New year brings a new hockey season

After a span equal to 510 regular season games, the National Hockey League has finally decided to begin it’s 2013 season.

A collective bargaining agreement between the NHL Players Association and the NHL owners was finalized January 6. The CBA ended a lockout that has taken place since September 15, 2012, and games are scheduled to begin January 19. The new season will consist of 48 games, but the annual all-star game and winter classic will be canceled this year because of a lack of preparation.

The  Minnesota Wild made the biggest offseason splash by picking up Olympians  forward Zack Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. The team has made the playoffs only three times in the franchise’s history, and it has never won a Stanley Cup. However, the Wild have a chance to make their first playoff appearance since 2008 by acquiring key players such as forwards Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.

The New York Rangers made a blockbuster trade for superstar forward Rick Nash from Columbus when they gave away forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon. Nash, the first overall pick in the 2002 entry draft, will find support from star players such as forwards Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. The Rangers lost in game seven of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, and they look for redemption this year.

However, it won’t be easy in a stacked Eastern conference that includes powerhouses like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Not many Western Conference teams are in better shape than Los Angeles Kings, the reigning Stanley champs. Despite center Anze Kopitar suffering a knee injury in Sweden, the Kings lost no key players this offseason. Depending on MRI results, Kopitar is expected to return by late January or early February. With a solid roster from top to bottom, the Kings are the West’s clear favorite.

Chicago hopes to reach the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year to grab their second cup in four years. The Blackhawks were eliminated early in the last  two playoffs, but that may change this year. The Hawks revamped their struggling defense with veterans Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival. Forward Marian Hossa, who suffered a severe concussion from an illegal hit by forward Raffi Torres in last year’s playoffs, is expected to start in the season opener.

Despite starting less than a week from now, a shortened season brings a great deal of excitement to almost every game. Squeezing so many games in three months will create a playoff-like intensity to each one. Every game this season will be in conference, which means an Eastern conference team will not face a Western conference team until the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the 1992 conference realignment.

Veteran teams such as the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils could struggle to keep up with this year’s rigorous schedule. However, it could help them in the long run as coaches could act like baseball managers and save players for certain games and scratch them from others.

Although some factors could adversely affect teams, Alec Johnson, a junior from Jacksonville studying psychology, believes things won’t change too much.

“I don’t think much will affect them, especially the players who have been playing in other leagues during the lockout,” he said.

The key to winning in 2013 is all about roster management. Teams must realize that injuries could make or break their season. There is very little room for error in this shortened season, so look for several moves before the April 1 trade deadline.

Although the NHL saw a significant revenue decrease this year, the season is set up to potentially be the most exciting one in the last decade.

Some critics think the shortened season could potentially harm the league, but others think it will even out in the end.

“The NHL saved the most valuable part of the season, the playoffs,” Joel Maxcy, Temple University sports economist, said in a Fox Business interview. “I doubt there will be much of a hangover effect. Similar to the NBA last year and to the NHL lockout in 2004-2005, the league will bounce back and a lot of short-term losses will even out.”

Unlike the  nation’s other professional leagues, hockey fans have dealt with a lockout a couple of times before in 1994 and 2004. Many fans are simply tired of waiting, and they eagerly anticipate the upcoming season.

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to drinking and watching some Blues hockey, “ Johnson said. “For now, I’m most looking forward to the February 28  game against the Blackhawks.”

The Stanley Cup finals could potentially be June 28, and all of the teams see the quick season as an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs. The previous two Stanley Cup winners  were No. 8 seeds, so all that seems to matter is a playoff birth and anything can happen.

Needless to say, we are in for quite a skate through this NHL season.

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