The NHL lockout has finally ended and this past Saturday, we had actual hockey back in our lives for the first time since June. Which is great because there’s no way in hell I can become a basketball fan. I CAN’T DO IT. Now, as a fan, you can deal with the fact that these leagues and franchise could really give a crap about you either one of two ways: you can do the tough thing, stand up for yourself, and not support the league in any way, shape, or form. Or you can do what everyone else does: take it in the metaphorical pooper and just be happy things are back to normal. You can guess which route yours truly chose.
It’s not that I didn’t want to go the noble route. When the lockout started to result in canceled games, I was furious that the league could take me, its coveted consumer, for granted. I vowed to not watch any games when the league came back as a show that I couldn’t be treated however the league felt like treating me.
But things changed. Oh, how things changed. As the days passed and it seemed more and more likely the league wouldn’t be back in action for the 2012/13 season, I started to turn. Then came the full-blown “baby, I miss you, please come back” mode. It was pathetic. I would’ve shown up on the league’s doorstep in the rain at 1AM with a boombox over my head to get them back.
Thankfully, they settled it and came back with enough time left to salvage a 48 game season and we won’t have a season without Lord Stanley. So for the TL’DR folks out there: HOCKEYZ BACK, YA’LL.
This weekly feature will be brought to you by TheSportsArchives.com, your source for historical photos, videos, quotes, and articles. Check them out and get lost looking at videos from the past because that’s what I spent the last hour doing.
Hockey Is Back And It’s Going To Be Ugly
Yes, hockey is back. That’s fantastic, right? Well, the actual games might not be for a while. Sure, some of these guys kept their games sharp in the AHL and overseas but a larger chunk spent time training on their own and that’s just not the same.
As someone who played hockey his entire life, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing quite like actually playing the games. You can keep yourself in good shape in a general sense but you can’t regain those rhythms and flows right from the start. There are going to be a lot of ugly moments .
Not to mention the fact that this condensed schedule is going to take its toll. Remember what the NBA was like last year with the shortened schedule and all of the injuries. Now imagine that in hockey. You’ll probably see a lot of platoons in net and coaches giving their guys extra days off when they can. Last thing you want is to have to keep Sidney Crosby in a shed somewhere because his brain has been melted again and he can’t tolerate light of any kind.
Seeing Hockey Live Is Better Than Any Other Major Sport
I will argue with anyone on this until the end of time. Football has too many television timeouts and no flow to it. You can get the same experience at home, without dealing with the elements, parking, uncomfortable seats, or jacked up concessions. Basketball isn’t really improved live, either but it’s comparable to hockey in that it’s fantastic live. And no one should view baseball under any circumstance ever.
Hockey, though, makes you want to wax poetic like a complete douchebag because that’s how great it is live. I attended the Buffalo Sabres home-opener this past Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers and it was faaaaantastic. The crowd was electric from well before opening faceoff, with random chants of “Let’s Go Buffalo!” breaking out amongst the wandering masses, and continued to be throughout. You could feel the collective highs and lows with every bounce, every scoring chance, and every goal.
Thankfully, the Sabres decided to show up this year (I went to the opener last year where they lost to the Hurricanes). Thomas Vanek played his ass off, posting a five point effort (2G, 3A) and everyone welcomed new addition Steve Ott with open arms. He’s quick, skilled enough to be dangerous, and he’s gritty. Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan (read: hated him) when he was in Dallas but he is one of those classic “you love him if he plays for you, hate him if he plays against you” guys. He plays with a physical edge that the Sabres just haven’t had in years and it’s great to see.
The Flyers, meanwhile, have the same talented group of forwards, minus Danny Briere who is hurt again because he’s 5’4” (not really but close), but they look woefully thin on the backend. Which is fine with me because I haaaaaaate the Flyers. When Scott Hartnell finally dropped the gloves with Drew Stafford, after taking several runs at other Sabres, it felt like a bit of justice. And you don’t get that in other sports. Guys are accountable for their actions and there’s a bit of self-policing that you just don’t see anywhere else. Except for soccer, where fans do the policing with flares and riots. But let’s save that for Vancouver, shall we?
Pens Lost Staal But May Have Gained Balance
The Penguins came into this season as one of the natural favorites to win the Cup and they probably always will be as long as their two best players are Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But with the signing of Tomas Vokoun, they have finally found a competent backup who can split time with Marc-Andre Fleury and even take over for him when he struggles.
If they can get an effort, really any at all, from the laughably overpaid Paul Martin on defense, they’ll be tough to handle. They’re deep offensively and can score with just about anyone thanks to Crosby, Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang.
Making sure Crosby’s brains stay de-scrambled will obviously be key but with a guy like him, you almost can’t take your foot off the gas pedal. He’s the captain. He can’t take time off unless he’s hurt; he needs to lead the team both vocally and by example.
They’re going to be a contender no matter how hard you and I hope they fail (and I hope they fail mightily and often), they’ll probably be a contender. So just shoot me now.
Kings Cup Celebration Was Great Until The Game Started
Since we all had no choice but to watch their ring/banner ceremony, I’d like to say that their hype video hyped me right the hell up and I don’t even like the Kings. I was ready to strap on my skates and bowl through a goddamn brick wall right then.
Obviously, the funniest moment of the opening ceremony was imagining Dustin Penner getting handed the box with his ring in it and being massively disappointed to not see a stack of flapjacks waiting for him inside. He no doubt asked everyone in line when they were getting their celebratory pancakes and then started to make plans for being on the injured list once more.
Everyone was happy to see the Cup being passed around again in a totally contrived remake of their Cup celebration, with the players half-heartedly passing around the Cup. And then the game started and no one was happy ever again.
The Hawks came out and dominated play, going up 4-0 by the time two minutes had passed in the second period. If the Kings think they can float through the season again like last season, barely squirm into the playoffs, and then steamroll the competition they’re going to be more disappointed than I imagined Penner being.
We’re Going To See Some Strong Rookie Play
With the season shortened, we’re going to see some sustained strong rookie play with less of a chance of hitting the proverbial “rookie wall”. Not to mention the fact that we’re going to be seeing a strong crop of rookies: Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz in Edmonton, Vladimir Tarasenko from St.Louis, Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk, Buffalo’s Mikhail Grigorenko, Chris Kreider in New York, and technically-a-rookie-but-not-quite-as-young Damien Brunner in Detroit.
This is going to be a fantastic Calder race with Tarasenko , Schultz, and Galchenyuk likely to see a ton of time for their respective teams. Tarasenko is a guy the Blues have been coveting since the day they selected him and in his debut on Saturday night, he showcased the skill that made them salivate. Schultz lit up the AHL and will become the defacto #1 defenseman for Edmonton until Ryan Whitney can prove that he can stay in the lineup longer than four games at a time. And Galchenyuk will get lots of chances to prove himself in Montreal because there’s just nothing else going on there.
Kreider will get plenty of opportunities in New York unless he sends John Tortarella off the deep end and that’s something that is entirely possible every minute of the day. It’s the magic of Torts. If he doesn’t hate life itself, he’s not himself.
Look for it to be a two-man race between Schultz and Tarasenko. Both have supporting casts that can make them productive and help them stay that way; most of the others will likely struggle with consistent playing time. Or someone will come totally out of left field like Adam Henrique did last year because I know nothing about anything.
See you next week when everything I’ve said so far will be put into doubt and I’ll have to start figuring out what it is I actually know (nothing at all).
Enjoy the games, folks.
Follow me on Twitter: RWTFC