– By Corey Aron, Staff Writer
You can start putting away your Mighty Ducks VHS tapes because the hellacious 119-day lockout has finally come to an end. It had taken numerous long meetings that involved the NHLPA (Players Association) and the NHL owners in dire attempts towards coming up with a collective bargaining agreement that would accommodate both sides’ revenues. Essentially, this lockout was very similar in comparisons with last year’s NFL and NBA lockout disputes between the players and owners. However, this had now been the third time a lockout had occurred under NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. I can now understand why fans decide to boo at Bettman when he comes out on the ice every year to present the Conn Smythe Trophy as well as the team that wins the Stanley Cup. Despite whether fans disapprove of Bettman, they are still ecstatic to know that hockey is indeed back for a jam-packed 48-game season. In fact, all 17 home openers were sold out.
Here are some of the repercussions that have taken place due to a reduced schedule: they lost a total of 32 games, with some teams not being able to play outside of their conference, the cancellations of both the All-Star Game as well as the popular Winter Classic game that’s played outdoors. This lockout has also forced teams to only have a week’s worth of training camp without playing any pre-season games. Keep in mind that not every player during the lockout were keeping themselves in game shape by temporarily playing in the AHL, KHL or other European leagues. As a Rangers fan, you can certainly tell so far that the team has came out of the gates looking flat and simply need more time to gel.
Granted, they’ve only played two games so far, but it was against two of the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins have the deepest roster in the NHL. When you have three centers who each who eclipsed over 60 points last season, then you know that this team can potentially win another Cup within from the last 3 seasons. New York’s second game was against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let’s just say they have a player who recorded 40 goals and 40 assists last year who’s name was not Evgeni Malkin or Sydney Crosby. James Neal adds on to the three-headed monster and easily makes Pittsburgh the most dangerous team in the NHL. I wouldn’t say the Rangers are panicking just yet, but due to the shortened season and high expectations, Rangers center Brad Richards already feels a sense of urgency.
He said, “This is not last year anymore — it’s a new team. We have to get our identity back, and it has to happen quick.” Richards and Rangers fans should remember that the Rangers didn’t register their first win up until their fourth game last year before they were able to get things rolling. On paper, they seem to have all the necessary pieces in pursuit to hoist the cup, especially since this past off-season they acquired Rick Nash in a deal to help bolster their offense.
On the other hand, the New Jersey Devils have started off very sharp. The defending Eastern Conference champs defeated the New York Islanders and more impressively shutout the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 in their home opener. Martin Brodeur capped off his 120th career shutout while also making it a personal best against the Flyers with 10 blanked sheets. The man has played in the NHL now for almost 20 years and the continuance of him playing off his high-horse is just incredible.
I thought that the departure of former captain Zach Parise signing with the Minnesota Wild would have set-back the team back in a major way. Instead, the Devils seem to be firing on all cylinders so far and are anxiously awaiting for the return of last year’s rookie sensation Adam Henrique who is recovering from thumb surgery. The only concern Devils fans may have is their 2011 4th overall pick in the NHL Draft, Adam Larsson. He’s been a healthy scratch in their first two games which may indicate that head coach Peter DeBoer doesn’t think Larsson fitting into the teams mold as of yet.
There are a few other things to look out for in this years season. Will Alexander Ovechkin ever become the elite player he once was or have teams around the league seemed to have figured him out to a science? It will be interesting to see if the Vancouver Canucks find a trade partner in dealing away their goalie Roberto Luongo. The Edmonton Oilers will an exciting team to watch. They now have the last three number one overall draft picks who are all offensively savvy. Let’s also see if whether last year’s defending champions, the Los Angeles Kings, can bounce back from a slow 0-2 start.
If you haven’t already, start signing up for your hockey fantasy team because the pucks have dropped and the talks about a locked-out season can be put to rest.