all eyes will be on Parise to see if he's worth the money.
Tomas Plekanec is one of the more talented players on a Montreal Canadiens team which finished last in the East last year.
Plekanec currently sits in seventh in the Czech Extraliga with 20 points in 15 games playing alongside Jaromir Jagr with HC Kladno.
He will need to continue playing like this to help pull Montreal out of the gutter.
Tim Thomas' summer was nothing short of interesting, as the star goalie announced that he planned to take a year off from hockey.
The result is a new main man in Boston.
Tuukka Rask has shown amazing potential and consistency over the years but has yet to have the pressure of being a starting goalie on his resume.
When play resumes, we'll finally know whether he can do the job. If his 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage with HC Plzen of the Czech Extraliga tells us anything, he certainly can.
Much like Tuukka Rask, Cory Schneider will be assuming the No. 1 spot in Vancouver (most likely).
Schneider has finished in the top three in the NHL in save percentage the past two years, but his inexperience brings a question mark.
The Canucks will be going for their third straight President's Trophy, and they'll need a sound goalie to do it.
The Justin Schultz sweepstakes—which was eventually won by the Edmonton Oilers—was one of the biggest stories of the offseason.
The question to most is: Can he live up to the hype?
Schultz has been playing in the AHL for the Oklahoma City Barons during the lockout. The rookie defender currently leads the league with 15 points in just 10 games.
So far, it looks like Edmonton scored a winner, but he's still got a lot to prove.
Tyler Seguin was a pleasant surprise for the Boston Bruins last season, finishing with 67 points and a plus-34 rating.
Seguin is currently in fourth in the National League A in Switzerland with 22 points in 14 games.
The question is: Can he keep it up when the lockout ends?
Teemu Selanne found himself in the lockout news when he verbally attacked Gary Bettman in September. We can understand his frustration.
If the lockout ends in time for a 2012-13 (partial) season, we can expect Selanne to be his usual dynamic and ageless self. If not, we could never see the Finnish Flash in an NHL uniform again.
Alexander Semin was another big name finding a new home during the offseason, as the Carolina Hurricanes signed the Russian forward to a one-year, $7 million contract.
Semin is one of the most skilled players in the league, but that's a lot of money for a man whose defensive efforts have been called into question on numerous occasions.
Will he leave the 'Canes feeling good about their investment?
Steven Stamkos erupted during the 2011-12 season with an incredible 60 goals.
Unlike many other stars in the league, Stamkos has not taken his talents elsewhere during the lockout. This begs the question, will he be rusty when the NHL returns?
It's possible, but my guess would be no.
P.K. Subban's ego and on-ice decisions have brought him a fair amount of criticism during his short stint in the NHL. The criticism has come from both the Montreal Canadiens organization and its fans.
That said, this is a player that Montreal wants to keep. Subban has been a restricted free agent since July. He has not signed any offer sheets with other teams, but things can change.
Signing Subban should be the No. 1 priority for new GM Marc Bergevin once the NHL and NHLPA finish this dance.
Like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter will need to prove himself worthy of a monstrous 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
He's a talented defender, but many would say he is vastly overpaid for what he's done in the league so far.
I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Don Cherry seems to have a problem with how the Toronto Maple Leafs treat young players (specifically Nazem Kadri), tweeting "If anyone wants to get a blue print on how to destroy someone, just follow the Toronto Maple Leafs".
I am generally not a fan of Cherry's views, but I agree with this.
The newest face in the dressing room is James Van Riemsdyk, who came from the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade for Luke Schenn. The expectations will be high, and if he doesn't perform, the organization and its fanbase will have something to say about it.
Shea Weber was awarded the second largest contract in NHL history during the summer, when the Nashville Predators matched Philadelphia's 14-year, $110 million offer sheet—a contract they arguably cannot afford.
Weber is a world-class defenseman—maybe even the best in the world. However, if he doesn't play to his value, it could be a franchise-crushing mistake.
The Edmonton Oilers selected Nail Yakupov No. 1 overall in this year's entry draft.
Since signing in the KHL, Yakupov has 14 points in 13 games. Unfortunately for Oiler fans, we'll have to wait to see if he can bring that success to the NHL.
As mentioned previously, the Detroit Red Wings will experience a whole new world of challenges in the absence of Nicklas Lidstrom.
With the leadership he's displayed, Henrik Zetterberg is the most likely candidate to take over the captaincy. With eight goals and five assists in seven games in Switzerland, he could end up leading the team on the stat sheet as well.
Maybe the Red Wings will be OK after all.