NHL ends hockey hangover

After a 113 day lockout , the National Hockey League and the players union could be back to what they do best, playing hockey, by the 19th January.

After months of negotiations a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has tentatively been ratified, with the players expected to vote in favour of the deal by the end of play on Friday the 11th. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said “sorry” for the four month delay to the season, but looks to have got his way with a 50-50 revenue split between the league and the players (NHLPA).

The new salary cap will be set at $64.3 million for 2013-14, with the salary floor set to be $44 million. With regulations stipulating how far apart the cap and floor have to be, if the league grows as expected by 2021-22 the NHL could be looking at a cap of close to $90 million.

But enough of the financials, the real losers here have been the fans, who have lost over 50% of the proposed games from the 2012-13 season. A boycott of the league has been mooted by fans, when it finally returns, but other than a recent protest in by Borussia Dortmund fans over ticket prices, there is little history of fans deliberately staying away from fixtures to hurt the club/league. The fans have been deprived of a full schedule of hockey, but when the shortened season rolls into action they should filter back.

The 2011-12 season ended with a fascinating playoff campaign, as the eight seeded LA Kings came into form to blitz their way to a maiden Stanley Cup. Fairytale runs from the Coyotes and early playoff exits for the top-seeded teams made 2012 a year to remember, on the ice.

New York Rangers have moved decisively since their playoff defeat against New Jersey, bringing in All-Star Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for a 1st draft pick and Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon. The arrival as Nash sees the Rangers installed as early favourites for the Stanley Cup, alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins were booted out of the playoffs early last year, but will be hopeful they can keep Sidney Crosby on the ice for the whole of this Stanley Cup campaign. Sweeping changes have been made in Pittsburgh; Jordan Staal was offloaded to Carolina for Derrick Pouliot, Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin. Zbynek Michalek was traded to Phoneix in return for Marc Cheverie and a third round pick, whilst veteran goaltender, Tomas Vokoun came in on a two year deal.

Despite their impressive playoff surge, the LA Kings are only fourth favourite to make it two Stanley Cup’s in succession. Their win was the first time any eighth seeded team had won a championship, in the history of North American sport. The lockout could have affected the Kings more than any other side in the league, no longer able to ride their high during the playoffs they must start from square one.

Here are the latest odds to win the 2013 Stanley Cup:

New York Rangers +800
Pittsburgh Penguins +800
Vancouver Canucks +1000
Los Angeles Kings +1200
Boston Bruins +1400
Chicago Blackhawks +1400
Philadelphia Flyers +1400
St. Louis Blues +1600
Detroit Red Wings +1800
Edmonton Oilers +1800
Minnesota Wild +1800
San Jose Sharks +2000
Carolina Hurricanes +2200
Washington Capitals +2500
Buffalo Sabres +2750
Tampa Bay Lightning +3000
Nashville Predators +3300
New Jersey Devils +3300
Toronto Maple Leafs +3500

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Here are three other teams to watch out for when the NHL season picks up next week.

Edmonton Oilers

That the Oilers have earned the first overall draft pick the past three seasons, indicates that performances have room for improvement. However, these young stars (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz) are slowly beginning to mould into a team that could be a surprise playoff contender. These young stars have been playing AHL hockey during the lockout, and having scored for heavily during the interlude will be fully match-fit from the start of the regular season. Rookie coach, Ralph Krueger, has all the ingredients for an exciting campaign.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers surprised even their own fans with their first playoff appearance since 2000, last season, and if they get off to a fast start in this year’s condensed campaign they could push Washington close in the Southeast Division. Every side posted a negative goal difference in the Eastern, Southeast in 2011-12 and Florida could easily have beaten the Stanley Cup finalists, New Jersey, in their playoff match-up last year. Coach Kevin Dineen will have had even longer to shape his squad of newly acquired talent which will threaten more than a price of +4000 suggests.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers were responsible for dumping the Penguins out of last season’s playoffs, and with the majority of their squad playing in Europe during the lockout, expect them to start fast. On the flip side, some of their more crucial contributors have been vulnerable to injuries. Both Danny Giroux (neck) and Claude Briere (wrist) were injured while playing in Germany, but if the Flyers can manage these issues they can dice with the big boys in the Eastern Conference.

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Read our preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup final

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