Adams: Let the puck drop
Once dangling from the ledge of ruin, on the verge of losing a second full season of play within the last decade, NHL hockey is again poised to step to center stage tonight as the 2012-2013 season makes its debut.
Well, it goes without saying that 2012 has been sacrificed, the victim of a lockout that took the league and its players within inches of a different type of fiscal cliff. League Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association chief Donald Fehr wasted nearly half the season jockeying toward a new collective bargaining agreement in which neither side is the winner and both are losers.
As the contract with NBC drew dangerously close, they found a miraculous solution to salvage a 48-game campaign plus the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Although the big losers are the forgotten fans, hockey aficionados are an insanely loyal bunch. They are expected to return in droves tonight to get their fix. As if sobering from a long hangover, they will stagger into buildings across North America.
If the seven-day preparation of this last week is any indication, scorned fans have decided to give their sports love yet another chance. They turned out in droves for “training camp.” In San Jose, fans applauded each player as he took the ice. Players, with their fingers crossed, breathed a sigh of relief as their jilted fans seemed quick to forgive and forget. Time to make up and fall in love yet again.
Tomorrow night, the San Jose Sharks open in Calgary. By next Thursday, they will play their first home game. The campaign will consist of 48 games. It will face an unusual conclusion in late April. There will be a full playoffs tournament. Expect this season to end in late June. If fans are frustrated by going without the sport for a prolonged period, perhaps they can find consolation in the fact that it will be a short offseason.
As for San Jose, many have grown tired of predictions. They have the horses to have won dozens of Kentucky Derbies. Yet, getting to a satisfactory finish line has truly been one of Northern California’s most frustrating experience.
Joe Thornton will be back fresh off a stint in Switzerland, the home of his wife. He played against Logan Couture while in Europe. Most found themselves competing in one league or another. Most came to camp in tip-top shape. They are ready to roll.
They will face stiff competition. The Los Angeles Kings are coming off a definitive conquest of the Stanley Cup. Most teams have bolstered their personnel. The Pacific Division is especially tough.
There are question marks for San Jose. How will Antii Niemi return? Will Ryane Clowe stand out? Can Patrick Marleau lead like never before? Does Dan Boyle have what it takes to return to his form of several seasons ago? What role will newcomer Brad Stuart play in his second stint with the Sharks? Finally, how will this shortened season effect the run for the Cup?
Teams with high expectations should best come out strong. There will be little time for slumps. In a normal 82 game season, players will play 34 less games than normal. Not quite half the campaign, some will prosper and some will vanish.
Here’s the good news. Fans do not have to face this dysfunctional mess for at least another eight years. In fact, there is an option for 10 years unless either side cannot live with the agreement after eight. No bets here.
I know that Nevada County is not a hotbed for hockey. However, if you have ever witnessed a game, it is an incredible experience. Many know. With the Sacramento Kings packing their bags, football in its home stretch and baseball on the horizon, this is prime time for San Jose to hope its opposition will get devoured in Shark-infested waters.
At last the season has been salvaged. The puck drops tonight!
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at email@example.com.
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