With Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman spending less time talking to each other than two high school girls in rival cliques, you’d better strap yourself in for a long, painful lockout.
If you’re looking for a hockey fix, fret not. There’s plenty of hockey to look forward to, whether it’s the AHL, KHL, juniors, college/university or your Saturday night pickup game. Just promise me you won’t spend your time watching poker (that was just sad last time).
Jeff Skinner, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Cody Hodgson, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Jake Gardiner and Ryan Johansen are all back to riding the buses. Those are just a handful of NHLers who are back for another year of development, increasing the total talent of the league.
The wider talent pool doesn’t just make the AHL more exciting now, either. The extra time in the AHL could pay big dividends later on for these players when they return to the NHL. During the last lockout, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Michael Cammalleri, Patrice Bergeron and Dustin Brown all saw an average increase of 40 points in their first season back in the NHL. Spezza and Staal improved immensely, hitting 90 and 100 points, respectively, and entrenching themselves as elite centers.
The Spengler Cup
The addition of so many NHLers overseas makes the usually unwatchable Spengler Cup suddenly relevant.
Watch Rick Nash and Joe Thornton take on… Canada?
Yes, both Nash and Thornton will be playing for HC Davos, the team that hosts the Spengler Cup and the one they suited up for during the last lockout. The two members of team Canada’s 2010 Olympic team could conceivably go up against their fellow Canadians.
The tournament starts on Boxing Day.
The World Junior Hockey Championship
If the lockout persists, a flood of NHLers will be available for teams to choose from and will rival the 2005 edition as the most star-studded in tournament history. That year Canada’s team had Shea Weber and Dion Phaneuf on defense, with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby up front. The Canadians squared off in the final against a Russian team that boasted Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Radulov.
This year, teams could choose from 1993-born players from the 2011 draft, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who would otherwise be unavailable to play due to NHL obligations. Other 1993-born players include Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome and Mika Zibanejad.
Countries will also have their picks of this year’s top prospects like Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray and Alex Galchenyuk.
The tournament also starts on Boxing Day when Canada opens their schedule against Germany.
2013 AHL Outdoor Classic
The Grand Rapids Griffins were set to take on the Toronto Marlies as part of the 2013 NHL Winter Classic festivities, but with an interminable lockout, look for that in 2016. With the status of the Winter Classic up in the air, it is unknown whether the two AHL teams would still play an outdoor game on December 30.
The AHL has its own Winter Classic separate from the NHL’s, however, so outdoor hockey will still be taking place. The Hershey Bears will also host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on January 20 at Hersheypark Stadium.
NCAA Frozen Four
This tournament is college hockey’s version of March Madness, albeit with much fewer teams.
Boston College has won three of the past five years, but will be without Chris Kreider this coming year after the standout forward turned pro.
The outlook is an entirely different kind of bleak for another Boston school. 2009’s winner, Boston University, is going through a scandal after two players, Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro, were each charged with sexual assault earlier in the year. The university responded by forming a task force, who filed a report on the team that told stories of a seedy championship party, where the “culture of entitlement” the players were afforded led some team members to have “the perception that they need not seek consent for sexual contact.”
In less soul crushing news, the tournament is set for April 11 and 13 in Pittsburgh and the championship game will be televised on ESPN, amazingly. It might be the only hockey the network airs all year.
The Memorial Cup
During the last lockout the Memorial Cup became an almost de facto Stanley Cup, at least for Canadians. Certainly having Sidney Crosby playing in the final against Corey Perry and the powerhouse London Knights helped drive interest.
Similarly, this year’s Memorial Cup could have its own star power. Both Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, the consensus top two picks in the upcoming draft, play for strong teams that could wind up representing the WHL and QMJHL, respectively.
In 2012, MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads made the QMJHL Semi-final, only to be upset by the seventh-seeded Rimouski Océanic. Jones’ Portland Winterhawks made the Semi-Finals as well, only to lose in the seventh game to the Kamloops Blazers.
This year, the Saskatoon Blades, who were swept in the first round of last year’s playoffs, will host the tournament from May 17-23.
NHL Draft Lottery
During the last lockout, Sidney Crosby made the draft one of the most memorable of all time. Every team had a shot at landing the sure-fire superstar, creating buzz among all fanbases.
This year, another Cole Harbour-born player could be headlining the mock draft boards, as Nathan MacKinnon is the likely first-overall pick, although Seth Jones will give him a good run.
If next year’s draft follows the same rules as the last lockout draft, every team will get a chance at winning, with those who have missed the playoffs the most and have failed to land the first-overall pick having the best chance of winning. That means Toronto, Dallas, Calgary, Columbus, Minnesota, Carolina and Winnipeg. Good luck.
Will the NHL operate under the same rules? Or will the results of every year in between the lockouts count for adding/subtracting lottery balls. If that’s the case, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff futility could give them an extra seven chances of having a Blue and White ball show up. The irony of Brian Burke building his team with the “Pittsburgh Model” he scoffed at would be delicious.