It's hard to sit still long enough to write this. Wearing my Ryan Callahan jersey for the first time in ages, I can finally say: the seemingly never-ending 2012-2013 NHL Lockout has ended.
For NHL fans, players and employees, the long-standing national nightmare is finally over. We now look towards a new, albeit abbreviated, season, in which every game will be of monumental importance.
With the cancellation of nearly half of the regularly scheduled games so far this season, a new level of importance will be placed on roster depth and chemistry for the 30 clubs hoping to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup in June. But is it possible that this lockout could help some teams looking to achieve hockey’s greatest glory?
New York Rangers
We start with a team many consider to be the favorites out of the Eastern Conference this year: the New York Rangers. Anchored by the all-world goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist (No. 3 in save percentage, No. 4 in goals against average for 2012) and a talented young defense, the Rangers look to have the same success they enjoyed last year. And while teams will have far less time to develop chemistry before the start of the regular season, the Rangers retain most of their core for 2013.
Captain Ryan Callahan, along with center Brad Richards and winger Marian Gaborik, returns to spearhead the offense. The emergence of young superstars Carl Hagelin (24 years old) and Boston College phenomenon Chris Kreider (21 years old) in 2012 should add plenty of depth and energy to an already talented lineup.
Perhaps most valuable to the Rangers are their young, talented defensemen, each of whom seemed to improve with every game in 2012. Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh (average age of 24) look to improve on an already stellar goals against average from 2012 (2.22 goals per game).
New York also managed to add 28-year-old winger Rick Nash from Columbus. Nash totaled 30 goals and 29 assists in 2012 for the Blue Jackets, and he is sure to improve the Rangers' 2.71 goal per game average from last season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, perennial powerhouse of the Eastern Conference, also return with much of the same roster and talent of last year. According to Pensburgh.com, much of Pittsburgh’s core (Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Orpik) have all played together since 2006, leaving a long-standing chemistry that would not be hampered by the lockout.
While many stars chose not to risk injury during the work stoppage, Evgeni Malkin headed to his native Russia to hone his skills in the KHL. Ensuring he wouldn’t miss a step if and when the season resumed, Malkin picked up right where he left off in the 2012 regular season. He led the KHL in assists (42) and finished No. 2 in goals (23) and points (65).
The Penguins also look for a full, healthy season out of 25-year-old captain Sidney Crosby. A scary stat for the rest of the league: Pittsburgh managed a 3.33 goals for average in 2012, according to NHL.com, and that’s with Crosby having played only 22 games due to lingering effects of a concussion.
With rest between games sure to be limited due to the condensed schedule, Pittsburgh’s depth with Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy is sure to be an asset to them down the stretch.
St. Louis Blues
Which Team Will Go Deepest in the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The last team to watch, based in the Midwest, surprised many last year with its fast ascension to the upper echelon of the Western Conference. The St. Louis Blues were the first team to reach 100 points in the NHL last year, and they look to build on that success with the return of their young stars, as well as superb goaltending.
According to Quanthockey.com, the Blues, with an average age of 26.84, have the No. 20 oldest team roster in the NHL. Age is sure to play a factor with so many games being played in a short time period, something that will work against many older teams in the league but certainly not St. Louis.
Captain David Backes, along with David Perron and T.J. Oshie, will look to improve upon a 2.5 goals per game average in 2012, an effort that is sure to be aided by the debut of Russian sensation Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko, long touted as one of the NHL’s best prospects, produced 15 goals and 31 points in 31 games for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL during the lockout.
Without question, the Blues have an edge in goaltending over many other NHL teams. Jaroslav Halak (No. 6 in save percentage and No. 4 in goals against average in 2012) will look to continue his solid play in 2013.
Brian Elliott, a backup on St. Louis would unquestionably be a starter for many other teams throughout the league. In 38 games last year, Elliott boasted an astounding .940 save percentage as well as a 1.56 goals against average, tops for both categories in the NHL (per NHL.com). The ability to keep both goaltenders fresh throughout the year and through the postseason will undoubtedly give St. Louis an advantage over much of the Western Conference.
Whatever the end result may be for 2013, one thing is certain; hockey fans are happy to have the game they love back.