The NHL finally drops the puck on the season - NBC Sports

The NHL finally drops the puck on the season
13 season-opening games on Saturday with 4-month lockout a distant memory
January 19, 2013, 11:01 am

Whether the nearly four-month lockout was worth it or not, the National Hockey League and its players are set to leave the lawyers behind and get back on the ice.

The regular season of 82 games per team that was supposed to start in October has been slashed to a 48-game sprint over only 99 days.

It starts with 13 games on Saturday, including the Pennsylvania state derby between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The lockout ended last weekend with the league winning key concessions on salaries and lengths of contracts and the players association doing well to limit the damage and get a better pension deal.

"When you look back at the whole process, this is the best deal we could have got," Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said. "It's unfortunate it took as long as it did to get here, but that's the way negotiations go.

They'll be playing at a hectic pace to get games in before the regular season ends on April 27. The playoffs start three days later and, if the Stanley Cup final goes seven games, will end on June 28.

It will be a help that all games are inside the conferences, reducing travel.

Injuries, especially pulled groins, will be a concern with training camps limited to six days with no preseason contests. While about 200 players joined teams in Europe during the lockout, most stayed home to skate in small groups at city rinks and try to stay in shape in the gym.

New coaches Bob Hartley in Calgary, Ralph Krueger in Edmonton, Michel Therrien in Montreal and Adam Oates in Washington have had little time to implement systems and get to know their players.

"It's good and bad," Gorges added. "We want to be out there in games. That's what's good about a short camp, you don't have to wait too long. The flip side is you'd like a little more time to get prepared, but that's not the circumstance."

As play resumes, the Los Angeles Kings will finally get to raise their first Stanley Cup banner as they play host to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kings grabbed the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and rode it to an unexpected cup last season.

The Kings have made few personnel changes and will contend again in the Western Conference.

The Rangers, who added scoring star Rick Nash in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, seem to be a consensus choice as favorite in the East.

Nash, traded for three players and a draft pick, might be good enough to put the Rangers over the top. However, he led Columbus to the playoffs only once.

"It's the right time for him to be here with us," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.

The Vancouver Canucks have a chance to lead the league in points for three seasons in a row with a stacked roster led by the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel.

Pittsburgh, though, probably has the best duo with the reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin and the return of Sidney Crosby from concussion-like symptoms.

The Detroit Red Wings, whose playoff streak goes back more than two decades, insist they're still a championship contender without Nicklas Lidstrom on the roster for the first time since 1991. The seven-time Norris Trophy winner retired last summer and turned down a chance to come back for the short season.

New captain Henrik Zetterberg likes his team's chances with talented teammates such as Pavel Datsyuk up front, Niklas Kronwall on the back end and Jimmy Howard in net.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said it's not realistic for there to be a lot of pressure on any one team to win it all.

"The cup contenders will be the 16 teams that make the playoffs," Holland said. "The eighth seed won the Stanley Cup against the sixth from the East. The days in the 1990s and early 2000s when the top teams had easier runs in the early rounds are over.

"It's wide open, and that's the beauty of the league."

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