By: Jamie Samuelsen
Once the hangover and the anger and the expected early sloppy play moves out of the way and we venture into the heart of the 2013 NHL season, what do we have on our hands? The weird, somewhat sad truth is that we have exactly what all hockey fans have been asking for – a competitive regular season with heavy importance on every single game.
Nothing is perfect of course. I’m not trying to feed you spam and pretend that it’s steak. Some of you are angry that greed killed the first four months of the season. And some of you are ticked off at the proposal of no inter-conference games meaning that the Wings won’t play the Leafs, Bruins, Penguins or Rangers this season. That makes sense and that’s one of the downsides of this ridiculous lockout.
But the upside is pretty nice. Starting on January 19th (the assumed opening of the season), it’s going to three-plus months of sprint-to-the-finish hockey. Instead of watching two boxers hang on each other for 12 rounds, this is going to be more like Tommy Hearns vs. Marvin Hagler with every team flailing away for every available point. A three-game winning streak could push a team to the top of the standings. A three-game pointless streak could knock a team (even the Red Wings) out of the playoffs completely.
And yes, the specter of the Red Wings missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990 certainly exists. That might not sit well with the Hockeytown fat cats who assume that a playoff berth is in fact a birthright. And that might make the front office and the local hockey businesses a little uncomfortable. (And nobody deserves a break more than the local bar and restaurant owners who were jobbed by the sport that they love once again.) But what it will do is create a scenario where every Red Wing game will have a little juice to it. Don’t forget that four of the five teams in the Central made the playoffs last year (Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis). In most years, the thought of a schedule packed with division games elicits yawns. This season, it should just increase the drama. I’ll actually look forward to Wings-Preds games. Most seasons, those have just been repetitive duds.
I still think there’s enough here for the Wings to make it to the playoffs. Jimmy Howard was having a great year in goal prior to injuring his groin last spring. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a strength. The defense is the huge question mark. They were already weak last season. Now they have to figure out how to exist without the great Nicklas Lidstrom who retired as perhaps the most valuable player the league has seen in the last twenty years. Howard was good last year. He’ll have to be better this year. And he’s got free agency looming in the summer. A little incentive there, eh?
Some fans will never watch hockey, we’re not talking to them. Some fans will always watch hockey. We’re not talking to them either. We’re talking to the fans that complain the season is too long and the games lack meaning and that nobody really tries until the playoffs anyway.
Well congratulations. You got your wish. Hockey’s back. And after all the delays and missteps and negotiations, the sport is actually on the verge of what should be a damn exciting season.