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Column: Better late than never

By Tyler Morrissey
On January 22, 2013

On the morning of Jan. 6th I received a text message at 6:38 a.m. that I thought would never see. WEEI alerted myself and all of their other subscribers across New England that the NHL owners and players had agreed upon a new collective bargaining agreement, thus ending the 119-day-old lockout.
It was finally over, all the bickering and squabbling over the dollars and cents that drove a billion dollar industry had finally ceased. As the clock ticked down to the final ticks to save the season, a new 10 year Collective Bargaining Agreement was drawn up and the puck dropped on a 48 game season this past Saturday. One of the lingering questions that remained as the ink was drying on the new CBA is whether or not the fans, who were out right betrayed by the NHL, would return.
The answer to that question lays not just in sold out NHL arenas across North America but the reaction of fans on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Throughout the lockout whenever a shred of optimism came from NHL headquarters in New York City during negotiations, the Twitter universe exploded with sentiments of hope for an end to the lockout. Much of this hope was often crushed as the media reported that both sides were still very far apart, but the fans did not give up.
After it was announced that the season was saved, NHL fans rejoiced as their teams assembled for a shortened training camp. NHL clubs had a very short time to get ready, which for some would not be that difficult as some of the game's biggest stars played overseas during the lockout. Any doubts of fan loyalty were soon dismissed after what happened next.
In major hockey markets such as Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Boston fans turned out in droves to watch practice. In Pittsburgh 18,000 fans showed up to watch a team practice. In Boston, the organization gave out free tickets to a team scrimmage. According to the Boston Globe, the event was sold out and the complimentary tickets were being sold online for as much as $60. Ticket prices tell the story as a shortened season has created an increased demand for tickets, as now there are fewer opportunities for fans to see their favorite players hit the ice.
So, what can you expect from a 48 game NHL season? First and foremost injuries will play a huge factor as players who have not been as active during the lockout will now be forced to compete at a high level with less preparation than normal. It might not be crazy for the NHL to keep groin injuries as a statistic this season because there will surely be a lot of them.
The last time the NHL played a 48 game season was the 1994-1995 season which was also shortened due to a lockout. This year will be one of the most wide open seasons since the mid 1990's, as any team that gets a quick start can be in contention for the Stanley Cup, yes even the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets can play a factor this year.
While I highly doubt the Maple Leafs or Blue Jackets will be lifting Lord Stanley anytime soon, the two teams that you may want to watch out for will be the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. It feels like the Oilers have been in a rebuilding phase for years and now with a shorter season and young talent like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers may finally get back to the playoffs if they have a hot start. In the State of Hockey, Minnesota picked up two key players in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and some experts have picked the Wild to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup.
In the East, the Rangers will look to build off the success they had last year and offseason pickup Rick Nash will make the Blue shirts one of the teams to beat. The Bruins, just a year and a half removed from their Cup victory will also be in contention for another playoff berth. However the biggest question surrounding the Bruins will be between the pipes, as their Conn Smythe winning goaltender Tim Thomas has decided to take a year off. It will be up to Tuukka Rask to step up in net as the Bruins have plenty of young goal scorers in Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin.
This NHL season will be a sprint rather than a marathon but even though half the season has been lost, there will not be any lack of excitement. So now a season has begun, for the young rookies it's a chance to relish in the glory of scoring your first goal. For the seasoned veterans, it's a chance for one last hurrah in a sport that has dominated their lives. Finally for the loyal fans who stand by their team year in and year out, through thrilling victories and heart breaking losses, it's time to drop the puck.
Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerRMorrissey

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