Hockey's Back!

Derek ScarlinoCorrespondent IMay 19, 2008

Sure, EA Sports used this phrase when they were marketing NHL ‘06 back in the fall of 2005, but the game still struggled while recovering from 2004-05 season lockout. 

The worst part about the lockout was how it occurred right when most hockey analysts and experts were predicting the next step in the evolution of the game in the NHL—speed and scoring.

To the millions that don't watch hockey, the NHL disappeared without a whimper only to be replaced by the World Series of Poker.  Poker, poker, poker. 

Many claimed that the NHL would never recover because it was too unpopular in the United States.  This perception, though, is being challenged to a high degree.

The last three NHL seasons have shown full well that there is no better time to get into hockey than now.  The NHL is young. 

The old guard that dominated the 1990's and early 2000's is well on their way to retirement, and there is surely no lack of talent waiting to take their place—if such hasn't happened already. 

Sure, we're going to miss Messier, Lemeuix, Hull, Leetch, MacInnis, Nieuwendyk, Andreychuk, Bure, Lindros, etc.  

But we have Ovechkin, Crosby, Staal (three of them at the moment), Nash, Iginla, Gomez, Briere, Lecavalier, Heatley, Spezza, Malkin, Luongo, and many more who are (and have been) making splashes around the league.

Most of the next generation has all started and come into their own within the first decade of the 21st century and virtually before their three-year entry level contracts were up. 

2004-2005 was a bruise on the NHL's legacy, but from the perspective of a hockey fan like me, it's definitely fading.

With strong drafts for a few years to come and past drafts that have produced Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane—the NHL is safe as far as talent goes. 

The ratings are up and ticket sales are up.  The Chicago Blackhawks are actually going to televise their home games for the first time in years!  On some sports websites, the NHL generated more hits than NASCAR! 

To those who don't watch hockey, there's definitely an entertaining product there.  Take the time to watch a game, familiarize yourself with the players.

At the moment, Sidney Crosby is preparing to play in his first Stanley Cup Final.  Surely, this is a milestone in a career to be filled with many, many more.  Nonetheless, history is being made. 

Alexander Ovechkin potted 65 goals this past season, and Wayne Gretzky himself believes that Ovechkin will be the first player to net 93—one more than Gretzky's own record of 92. 

The future is bright for the NHL; so much young talent dominating the game and more on the way. 

The game is faster, prettier, and more exciting—though this could arguably be to the skill of the incoming players more than the rule changes in the NHL.  I guess you'll have to watch it and judge for yourself.