NHL: 10 Burning Questions Heading into Day 1 of the 2013 Season

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

NHL: 10 Burning Questions Heading into Day 1 of the 2013 Season

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    Finally, the waiting is all but over.

    When the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings drop the puck in Los Angeles (two other games will also begin at 3 p.m. Eastern Time), the long-delayed 2012-13 season will take shape as the 2013 season will be under way.

    Instead of being consumed by talks, key dates and cancellations, we will be watching games, looking at the standings and worrying about trades and injuries.

    That's what the sport should be about—not labor difficulties.

    There are many questions as we open the season and here are 10 of them burning in the front of your intrepid reporter's mind.

Can Sidney Crosby Stay Healthy?

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    Whether you like the Penguins or not, there's little argument that they have one of the most talented rosters in the NHL.

    Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at the top of that roster and they should help make the Penguins prime contenders in the Eastern Conference this year.

    Malkin won the scoring title and MVP award last year and now Crosby should be healthy for the full season.

    Crosby's last two seasons were ripped apart by concussion-related issues and the game missed him badly.

    Now he's ready to roll again and he should be on top of his game.

    Can Crosby avoid injury this season and play the way he did in the past?

When Will Roberto Luongo Get Traded?

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    Roberto Luongo has been available on the trade front since the end of last season.

    The Canucks are going with Cory Schneider in goal as general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault are ready to go in another direction.

    However, that doesn't mean that Luongo can't be productive elsewhere. The Canucks have no interest in giving Luongo away just to get rid of him (source: ESPN.com).

    Gillis wants equal value in return for the goaltender.

    The Canucks are contending with injuries to Ryan Kesler (shoulder), David Booth (groin) and Dan Hamhuis (groin), so Gillis may be inclined to trade Luongo sooner rather than later?

Will the Oilers Turn Potential into Production?

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    The Oilers are coming!

    The Oilers are coming!

    The Edmonton Oilers have been on the outside looking at NHL's top teams in the Western Conference for a long time. They have not been to the playoffs since they emerged as Stanley Cup Finalists and dropped the championship round series to the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The Oilers have the talent to get back to the playoffs this year.

    Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz are the stars of the future.

    Can they mature quickly and will the defense be sufficient to get this team to the postseason?

Which Rookies Will Have Standout Seasons in 2013?

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    The rookie class in the NHL should be a very deep and productive group.

    The Montreal Canadiens are counting on center Alex Galchenyuk to provide offense and creativity.

    The Boston Bruins are looking at Dougie Hamilton to bring a huge shot from the point on the power play.

    The Edmonton Oilers believe that Justin Schultz may be able to step in and become a blue line star. Nail Yakupov has the speed and explosiveness to become an offensive force.

    Mikael Granlund may bring a level of offensive creativity that the Minnesota Wild have not had to this point.

    Sven Baertschi may be the offensive star the Calgary Flames have needed while Jonathan Huberdeau has game-changing offensive skills.

    Vladimir Tarasenko has the kind of offensive firepower that the St. Louis Blues have needed for years.

    Which of these rookies will emerge as the best of the bunch?

Can the New York Rangers Withstand the Pressure?

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    The New York Rangers were the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference during the 2011-12 regular season.

    They fell short in their bid for the Stanley Cup, as they were dumped by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    They added big-time scorer Rick Nash in the offseason and the Rangers are one of the franchises that have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup this year.

    Can they handle the role of favorites? They will find that head coach John Tortorella will push them hard and press them for their best effort. Will the Rangers respond to his hard-line coaching, or will they fall short?

Are the Minnesota Wild Ready to Join the Big Boys?

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    The Minnesota Wild have not made the NHL playoffs since the 2007-08 season.

    That's no way for a team from the State of Hockey to perform.

    The Wild signed top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the offseason. They also have a potential superstar in rookie Mikael Granlund.

    Will the Wild become a playoff team this year and if they do, can they advance to the second round?

Can Joel Quenneville Lead the Blackhawks Back to Prominence?

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round in each of the last two seasons.

    After their memorable Stanley Cup championship in 2010, the Blackhawks have not played impressively in the last two years. They have not demonstrated any of the consistency they had in their championship season.

    While the personnel still looks good, there is pressure on head coach Joel Quenneville. Can he get his team refocused and can the Hawks make another run?

    If they don't, will Quenneville get fired before the end of the season?

Can the Los Angeles Kings Defend Their Crown?

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    The Los Angeles Kings were the No. 8 team in the Western Conference last season. They made the playoffs in the final week of the season.

    They defeated the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and the New Jersey Devils to win their first Stanley Cup championship.

    With stars like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards and Jonathan Quick, the Kings have plenty of talent.

    Do they have enough to become the NHL's first back-to-back champions since the Detroit Red Wings turned the trick in 1997 and 1998?

How Will the Fans Respond?

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    Now that the lockout is over, how will fans react?

    Will they stop buying tickets? Doubtful.

    Will they refuse to come to games or stop watching on television? Not likely.

    Will they even boo the home team? Not for very long.

    Fans are just glad that their favorite sport is back. They may boo at the start of the season or turn off the TV for one or two games.

    But then they will come back and do it with a lusty passion that NHL fans are noted for.

Will Gary Bettman Have the Nerve to Present the Stanley Cup?

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    Gary Bettman is a lot of things, but he has never lacked for guts.

    However, he has never been as universally despised as he is is right now.

    Those feelings of discontent for the commissioner are not likely to change any time soon.

    When the playoffs end, will Bettman have the courage to face the fans and present the Stanley Cup as he usually does.

    A cascade of boos always greets him, but the feelings are much stronger as a result of the lockout. Will Bettman continue his tradition of presenting the Stanley Cup or will he end this embarrassing charade?