Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012-2013 NHL Season: What We're All Missing, Part 1

Editor's note: We here at are proud to be carrying two separate NHL Lockout series of posts. The first being "NHL Fire in Lieu of the Lockout," written by the Klau broz, Jason and Danny. And the second being "What We're All Missing," written by Pete Dombrosky, which will focus on what each NHL team brings to the table when in-seasonThis post is the first installment in our "What We're All MissingNHL Lockout Series. Enjoy!

By Pete Dombrosky (@Pete_Dombrosky)

By now, you know that the NHL has officially cancelled the season through November 1. It appeared as though the owners and players were coming closer to an agreement last week, when the NHL offered a 50/50 revenue split, an increase from their previous offer of a 43/57 player/owner split. But the players union rejected it, then counter-offered, which was then rejected by the owners.

In the words of Joe Biden, it all seems like a bunch of malarkey.

The NHL lockout is a complicated matter, especially by the admission of anyone who is involved in negotiating it. To the average fans the terms “hockey-related revenue accounting” and “payroll range/cap accounting” might as well be Latin for “screw the fans we want more money” and “we need fatter checks because we’re on the right side.”

People like to boil it all down to millionaires arguing with billionaires and for all intents and purposes, that’s pretty much true. There are a lot of deeper issues at the heart of the collective bargaining agreement, but fans don’t care about any of them.

All they want is hockey.

Hockey fans are a unique breed of athletic supporters (no pun intended). Their favorite thing in the world is to watch 12 grown men chase around a frozen, vulcanized rubber disc on ice for three hours. It sounds crazy when you boil it down to the simplest terms, but it’s a good kind of crazy, like Andy Kaufman or bungee jumping, just on a different level.

If the 2012-13 season never happens because the millionaires and billionaires can’t reach an agreement, it would devastate puck heads across North America. Fans would be willing to settle for a shortened season if they had no other choice, but the threat of missing 82 regular season games and the subsequent playoffs has them shaking in their sweaters.

Having said all that, fans of each and every NHL team have plenty of reasons to hope there is hockey this year. Going team by team, all 30, in alphabetical order, three at a time, this series will enlighten the SportzBroz faithful to a number of those reasons, and even though they may not be comprehensive, it’ll give you a good idea what we’re all missing.

Colorado Avalanche
2011-2012 Record: (41-35-6) 88 points
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

The Avalanche is a hungry team that is eager to return to glory and management has put a lot of onus on their youth to do so.

Essentially, they don’t have a choice.

Their top-three scorers last season were Ryan O’Reilly (21 years old), Paul Stasny (26 years old) and Gabriel Landeskog (19 years old). And during the offseason, the Avalanche decided to put all of their faith in Landeskog, their youngest player, by naming him team captain. That made him the youngest captain in the history of the NHL. The previous youngest was Sidney Crosby, but he was 11 days older than Landeskog when he was awarded the “C.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Landeskog handles his role as the leader of the team. Although it’s a lot of responsibility, Colorado management has faith that he will be the face of the franchise going forward. In his only season in the NHL, the 19-year-old winger led the Avs in games (82), goals (22), plus-minus (plus-20), shots (270), hits (219) and tied for total game-winning goals (5). He also won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. Amongst rookies he tied for most points (52), led in shots (270) and takeaways (58), while ranking second in plus-minus. Additionally, Landeskog became only the second NHL rookie to ever exceed 20 goals and 200 hits in a season (the first being Dion Phaneuf in 2005-2006 with Calgary).

If the lockout continues through November 23, Avs fans won’t get to watch their rookie captain turn 20, but regardless, they'll be thrilled to see No.92 back in action one day, no matter how old he is when hockey returns.

Here’s why:

Chicago Blackhawks
2011-2012 Record: (45-26-11) 101 points
Playoffs: Lost Conference Quarter-Finals (4-2) versus Phoenix Coyotes

One of the best hockey atmospheres you’ll find in the United States resides at 1901 West Madison Street Chicago, IL 60612 – United Center. It’s the building Blackhawks fans refer to as the “Madhouse on Madison.” Although that moniker originally referred to Chicago Stadium (the previous home of the Blackhawks), the United Center truly is a madhouse on game nights. Hawks fans can brag about being some of the most devoted in the NHL thanks to last season’s attendance stats. They ranked No. 1 in the NHL with a total attendance of 882,874 - that's over than 10,000  more than No. 2 Montreal.

A devoted fan base usually goes hand in hand with a winning franchise and the Blackhawks are no exception. They’ve made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons and raised the Cup in 2010. And this season, should it be played, will offer Chicago another great opportunity to make a championship run. The primary determining factors of that success are Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Each of these players is elite in his own regard, but when all four are healthy, they pack one of the biggest scoring punches in the league.

The biggest worry is Marian Hossa. He is coming off a 29-goal and 77-point season that ended abruptly in the third game of the Blackhawk’s postseason when he suffered a devastating hit from Raffi Torres:

Hossa is skating again and both he and Hawks fans hope he’ll ready to play when/if hockey resumes.

Columbus Blue Jackets
2011-2012 record: (29-46-7) 65 points
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

Like a Zamboni lays down fresh, unmarked ice, a new season brings fresh starts for each team. So for Columbus Blue Jackets fans, the period between the first drop of the puck and the first goal against is probably the most hopeful of the season.

Columbus does look like its ready to turn over a new leaf. Rick Nash, the face of the Blue Jackets franchise throughout its entire existence, was traded to the New York Rangers, leaving Columbus with something of an identity crisis. But all things considered, it might not have been a bad move on the team’s part. Nash was admittedly unhappy in Columbus, and the team had never really accomplished anything with him at the helm. So rather than keep their disgruntled “leader,” they shipped him off and loaded up their roster with fresh young talent. They’ve brought in Mark Letestu, Jack Johnson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Artem Anisimov and Adrian Aucoin to try and vamp-up the franchise, one that never had any solidarity in the first place.

One of the major problems this team has faced is lack of goaltending. Steve Mason has the most career wins for the team (93) but he’s lost just as many games. And every season since his debut in 2008-09, nearly all of his statistics have regressed. With the addition of Bobrovsky, the organization is hoping that it might find more consistency between the pipes. That remains yet to be seen, but when it comes to the Blue Jackets, fans should look forward to any kind of change.

There’s nowhere to go but up for this franchise and with some new leadership and fresh faces, I believe that’s the direction they’ll head, whenever that opportunity may come.

Dubinsky scores goals and fights for his teammates. Two things any rebuilding franchise will gladly foster.

Keep it locked for the next installment of The 2012-2013 NHL Season: What We're All Missing! And be sure to check out Pete's other sports blog, KeystoneSportsSpot!

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