2013 NHL Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Montreal Canadiens v Winnipeg JetsThe NHL season seemed all but doomed at the beginning of the year with the January 11th deadline fast approaching. It seemed as though the NHL had decided on another lost season but in the last minute they would come to an agreement. The NHL season was saved and hockey would return as fans rejoiced and many NHL teams breathed a sigh of relief. Now it is time to look forward at the new shortened season and what it will hold for fans and teams alike. Last year the NHL would see one of their biggest markets win the Stanley Cup as the Los Angeles Kings would take the championship home. It was a great year with momentum playing a big role in the championship. Some teams would continue to struggle as big markets like the Toronto Maple Leafs would continue long playoff droughts. Other teams would show some promise that they will hope to carry over in the new season. It was a season that was marred by some big injuries and massive suspensions yet still captured the imagination of fans. Now a new season arises and with a short season the chances are even greater for every team to make a run at the championship. This season will always have an asterisk by it though as whatever team wins will see a much different run to the Stanley Cup. That will not reduce the accomplishment though as the winner of the 2013 Stanley Cup will be forever remembered in the saved season. Every team will be even when the season starts and that means the race to the playoffs will be that much better. The NHL season will be a very interesting one this year as the stories will continue to flow in with injuries and suspensions taking headlines. Meanwhile the lockout will take plenty of airtime while there are sure to be a few surprises along the way.  It will be another great year in the NHL full of the unpredictability and the unknown that can make any season a great one. In the end one team will raise the Cup in a shortened season that will be a race to the finish. As the season progresses though there will be plenty of stories to follow but here are some of the biggest to start the season off.

 

The Lockout 2.0

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The biggest story of the year is of course the NHL Lockout that would last 113 days and lose more than 4 months worth of games. In the end the CBA would be created and the NHL and NHLPA would agree on new terms. Overall the new CBA will not have a massive impact on gameplay although it will have an impact on the business of hockey .The NHL lost almost a full season with the lockout and now they will be in recovery mode. The NHL now has to hope that the same season they had in 2006-07 after the last lockout will happen again. Since the 2004-05 lockout the league has grown to be a $3.3 billion league and was finally starting to make up ground on the other leagues in North America. This year though the attitude seems to be changing as more and more fans are not will to return for at least this season. In the USA the lockout would make news initially but then would fall to the back pages. It would just become another story in a crowded marketplace that was just beginning to pay attention to the sport. Now the NHL has a shortened season and next year to see what the effects will be in the larger league. Will fans come back to their teams or is it too little too late for fans to come back. In the end the true damage of this lockout will rest with the fans who will choose to support the league or turn their backs on it.

 

Struggling Clubs Remain a Focus

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During the lockout a lot was made about protecting the smaller market teams or in other terms the group of teams that are struggling. The NHL is a league of the haves and the have-nots as there are teams who are some of the strongest brands in North America and others who are forgotten. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs make money when there is no hockey going on and because of that strength they were named the first NHL team worth $1 billion. Then there is the Phoenix’s of the NHL who lose about $20 million before the beginning of the season. Teams like Phoenix, Florida, and Dallas are teams who need hockey for a chance to earn money and now they are all less than a quarter of a season behind. These teams were struggling when they went into the lockout and now they could be in much worse situations. The new CBS will have some help for them in a bigger revenue sharing pie but that won’t change anything if the fans don’t come back. Don’t expect much to happen this limited season but know that this season could be the tipping point for more relocation in the NHL. With places like Quebec City waiting for the chance to grab an NHL team the NHL may look very different this in the next few years. The lockout will have a massive effect on these teams and although they will all play this year the 2013 season could be the last for one of these teams despite continued efforts to keep the league intact.

 

Sid the Kid’s True Test

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The lockout was not a good thing for many people for it may have been a bit of a positive for the league’s biggest star. Sidney Crosby has been the face of the NHL in the USA since he entered the NHL in the 2005 NHL draft. As the best player in the league Crosby could do almost no wrong and then he would become the latest to fall with a concussion. At the beginning of the year in 2011 Crosby would suffer a big blow to his head by Dave Steckel that would knock him out of the game. Only a few days later he would be back on the ice and again suffer a big head hit that would put him out the rest of the season. He would become the face of the concussion issue in the NHL with the NHL’s best player sidelined due to an injury that was hurting more and more players. Crosby would attempt to come back to the Pittsburgh Penguins but he could only manage 22 games all season. The head injury was a serious one that would put the best player in the NHL out for the better part of two seasons and as the new season approached many would look to him to see if he could return with more time to recover. Now with even more time than originally thought Crosby has his chance to return to his old form. Crosby will enter the 2013 season with some big questions to answer the chief of them being whether or not he can return to top form as the best player in the NHL.

 

How Small is Too Small

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The NHL lockout has many effects in the new season and the biggest and most noticeable one will be with the NHL schedule. The NHL plays 82 games every year in a balance of conference and non-conference games. The schedulers put together an 82 game schedule that will see each team face off with an equal amount of home and away games with games against their own division and conference along with inter-conference. Now the schedulers will have it much harder when the league goes to a 48 game schedule in the new season. Not only will the schedulers be busy but the teams will be in a completely new situation that many are not familiar with. The new schedule will be one of the toughest things to overcome for these teams but will also make the seasons that much better for fans. The players have essentially been thrown into a playoff race without any build up. They will get one week to prepare in camp and from that point on will have 48 games to make the playoffs. The schedule will help those teams who can start fast will be the teams that can take advantage of the situation while the teams that take some time to gel will be left behind just as they get going. The shortened season will mean that every game becomes immediately more important and any mistake can end the chance for a Stanley Cup run. The season will be an interesting one as the short schedule will provide plenty of drama through 48 games.

 

Concussions Return

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Concussions have dominated the conversation in the NHL for the past two years as it has been one of the biggest concerns in the league. Time and time again players have gone down with head injuries. In the past it would have been nothing more than just feeling fuzzy during a game but new studies have proven that these injuries are much more serious. Head injuries have shown to be an extremely dangerous part of contact sports. Increased awareness has led to increased diagnosis to protect the players. Now the NHL enters yet another season where they will need to continue to take steps to protect their players. There is almost a certainty that the NHL will see more head injuries this year but will their suspensions and crack down on head contact meet the needs of the league. It will be an ongoing conversation throughout the season and the debate will begin the first time that a player goes down die to head contact. The issue of concussions will never go away and the NHL is still looking for ways to reduce them. The NHL will travel into a short season with the lockout taking the focus but that will fall away quickly when the first issue comes out. Concussions will be a constant issue to watch for and the 2013 season will be no different as fans and critics will continue to look at the league and scrutinize what they have done to help players. As the season approaches concussions will once again surface and the biggest question will be what the NHL can do next to improve player safety.

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