There have been any number of signs which have screamed out the end of the National Hockey League lockout and a return to business as usual over the last couple of days, among them:
-- NHL commish Gary Bettman and players' union boss Donald Fehr -- who often came across as two snarling junkyard dogs scrapping over a bone over the last few months -- standing side-by-side early Sunday morning to announce an end to the 113 days of labour madness;
-- Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs gleefully, and not incorrectly, pointing out their squad is currently tied for first overall;
-- The Winnipeg Jets issuing a press release Monday to meet media requests to shoot the team's logo and lines being painted on the ice. (Insert your own 'watching paint dry' wisecrack here).
-- And, finally, Jets centre Olli Jokinen, who nailed how media coverage of the NHL -- especially in Canada -- will now change from analyzing hockey-related revenue splits, contract variances and escrow accounts to regular hockey stuff with training camps soon to open.
"We missed it, I think you guys missed," said Jokinen to a throng of reporters on Monday. "Finally, we can put this behind us and you guys can start ripping us for the way we play.
"It's all good."
Now, depending on your level of interest in all things lockout related, you either bailed out with a 'Wake-me-when-this-is-over' approach months ago or have gobbled up every morsel since the two sides began arguing.
In any case, it may be time for a quick NHL refresher, now that the ol' loop is soon to return to it's regularly scheduled programming.
Five basic tidbits, and there may be a test:
New faces in new places
-- Four coaches are new bench bosses with their clubs this season: Bob Hartley in Calgary, Michel Therrien returns to Montreal, Ralph Krueger was bumped from assistant to boss in Edmonton while Adam Oates takes over in Washington.
-- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the gems of the summer free-agent market, both signed matching 13-year, $98-million deals with the Minnesota Wild.
-- The Jets landed Jokinen, winger Alex Ponikarovsky and goaltender Al Montoya in free agency, while saying au revoir to Tanner Glass (Pittsburgh), Chris Mason (Nashville) Tim Stapleton (KHL), Mark Flood (KHL), Eric Fehr and Randy Jones (both still free agents).
Six 'other' big free agent signings (in no particular order)
-- Coyotes' leading scorer Ray Whitney bolted for Dallas;
-- PA Parenteau moved from the Islanders to Avs;
-- Jordin Tootoo exited Nashville for Detroit;
-- Jason Garrison to Vancouver from Florida;
-- Sami Salo to Tampa from Vancouver;
-- Jaromir Jagr to Dallas from Philly.
The blockbuster deals
-- On July 23 Columbus shipped Rick Nash to the Rangers from Columbus along with Steven Delisle for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first rounder.
-- July 2: Buffalo moves Derek Roy to Dallas for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy
-- June 23: Luke Schenn is traded the Flyers to the Leafs for James Van Reimsdyk
-- June 22: Pittsburgh deals Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, a first-round pick and Brian Dumoulin
-- June 22: Mike Ribiero is swapped to Washington from Dallas for Cody Eakin.
-- June 22: Sergei Bobrovsky is traded to Columbus from the Flyers for three draft picks
-- June 15: Tampa and Nashville swap goalies, with Anders Lindback heading to Florida and Sebastian Caron to Nashville.
Unfortunately, the NHL has seen this movie before, this being the third lockout in the last 18 years. But with the 2004-05 season completely wiped out, the 1994-95 shortened campaign does offer some reference points for this time around.
Consider the following three storylines from the old lockout script when discussing an upcoming shortened season:
1. As much as everyone is saying their is little room for error in a 48-game campaign, in '94-95 three of the 26 teams made the playoffs with a losing record: the Rangers (22-23-3), San Jose Sharks (19-25-4) and Dallas (17-23-8).
The Jets, for what it's worth, were last in the Central Division and 10th in the West with a 16-25-7 mark -- five back of the Sharks, the eighth-seed.
2. Despite predictions the hockey might be sloppy and defensively suspect, especially early, goals were down to 5.97 per game. Jaromir Jagr of Pittsburgh and Eric Lindros of Philadelphia tied for the scoring lead with 70 points while Winnipeg's Alexei Zhamnov was third with 65. Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk of the Jets were both named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team.
3. A fifth seed, the New Jersey Devils, knocked off the Detroit Red Wings, top-ranked team in the Western Conference, in four straight to win the Stanley Cup. The Rangers, who won the Cup in '93-94, made the playoffs by just one point and were eliminated in the second round.
Five unfolding stories to monitor
1. Measuring the damage done
Fans will bust through the turnstiles again in Canada and the established U.S. markets. But what impact will the lockout have in places like Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus or Florida?
2. Where does goaltender Roberto Luongo land?
The Canucks goaltender has been most often linked to the Leafs and Panthers. Have to expect GM Mike Gillis is working the phones hard trying to find good value.
3. A European advantage?
Roughly 200 NHL players headed overseas to find work during the lockout. How much of a competitive edge does that give them upon their return? That said, some big names also returned home on the mend, including Anze Kopitar of the Kings, Daniel Briere of the Flyers and Tomas Plekanec of the Canadiens.
4. The Oilers' young guns
Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz have been tearing up the American Hockey League with Oklahoma City while Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick last June, may also be NHL-ready. Can they lead Edmonton back to the playoffs after they finished 30th, 30th and 29th in the last three years.
5. A crowning achievement?
No NHL team has repeated as Stanley-Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. Can the Kings go back-to-back?
Stay tuned. Thankfully, hockey fans have the chance to watch all this unfold rather than curse another lost campaign.
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