NHL Lockout: Players That Will Be Vital to Reworking the NHL's Tarnished Image

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

NHL Lockout: Players That Will Be Vital to Reworking the NHL's Tarnished Image

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    The lockout is not the fault of the players.

    You may not like Donald Fehr, but he is just standing up for the NHL players and giving them professional leadership against commissioner Gary Bettman and a group of owners who are trying to reduce their financial liabilities solely on the backs of the players.

    The NHL won serious concessions from the players in the 2004-05 lockout and are in the process of doing it once again in the current lockout.

    The players know their faces are getting rubbed in the dirt and they are trying to put an end to it right now.

    When the lockout comes to an end—hopefully before the season is canceled—it will be on the backs of the players to make it up to the fans.

    The players are the face of the NHL. Nobody will want to hear from Bettman and owners Jeremy Jacobs, Craig Leipold or Murray Edwards.

    They will want to hear from stars like Zach Parise and Sidney Crosby. Players who can speak clearly and honestly and then put on a spectacular show on the ice.

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

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    Zach Parise is going to have to step up once the lockout comes to an end and take on a leading role in the NHL's fight to turn its image around.

    Parise, along with new teammate Ryan Suter, signed the big free-agent contract of the offseason when he left the New Jersey Devils and signed with the Minnesota Wild.

    He is the current symbol of big-money free agency.

    Parise is going to need to make a big gesture that shows the fans he is not a one-dimensional and selfish individual.

    It's clear from his past that he is not a selfish player and that he cares about his teammates and fans.

    However, he will have to make a gesture that shows his heart is in the right place. Something along the charitable front that demonstrates his interest in helping others.

    This should be easy for Parise, since he has made charitable gestures throughout his career.

    He is also going to need to take on the role of spokesman for the Wild in particular, and the NHL, in general.

    He's smart, aware and a good speaker. It should be easy for him.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Steven Stamkos is the best young goal scorer in the league.

    Although he is only 22, he has played four NHL seasons and he has scored 179 goals in his career.

    Stamkos scored 51 goals in 2009-10 and he had 60 last year. He "slumped" to 46 in 2010-11, a season that he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    No matter how many goals he scores in his career, his greatest achievement may be returning to the ice in the seventh game of that Eastern Conference Final series vs. the Boston Bruins. Stamkos took a slap shot the face mask that shattered his nose and sent him to the locker room for repairs.

    Instead of going to the hospital or staying in the locker room, Stamkos returned to lay it all on the line and attempt to help his team get to the finals.

    It didn't work out. Some times it's not about winning. It's about competing under the toughest circumstances. Stamkos is capable of carrying the NHL's cause on his shoulders.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game.

    He ranks just behind the game's all-time greats. After Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Crosby leads the next platoon of players.

    The NHL has been robbed of Crosby's talent for much of the last two seasons due to concussion-related problems. He's healthy again and he should be playing.

    However, the owners and Bettman are locking him out.

    Crosby is a leader off the ice and participated with a group of players who met with owners in an early-December meeting that was designed to end the stalemate.

    They came close but they couldn't finish the deal.

    While rivals in Philadelphia, Washington and New York may boo him loudly, Crosby is one of the true images of the league and he must play a vital role in rebuilding trust once the lockout comes to an end.

Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings

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    The 27-year-old Richards was one of the key reasons the Los Angeles Kings were able to turn potential into production and capture the team's first Stanley Cup championship last season.

    Richards is one of the hardest working, toughest players in the league. Whether it was in a Kings' uniform last year or with the Philadelphia Flyers in previous years, Richards leaves it all on the ice in every game.

    He's the kind of player who gets under his opponents' skin and irritates because he won't accept defeat.

    He works hard and his game has credibility.

    That translates well off the ice as well. He is an excellent and forthright speaker. He'll have credibility with the fans when the lockout ends and he speaks up.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Henrik Lundqvist is the superstar goaltender of the highest profile NHL team based in the United States.

    He is also the key player on a team that will be looked at as a Stanley Cup favorite when the season finally starts. Lundqvist won the Vezina Award as the best goalie in the league last year.

    Lundqvist does not go seeking the limelight, but his play has made him a superstar. Reporters and columnists seek him out after games.

    Not only can he tell you about what he did as a goalie, he sees the big picture for his team and for his sport. He is an excellent spokesman and he has credibility with the fans.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

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    Taylor Hall was the No. 1 draft pick in the NHL in 2010.

    He has flashed his talent during his first two years in the league, but he has not become a consistent star who produces on an every-night basis.

    That part is coming. Hall is a magnetic player and it's almost impossible to take your eyes off him when he jumps on the ice and accelerates to top speed.

    Hall scored 22 goals as a rookie and 27 goals last year. It seems quite likely that he will burst through the 30-goal mark and approach 40 in his next full season.

    He's a charismatic player on a team filled with future stars. The Oilers may soon be the rising stars of the NHL and Hall will become their most explosive player.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Eastern Conference is loaded with rivalries of both a personal and a team nature.

    The Flyers have nasty rivalries with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins and they are not fond of the Boston Bruins or New Jersey Devils, either.

    While the Penguins look to Sidney Crosby for goals and leadership in big games, the Flyers do the same with Claude Giroux.

    Called "G" by head coach Peter Laviolette, Giroux has perhaps the best acceleration of any player in the league.

    Giroux scored 93 points last year in 77 games and is on his way to becoming a full-fledged superstar. He's the kind of player who provides explosive performances on a nightly basis and the returning fans will come out to see him play.

    He can help the NHL rework it's image when the game returns.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington

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    When the lockout finally comes to an end, some fans will be so angry that they will live up to their pledge that they won't come back to the NHL.

    It won't be easy, but they will stay home or go to the movies...for at least two or three weeks. But then they will see something that is so exciting and flashy that they are going to forget about their promise to stay away.

    That excitement will likely come in the form of an Alex Ovechkin goal. A play where Ovie steals the puck, undresses the defense and fakes out the goaltender. After the goal, Ovechkin will skate to the corner and jump into the glass before he is met by his roaring teammates.

    Ovechkin may not always be the most selfless player and he may not not pay enough attention to defense, but he has the ability to thrill the crowd like few other players.

    Ovechkin has seen his goal scoring totals dip to 32 and 38 goals the last two years after scoring as many as 65 goals in 2007-08. However, Ovechkin still has the tools to light up the scoreboard and the NHL will need him to do just that when the lockout ends.