Fans waited and waited and waited some more. And just when they were ready to resign to what seemed to be an inevitable repeat of 2004, hockey came back. But like with any lockout season, the tired debate resurfaces: Will this season come with an asterisk next to it?
The lockout shortened the 2012-13 season by 34 games, or 41.5 percent. But it's really no different from the 1994-95 lockout season, also shortened to 48 games, in which the New Jersey Devils won their first-ever Cup.
Each lockout season has its critics. As recently as Wednesday, last year's Miami Heat Championship, which came to fruition during an NBA lockout season, was called into question by Brooklyn Nets PF Reggie Evans.
Evans told the New York Daily News, "It doesn't prove nothing. That was a lockout season."
Evans isn't the first to try to invalidate James' accomplishment. The King's first championship ring coming via a short season is an easy target for his biggest critics, who argue that someone who's often placed on a pedestal as high as Michael Jordan needs to prove he can do more than that.
Most likely, he will.
But the NHL is unlikely to experience the level of drama or media attention that comes with a player like James, especially when players can settle their differences on the ice. When it comes down to it, everyone in this lockout season is playing by the same rules, though injuries, fatigue and depth will play a pivotal role in determining the success of each team during the demanding, abridged season.
The chances of an asterisk settling down next to this season depends on who is crowned champion in the end.
For instance, if the Kings, Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins or Red Wings take the Cup this year, most fans won't skip a beat. Those five franchises have all proven in recent years to be part of the league's elite handful of teams that aren't just playoff regulars, but can and have gone the distance.
Yet other team's don't share that luxury. Take the San Jose Sharks, who are off to a fiery 6-0-0 start while netting 26 total goals. They are the only undefeated team in the league and only Tampa Bay has a higher goal total with 29.
Though early, it's safe to say that the Sharks currently rank among the favorites for this year's Cup, even though most San Jose fans are leery.
In the last 12 seasons, the Sharks have compiled six Pacific Division titles, advancing to the postseason every year except the 2002-03 season. Three times, they advanced to the Western Conference finals but in 21 seasons of existence, the Sharks have never been to a Stanley Cup.
San Jose is widely considered a team that plays brilliantly during the regular season, but seems destined to drop the puck when it matters most. A short season could be just what they need to get to the main stage.
But if a lockout year is the year that the Sharks finally do it, will their victory be tainted? Like James, the new kid(s) on the block could have to work to prove it wasn't a fluke.
Another asterisk contender? The St. Louis Blues, who also have never won a Cup and have not appeared in a Stanley Cup Final since 1970. The Blues' recent success can be boiled down to really just last year, when they won the Central Division and defeated the Sharks in the quarterfinals, before falling to the eventual Cup winners in the semis.
The Blues too have heated up the ice this month, starting the season 5-1-0, close on the heels of Chicago (2009-10 champions) in the Central Division.
Whichever team is ultimately crowned this season, the years to follow will determine how the champions are remembered and whether or not an asterisk will set up shop permanently.
The Devils have successfully erased their asterisk with two more Stanley Cup victories since their lockout win. They've advanced to the postseason every season since except twice and appeared in the Cup Final as recently as last year when they fell to the Kings.
If the 2012-13 champion is new to the winner's circle, hopefully they're just heating up.
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