No longer do we have to worry about the terms hockey related revenue, escrow, contract limits, and “make whole.” Hockey is back and has been welcomed back with open arms.
It’s like seeing a friend you haven’t seen for a few months: Things are weird at first, but after a short while things are back to normal.
Except in this case, your friend is a little rusty, dull, and doesn’t quite look like they used the time apart to better themselves in any way, shape, or form.
If you were thinking that some of the hockey played on the opening weekend, even the opening week, was a little slow and “off,” you certainly weren’t alone.
When fans of the best sport in the world came running back to the sport they love, they were greeted by such things like free games, price breaks on concession items, discounted merchandise, and the occasional free beer. Those fans also came back to players who looked a little out of it, perhaps as if they hadn’t used the lockout to hone their skills and be ready in case the season were to start all of a sudden.
While it is nice that hockey’s back, for some it was at times painful to watch. Some of the players’ lackluster performance can easily be attributed to a weeklong training camp where, at the end of it, the players hadn’t played any exhibition games.
In any case it was nice to have a Saturday out with some friends, enjoying a few beers watching our favourite team play.
The NHL on NBC was welcomed back with record ratings over the weekend. NBC announced it registering a 2.0, it’s best overnight rating for a non-Winter Classic hockey game in over a decade.
And that’s not all. All 13 opening day games were sellouts in arenas around the league. Anyone who may be boycotting hockey this season was forgotten about quickly, apparently.
There is good reason for the fan interest. This is a 48-game season where each game will have a playoff like intensity about it. It’s a full on sprint to the postseason this year; teams will need to hit the ground running if they want to have a chance at the playoffs.
One of those teams determined to make the playoffs is the young and exciting Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers, for the third straight season, had the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft, a pick they used to get Sarnia Sting star Nail Yakupov.
They were also able to land coveted free agent rookie defenseman Justin Schultz. While Yakupov played in his native Russia in the KHL during the lockout, Schultz, along with his new Oiler teammates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle, lit up the American Hockey League for the Oklahoma City Barons.
Do these young and exciting Oilers have a chance to make the playoffs this year? Absolutely. They certainly have the firepower to make teams think twice about having an easy game against them this season, but the questions about the team will revolve around their defense and goaltending.
If the Oilers can catch fire early and take advantage of other teams slow starts, they could possibly see the post season for the first time since 2005–06.
Edmonton isn’t alone in their quest for the postseason, that’s for sure. In a short season the expectations are at an all time high. Players can’t afford to take nights off. It’s going to be put up, or shut up in this 48-game sprint.
I for one can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Mitch Dyck is a freelance writer from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, who has been covering the Canucks for the last year. Follow him on Twitter @Mitchemdee
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