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The NHL Returns: What to Watch

I have long had my own opinion of the 113-day National Hockey League lockout. Frankly, I believe most of it was a scam. Back in November I wrote here on Game Day Gold that the biggest reason for the lockout was the 13 money-losing teams in the NHL. I suggested and still believe, that the NHL would be better off — and would raise hundreds of millions more in revenues – if they got rid of franchises in non-traditional hockey markets such as Tampa, Columbus, Phoenix, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale/Sunrise and Raleigh and moved those franchises to Canadian markets.

I also believe that in order to protect those markets, much of this lockout became an opportunity – an opportunity to avoid games in October, November and December in order to save the teams in those horrible hockey markets from the pain of losing money every time they open their doors.

OK, sure, that’s a cynical approach to the hard negotiating that went on day in and day out in order to end the lockout.

Yeah, right, In essence, the owners could have the deal upon which they settled on Dec. 6. As well, it became painfully obvious that the lockout would end on or before the day of the BCS Championship Game.

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo

Frankly, saving those teams in the non-traditional hockey markets from having to compete against the NFL and college football, was a gift from Bettman and the other owners. The fact that the lockout ended on Jan. 6 just makes it look about as legitimate as the charge that a right of centre moderate president like Barack Obama is a socialist. Let me tell ya, I’m a socialist and I can assure you, Barack Obama ain’t no socialist.

The NHL lockout, at least for the final month, was a simple exercise in the employee getting jerked over by the employer. As always happens in these labor-management battles, the employees eventually had to back off. Trouble was, they were beaten early in this one and then watched the owners fall asleep while the NFL season ran its course: And be sure, the employer only woke up and got serious when (a) the BCS championship game was coming and (b) when the players gave their executive a second mandate to dissolve the union. Can you imagine the chaos in a league in which 13 teams lost money (big money in most cases) last year and then suddenly there isn’t a union or a CBA to protect the owners from themselves? Never forget, it was NOT the players who gave Ryan Suter and Zach Parise 13-year contracts worth $98 million.

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

So now it’s over. This four-month dance between Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr has ended and the owners were the big winners. They got their 50-50 deal on hockey related revenues, they got a 10-yaer deal (both sides will opt out in eight), they got their salary cap lowered to $64.3 million next season (it will probably be about $82 million when the eight-year opt-out arrives), they got two buyouts at the end of this season (just so they can fix old mistakes) and they got a 48-game pro-rated scheduled in January, February and March of 2013 that automatically lowers their costs this year.

They also got a season that will be intriguing, exciting and great, honestly, fun. When the owners did this in 1994-95, the shortened season was about as unpredictable as one could possibly imagine. In fact, just look at last season:

On Jan. 22, when most teams (the Minnesota Wild had played exactly 48 games) had reached the 48-game mark, here are the 16 teams that would have reached the playoffs: In the East it would have been Boston, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, New Jersey, Florida and Washington. In the West, it would have been Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose, Nashville, Los Angeles and Colorado.

Nothing would have changed in the East, but it one team folded in the West, the place from which the L.A. Kings emerged to win the Stanley Cup. Colorado hit the skids and finished 11th while Phoenix got its act together and won the Pacific Division.

Ryan Suter (left) and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild

Ryan Suter (left) and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild

What it all means is this: The teams that get off to the best start are the teams that will be playing in late April.

As we head into the truncated 2013 NHL season, here are the 10 things to watch:

1. The teams that win early and often over the first month will make the playoffs.

2. Will Ryan Suter and Zach Parise get the Wild back to the playoffs? Can Dave Nonis make the Leafs a winner (not likely)? Will the 13-money losing franchises fare better with a pro-rated, shortended season?

3. Goalie Roberto Luongo will be traded by the Vancouver Canucks and end up in either Toronto or Florida.

4. The players in the best shape, the ones who have been playing in Europe or in the AHL and ECHL, will dominate the players who haven’t been playing at all.

5. With no out-of-conference games, travel will only be a problem for the Winnipeg Jets.

6. Watch for trade deadline to be on or about April 5.

7. The teams that will do well are teams that can win the second game of the old back-to-back… to-back.

8. The early part of the season should favor younger, faster teams. Watch out for the Edmonton Oilers with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz (all dominating the AHL right now), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

9. Is Sidney Crosby finally healthy? If he is, look out. He played only 22 games last year. A shortened season might be perfect for hockey’s best player

10. Have the Detroit Red Wings finally grown too old? Nicklas Lidstrom has retired and it’s likely Tomas Holmstrom will retire before training camp. It’s been a great run, but it looks like it’s ending.

Oh yeah, my one guaranteed lock: The Los Angeles Kings will NOT repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

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