Let the words ‘lock-out’ and ‘Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations’ never be uttered again.

News of a pending work stoppage for the National Hockey League in September was catastrophic, coming eight years after the previous period of such circumstances. Days quickly escalated into months, but we can be thankful that it did not require a full season to solve the dispute between the owners and the Players’ Association.

With the madness behind us and the National Hockey League’s return just days away, fans can relax and finally enjoy the action, soon. On Saturday, 26 clubs are slated to start their campaign, starting at 3:00 P.M. An observer will have the option of seeing the Philadelphia Flyers renew their rivalry with Pittsburgh, a promising all Canadian match-up between the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets or the Los Angeles Kings raising their Stanley Cup banner prior to hosting the Chicago Blackhawks—the choice is yours.

While some will be bemoaning a 48-game season, there are a few benefits to a campaign of this length for the rabid fan base and the players themselves.

Intensity Amplified

Early struggles and losing streaks will be back-breakers, as a single bad run has the potential to bury a club and their playoff hopes. Recovery time will be at an absolute minimum from these setbacks and everyone will look to be at their sharpest when the puck drops on days one and two. Those highly passionate contests we’re accustomed to seeing late in the year when teams are fighting for a postseason berth and in the postseason itself should be present straightaway because there is such a small margin for mishaps. It’s odd to think of it, but the playoffs aren’t too far away and the season is not underway even. Also, every player, from the ones who kept competing overseas or elsewhere to the individuals who sat idly by, will be aching to return to the ice for their respective organizations. Don’t presume that any match will be a boring affair low on tenacity.

Pain in the groin: Marian Gaborik's lower body is often uncooperative, but a reduced season should keep it intact. (Photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels/ Flickr)

Pain in the groin: Marian Gaborik’s lower body is often uncooperative, but a reduced season should keep it intact. (Photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels/ Flickr)

Injury Injustice

Marian Gaborik’s groin and Martin Havlat’s, well, body, should be pleased with the thought of a season nearly cut in half, although the latter is usually finding new and improved methods for a trip to the treatment table. He has come a long way since being demolished by Niklas Kronwall in 2009. For those whose bodies cannot handle a vigorous schedule, it will be helpful to suit up less and the playoffs will be improved through the same means because the likelihood of someone missing a series due to injurious matters is decreased. Truthfully, the heightened intensity of the matches will in all probability factor into the equation, as the checking will be more ferocious and the passions running high.

Toronto’s Playoff Drought May Conclude

Speaking strictly from the viewpoint of this organization, the players and management should be looking forward to what is ahead. As the sole club to have failed to garner a single playoff berth between 2006 and 2012, the Toronto Maple Leafs are desperate, not that their attendance would show it. Having begun strongly last year and stayed in the thick of things until an epic collapse stalled them in February, there will not be a fifth month to do so in 2013. If they scrape together a few early victories and hang on for four months again, postseason hockey can return to Toronto. If not, they are one year closer to a ten-year anniversary for their previous playoff showing and Jeremy Roenick’s dancing celebration which shut it down.

Conference Control

Defeat at the hands of a squad from a separate conference carried a minor note to take comfort in, which was that the points could not be used against you in a playoff race. Dropping any game will be extra problematic now because neither conference will venture outside of its parameters and the window of opportunity is tiny. As usual, postseason placements will come down to the wire and in lieu of these inner conference battles that shall be presented on a daily basis, every match will hold extra weight. Standings in both conferences are going to fluctuate more than Alexander Semin’s performances.

Surprise Packages

Expect the unexpected in 2013 for player production and team positioning, since all of the new invariables create unpredictability. Out of the current list of NHL players, most of them cannot say they’ve been involved in a half season, so how will it effect them? Will trophies be shockingly awarded to someone who caught fire quickly? What about playoff seeds? In 1995, also a year which saw a 48-game schedule, Alexei Zhamnov was the third-best producer and outpaced Wayne Gretzky. Certain prognostications are likely to unfold as they should, but the amount of twists in the tale will definitely underline the year.

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