NHL set to return Saturday following arduous lockout

Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) adjusts his headset while heading out for the second practice on Sunday, January 13, 2013, in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT). Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii.

Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) adjusts his headset while heading out for the second practice on Sunday, January 13, 2013, in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT). Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii.

Chris Ginley

I want to take this moment to congratulate NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for his hat trick.

Not on the ice, but off the ice.

The recent lockout, which ended via a deal that was agreed upon by the NHL and the league’s players union (NHLPA), was the third lockout of Bettman’s tenure as commissioner. The first work stoppage came in 1994-1995, and the second one in 2004-2005 cancelled the entire season.

Bettman has never really been popular with many fans and this recent labor dispute only made their views of him worse. But regardless of fans’ view of Bettman, hockey is back.

Forget that almost half the season was lost due to the lockout and forget about the cancellation of the Winter Classic (which pitted the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was supposed to be held at Michigan Stadium). Although fans are angry at the seemingly greedy labor fight between the NHL and the NHLPA, they are just glad that hockey is back.

Teams have had roughly a week of training camp to prepare for a condensed 48-game season, which begins Saturday with a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, arguably the NHL’s fiercest rivalry. With a shortened season come a lot of questions; here are a few surrounding the start of the NHL season:

Pittsburgh Penguins: Can Sidney Crosby stay healthy? If he can, he and Evgeni Malkin will give the Penguins a powerful “one-two” punch that will help them compete in the NHL’s best division.

New York Rangers: The acquisition of Rick Nash makes the Rangers a potential Stanley Cup contender. Can he shine in Madison Square Garden after coming from the cold, lonely place that is Nationwide Arena?

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ offense will not be a problem. What might be a problem is their goaltending. Can Ilya Bryzgalov be the steady goaltender that the Flyers need? If so, the Flyers will be a dark horse in the Eastern Conference.

Boston Bruins: Can Tuukka Rask step in and prove that he is capable of being a starting goalie with Tim Thomas taking the year off? Good goaltending is crucial if the Bruins want to get back to their Stanley Cup-winning ways.

Washington Capitals: Will Alex Ovechkin return to being the Alex Ovechkin of old, with the potential of scoring 50-plus goals per season? If he does, it will keep the Caps in the hunt for the wide-open Southeastern division title.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Can Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s most prolific goal-scorer, help the Lightning get in to the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams by scoring 40-plus goals again this season?

Carolina Hurricanes: Will the additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, along with promising young rookie Jeff Skinner be enough to lead the Hurricanes back to the playoffs?

Los Angeles Kings: Can the Kings do their best to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover? Jonathan Quick will be counted on in goal and the leadership of Dustin Brown will be vital if the Kings hope to repeat.

Phoenix Coyotes: With relocation rumors swirling in the desert, the Coyotes managed to make a miracle run to the Western Conference Finals, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Will Shane Doan lead the charge to get the Coyotes to another miracle playoff run?

Columbus Blue Jackets: By trading away their star and face of the franchise, Rick Nash, the Jackets find themselves back at square one. Acquiring Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov in the Nash trade and getting Sergei Bobrovsky are good starts to rebuilding this lowly franchise, but can they produce?

Detroit Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg will take over as captain of the Red Wings, following the retirement of longtime captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Can the Detroit count on Zetterberg to lead them back to the Stanley Cup Finals?

Chicago Blackhawks: With expectations high in Chicago, will Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa come through for a team that is being billed as Stanley Cup contenders?

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are hoping that the spending spree they went on this past summer will pay off. After landing the two biggest prizes in the free agent class, can Zach Parise and Ryan Suter produce with expectations high in Minnesota?

Contact Chris Ginley at [email protected].