The 2012-2013 season was supposed to start tonight. Instead, the league is in a labor dispute with the Player's Association which has led to a lockout, and subsequent work stoppage. As a result, the first two weeks of the season, totaling 82 games, has been cancelled.
What a shame. After rebuilding a league that was pushed to the brink of extinction in 2006, the owners and players simply cannot find a common ground to get a deal in place and start the season on time. The fans will always come back because the sport, itself, is too entertaining and addicting to become detached. But the level of incompetence by everyone involved in labor negotiations has reached a new level of frustration.
Even more frustrating is the shortening -or outright cancellation- of what is potentially the most story-filled season in years. Yes, this season could be more interesting than the 2008-2009 season that saw Sidney Crosby face Alexander Ovechkin for the first time in the playoffs, resulting in seven entertaining games including dueling hat tricks.
This was supposed to be the make-or-break season for Paul Martin. Entering his third year of a five year contract, Martin was supposed to prove whether or not his five million dollar salary was worth more than making breakfast for James Neal. With the young core of defensemen chomping at the bit to play in Pittsburgh, combined with Martin's trade interest over the summer, this had all the makings of a major story.
And how about those young defensemen? Brian Dumoulin, Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington, and Derrick Pouliot all have the potential to be part of a top defensive pairing. Who will get a chance to play in the big leagues and how will they fair? Will they not only push for Paul Martin's spot but Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Ben Lovejoy, and Deryk Engelland's as well?
This year was supposed to be about the return of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from the beginning of the season, vying for the Hart Trophy along with a return to the Stanley Cup. To do so, they would likely need to get over their fear of the Philadelphia Flyers.
But it's not all about the Pittsburgh Penguins. How will Jordan Staal look playing next to his brother in Carolina on the top line? Where will Roberto Luongo end up or, will he stay with Vancouver for another year? The LA Kings have a Stanley Cup to defend after their unprecedented cup run last June, while the Washington Capitals look to finally capture Stanley Cup glory with Adam Oates at the helm.
Maybe the New York Rangers -now with Rick Nash- will finally have enough firepower to win their first cup since '94. Or maybe the Minnesota Wild will make a deep playoff run thanks to their $100 million free agent signees, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. How will the Red Wings fair without Nick Lidstrom commanding the blue line? Is this the year the Oilers reach the playoffs?
This partial list proves the NHL has more than enough drama to captivate fans without the help of a lockout. Unfortunately, the lockout is a story that continues to write itself until a new CBA is agreed upon. No, true hockey fans won't abandon the league because of this issue; however, the NHL missed out on what could have been one of the best seasons in league history.