Finally, after months and months of everyone involved being morons, causing 113 days, 625 games, and the biggest outdoor hockey game in history to be cancelled, hockey fans can finally say “Game On!” The NHL has a new 10-year labor agreement, and is set to start the shortened, 48 game 2013 season on Saturday, January 19. Find out ten things you need to know about the upcoming NHL season. These ten statements can pretty much be guaranteed to happen in the next 99 days of hockey. To find out what stories are locks for this year, continue after the jump.
Below are ten statements about the upcoming season. Don’t be afraid if these things become true. It’s not magic, nor Mayan, nor mystical. It’s just cold, hard hockey logic. Be prepared to be enlightened.
1. Gary Bettman Will Be Booed Wherever He Goes
The most obvious statement of all time. Public Enemy #1 in the hockey world is the NHL commissioner. By being the figurehead for the owners during the lockout (the THIRD under Gary’s watch), Bettman guaranteed that the fans would hate him for once again personally cancelling hockey games. Expect Bettman to keep a low profile as the season goes along, and if he is ever spotted, to be booed by fans. And given the man’s ego, he won’t resign, he won’t be fired, and I guarantee he will still present the Stanley Cup to the champion at the end of the year, and act as if he did nothing wrong from September to early January. The loudest sound in hockey this year will be the boos reigning down upon Gary Bettman at the end of the Stanley Cup Final.
2. The Anaheim Ducks Will Make At Least One Trade
The Ducks have contract deadlines looming, and paying everyone is an option that will not likely occur for a team that doesn’t usually spend a lot of money. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are both free agents after this year, and the Ducks must decide to resign, trade and get value back, or risk letting one or both walk for nothing this summer. Also potential trade bait is Bobby Ryan, who is locked into a good contract for a few years. If things go bad, the fire sale in Anaheim could be on. Pieces will likely be available, and someone will go. While Bobby Ryan might be the logical choice, the right deal could send one of the others away. On top of all that, veterans Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne could make key deadline pickups for teams looking to win a Stanley Cup. A trade for these players could make a fitting end for either players career: a Stanley Cup ring.
3. The Vancouver Canucks Will NOT Trade Roberto Luongo
While everyone feels that a Roberto Luongo deal is all but finished, there are a few things stopping it. First, Luongo has to approve of his final destination. All summer, it sounded as if he really only wanted to go back to Florida. If that’s true, the goalie spot for the Panthers won’t really be open until Jose Theodore comes off the books after this season. Also, whoever trades for Bobby Lou is paying him an average of $5+ million a year until 2022. Finally, in a short season, a team who feels they can win a Cup wants all the depth possible to make a run. If you have two skilled goalies, you’re much better off trying to make it through the West. Having Luongo back up new starter Corey Schneider isn’t that bad if Luongo can handle it. All this adds up to Luongo staying with the Canucks this season. However, this summer is a whole different story, although the story lines will sound very familiar.
4. The Two Longest Playoff Streaks Will Continue
The longest playoff streak in team sports history will continue as the Red Wings will find a way to get into the playoffs for a 22nd straight year. Detroit isn’t as strong as in the past, but they still have the talent to get to control their own destiny and get to the postseason. At the other end of the spectrum, the Maple Leafs are the only franchise to not make the playoffs since the last lockout. This failure cost Brian Burke his job. While the team is getting better, they still aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, especially with a schedule that forces them to continually play teams like Pittsburgh, Philly, and New York. Toronto will run their playoff drought to eight seasons, not to mention the 45 years and counting since their last Stanley Cup.
5. Ryan Suter Will Outperform Shea Weber
Lock down defense is easier to play than a two way offensive blueliner. Putting up big offensive numbers is also tougher without a slick partner, on a team that isn’t known for their scoring proficiency. Weber will struggle to do everything by himself in Nashville while Suter will have the benefit of new, offensively gifted teammates, and a prime spot on a likely very good power play unit in Minnesota. They both get paid a hell of a lot of money, but Suter will give you more points for your dollar this season, and likely beyond.
6. No Division Will Have Four Playoff Teams
With the schedule structured so that the majority of games are played within the division, and no games against weak teams in the opposite conference, will likely lead to a log jam in the standings, and the inability of teams to accumulate large point totals. Splitting division games won’t allow for one division to dominate a conference like the Atlantic and Central last season. While the fourth place team in some of these divisions might be a Cup contender, the condensed, conference only schedule will ruin some team’s plans.
7. Every Groin Will Not Tear This Season
Despite the fear that comes about every time a new season starts, especially fast paced, shortened seasons, everyone will not come out and get injured during the first couple weeks of the season. Most of the key players have been playing over seas, or in the AHL. Other players have been at least skating or training throughout the entire ordeal. There will always be some players who come in out of shape, just like a regular season. And injuries occur in such a fast paced, physical game. There won’t be more injuries than normal, the attention on those injuries will just be magnified.
8. The Trade Deadline Will Be Very Slow
While the late trade deadline (April 3) will make deals tempting for teams in the hunt. However, the short season means everyone will be bunched up, leaving very few sellers for likely plenty of buyers. Sure, depth players will be traded around by teams in need going on a playoff run, but don’t expect very many big names to change places. Teams are still learning the new CBA, and don’t want to make moves hastily. This years big trades will likely come at the draft, or just before free agency opens this summer.
9. The New Draft Lottery Rule Will Come Into Play This Year
The NHL has implemented new rules for the draft lottery, allowing every team who missed the playoffs a shot at the first overall draft slot. The odds will be weighed so that the worst teams in the league get the best odds, with odds declining as records improve. With everyone eligible to win, expect it to happen. Someone will get lucky and get a future superstar. If it’s a Canadian team, it’ll likely be Nathan MacKinnon. If it’s a US franchise, it’s almost a guarantee the pick will be Seth Jones, son of NBA veteran Popeye Jones.
10. The Fans Will Come Back
For all the vitriol and profanity lace tirades by everyone involved with the NHL lockout, the fans were quite vocal this time, mostly thanks to social media like Twitter. But as soon as the game was back, the fans came back in droves. Places like Minnesota supposedly had record single day ticket sales. Lines went around the block to get cheap team gear in places like Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Hockey fans love their game, and want to watch the best of the best. Some fans will try to give the bare minimum back to the team. Others won’t care and will spend and spend for anything they can. Some actually will make good on their threats, and not return. In the end, Gary was right. The fans will come back. Unfortunately, Bettman wasn’t right about anything else. The best way to get every single fan back to the great game of hockey is one single “I’m Sorry” present: fire Gary Bettman.
There you have it, an inside look at the upcoming season, and what to expect throughout 2013 NHL game play. If you can find odds on any of it, perhaps you drop a few coins on it (not that I condone gambling. Gambling is bad, m’kay?) and make out big. No matter what, you can say you knew it before everyone else, thus proving yourself to be a Hart winning source of NHL information. Game on.
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy. If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.