BOSTON (CBS) — It’s finally over, and rather than discussing CBA terms, escrow and pensions, we can once again begin to talk about the actual sport of hockey itself.
Of course, it’s been some time since we’ve actually been able to talk about the NHL in terms of its teams and players, and there’s a lot left to be ironed out. So before we fully dive in to the 2013 NHL season, let’s go over some burning questions that we’ll need answered over the coming days, weeks and months.
What’s The Deal?
We know roughly what to expect for a schedule and a time frame, but we don’t know the details. When will the schedule come out? For hockey fans eager to see their sport back on the ice, that’s the only question that matters right now.
Who’s In Shape?
Throughout the lockout, which lasted 112 days, the ever-repeating catchphrase was “cautious optimism” when it came to getting a deal done. While many players publicly expressed such optimism, there were no doubt a good number of players who might have been expecting the season to be canceled, and they probably weren’t spending their free time in hot yoga classes or even firing up their Tae Bo VHS tapes in their living rooms.
Simply put, the guys who didn’t spend the lockout playing in Europe or working out like crazy stateside are going to have a heck of a time trying to keep up with those players who are in midseason form.
The cautionary tale here is known well by Bruins fans. In the 2003-04 season, rookie netminder Andrew Raycroft was nothing short of spectacular, posting a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season and posting comparable numbers in seven postseason games while winning the Calder Trophy. During the lockout the following season, though, he played just 11 games in a Finnish league, and when he re-entered the NHL in 2005, his GAA ballooned to a 3.71 and his save percentage dropped to .879.
Beware of the guys who didn’t go to Europe — they may have changed appearance from one Ice Hockey character to another.
(Las Vegas probably doesn’t have odds on things like this, but you have to think Phil Kessel being wildly out of shape is a safe bet. The guy’s never exactly been known to be a gym rat, and a three-month vacation could spell trouble for the Leafs’ reigning leading scorer.)
How Much Does Tim Thomas Weigh?
This actually has nothing to do with the NHL season, because Timmy T won’t be partaking, but while we’re on the topic of conditioning, it’s worth wondering. The man appeared to be a couple of shirt sizes larger when we last saw him in June (thanks to Jim Craig’s Twitter account, of all places), and let’s face it — it’s difficult to maintain a healthy diet while camped out in a Colorado bunker.
The only question more enticing than “When will we see Tim Thomas again?” is “What will he look like when we do?”
Luongo-ing Somewhere New?
If there’s any one player who boosted his stock from a fan relation standpoint, it was one Mr. Roberto Luongo. The guy is genuinely hilarious on his super-secret Twitter account, posting just last week that his new year’s resolution was to “find a job.”
While the social networking site has made Luongo more likable to fans, his team may not like him too much anymore, not with Cory Schneider ready to play full time for the Canucks. That means Luongo is sure to be the biggest name on the trading block right off the bat, though the decade and $40-million-plus left on his contract will make that complicated.
While he’s been suspect in the postseason the past two years, he’d still be a solid goalie for most NHL teams in desperate need of someone to stop the puck. The Luongo sweepstakes could get out of hand as the biggest story of the NHL preseason, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are already rumored to be the most likely suitors. That would be great, simply for the spectacle of seeing him visit Boston several times in the shortened season. Something tells me Bruins fans would have a little bit of fun with that.
Will Any Fans Boycott Anything?
You heard many fans express their displeasure with the league during the lockout, with many publicly declaring they were “done” with the NHL and would never again pay money to attend a game. Others hoped to organize massive boycotts, with some aspiring to organize a lockout of their own by having fans skip out on the first game of the season.
Odds are that such a protest won’t happen, but it will be interesting to see how ticket sales and attendance are affected, particularly in markets that have trouble packing their arenas during non-lockout years.
Fans have had no say during the battle between the players and owners, and disinterest is really the only card they have left to play.
Will NHL Make Center Ice Package Free As An Effort To “Win Back” Fans?
Ha ha, just kidding, we all know the answer to that one already.
Looking To Olympics?
The NHL is back, and that’s great, but will these guys be able to play in the Winter Olympics, which begin in just 13 months? It’s expected that NHL players will be allowed to participate, thereby necessitating a league shutdown during the Olympic break next year, but until it’s signed and official, we don’t know for sure. It’s a yet-to-be-resolved issue, and while it won’t affect this NHL season, it’s a question hockey fans around the world hope gets answered ASAP … because the only thing as exciting as the NHL playoffs might be Olympic hockey.
Whose Face Will First Wear Shawn Thornton’s Knuckles?
The worst part about watching so much basketball during the lockout was having to see NBA players fall to the floor in agony after getting gently touched by opponents. Frankly, it’s hard to watch without getting disgusted.
Watch: Thornton On Sports Final
Fortunately, hockey — you know, the sport where players lose teeth or get their faces gashed and don’t so much as miss one shift? — will be back soon, and pugilists like Shawn Thornton will be able to unleash nine-plus months’ worth of frustration on some poor soul’s kisser. If the Bruins do indeed open up their season in Montreal on Jan. 19, let’s hope Thornton gets all middle school and sends a note to Ryan White that reads, “Meet me by the blue line, near the penalty box, 7:15 p.m.”
Will Tyler Seguin Score 40 Goals?
OK, so maybe the Swiss league in which the 20-year-old Seguin wasn’t exactly the greatest competition on earth, but still, 25 goals and 15 assists in 29 games is no joke. The kid spent his lockout perfecting his scoring touch, and while the idea of 40 goals in a 48-game season is ridiculous, expectations are sky-high for Seguin to break out in an even bigger way than the did last season.
Will P.K. Subban Be Wearing A New Sweater?
One of the better young defensemen in the league is without a contract. While Montreal will undoubtedly make re-signing the 23-year-old its top priority, the weak free-agent market could lead a team to make a move on the restricted free agent.
Why In The World Did We All Miss Three Months Of Hockey?
I’m just not sure we’ll ever get this answer. Oh, well — let’s all sing!