The NHL and NHLPA have not made much headway in their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, which has the hockey world anticipating a lockout. Some pundits believe a work stoppage could delay the start of the 2012-13 campaign, but not many pessimists predict a year-long cancellation. Still, in the event of a lockout, players would be forced to scramble for places to lace up their skates, with heading overseas as a popular option. Let's examine some teams that could be hindered or helped by a shortened season should it come to pass.
Detroit Red Wings
Many Red Wing fans have been lamenting about their aging hockey team. They did get younger with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, but their core offensive group still consists of 31-year-old Henrik Zetterberg, 34-year-old Pavel Datsyuk and 32-year-old Johan Franzen. Zetterberg got off to a slow start last season with only 13 points in 23 games over the first two months and Datsyuk dropped below the 20-goal mark for the first time in eight seasons. They both need to be better this campaign, especially since the team is much thinner on the blueline with Lidstrom gone and Brad Stuart in San Jose. Franzen goes on hot and cold streaks with regularity, so it could be anyone's guess what he generates under a shorter season but the way he fizzled out at the end of the last season, in addition to his disappointing performance in the playoffs, doesn't inspire much confidence. Detroit has lofty expectations for blueline prospect Brendan Smith, who could start the year with the AHL’s Grand Rapids if there's a lockout. The defense corps of the Red Wings needs to come together quickly and overcome some big losses, so the gelling process would be spoiled by a shorter schedule. Question marks on defense and uncharacteristic concerns about offense will probably result in the Wings dropping some spots in the Western Conference and a work stoppage would probably not do them any favors.
On the other side of the coin, the Oilers are viewed as a team on the rise following three consecutive years of picking first overall at the NHL Entry Draft. They are fueled by young and talented forwards like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This past June’s top-pick Nail Yakupov is also expected to enter into the mix and turn pro this season. His plan to play in the KHL and not to return to the junior rank if there's a lockout displays his commitment to improve and to play with men, which is a great sign for the Oilers, but they would probably rest easier if a return to Russia wasn't on his radar. Edmonton played well out of the gate in 2011-12, with nine wins in their opening 14 contests before experiencing some growing pains as the year progressed. Losing Nugent-Hopkins and Hall to injury for extended stretches didn't help matters, but another year of preparation and training should help him try to stay healthier. Hall should use any available extra time to make sure his surgically repaired shoulder is 100 percent, which will make him better in the long run. The Oilers will also have the option of allowing players like Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen and even prized free agent signing Justin Schultz some time to further hone their skills in the minors. Some playing time in the AHL could benefit a player like Schultz because the transition from college to pro hockey isn't always an easy one and it could help him get his bearings without feeling the pressure of an NHL spotlight. A shortened year provides the Oilers with some advantages, but it doesn't guarantee them a spot in the postseason.
New York Rangers
The excitement of the Rangers getting Rick Nash from Columbus to add more fire power to the team's top-six group was lessened with the recollection that Marian Gaborik could be sidelined until late November because of off-season shoulder surgery. However, if the start of the year is delayed by a lockout then the Blueshirts could begin with Gaborik on the active player list. Unfortunately, it isn't clear when defenseman Michael Sauer will be cleared to resume playing after he sustained a concussion in early December against Toronto. New York could also send top prospect Chris Kreider down to the AHL after he impressed everyone during the team's playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The 21-year-old is ready for NHL play but he wouldn't be the first player to benefit from some time in the minors. Mike Richards starred for the Phantoms during the Calder Cup playoffs in 2004-05 during the last lockout, while Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Dustin Brown and Thomas Vanek also excelled at the AHL level before becoming successes in the big league. The Rangers are projected to repeat as Eastern Conference champions and a more confident Kreider, in addition to a healthy Gaborik , will help their chances in the event of a shorter lockout.
Another off-season surgery for Ryan Kesler has the Canucks worried about their depth at center. He underwent procedures on his shoulder and wrist at the end of the playoffs and isn't projected to be available until December. An extended lockout could give him an opportunity to miss few to no games, which would certainly be helpful to Vancouver because they wouldn't be forced to promote a player like prospect Jordan Schroeder too soon or use existing roster players like Manny Malhotra or Maxim Lapierre as band-aid solutions. There could even be a silver lining to Roberto Luongo's eventual trade if after a new CBA is in place a salary roll back has been agreed to which could lessen the hit of his 10-year contract. Of course a change to the league's economic structure could also hurt the trade market for big contract players and the longer the lockout takes to resolve, the longer Luongo could wait in limbo, which could make for an uncomfortable distraction at the start of the year if he has to share the crease as Cory Schneider's understudy or 1B option. In the end, a healthier Kesler is more important to the team then a possibly bitter Luongo, so Vancouver would be better served by a slight delay to the 2012-13 schedule.
The Flames appear destined to be a bubble team again this year because they are too good to finish at the bottom but not quite good enough to get themselves into playoffs. The team had a sluggish start to the season and they played poorly down the stretch as well, but they decided against a full rebuild this off-season. They brought in some new faces like Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman and Roman Cervenka, but they need time to adjust to their surroundings and a work stoppage would hurt that team building process. Not getting a full training camp with their new teammates probably won't get them off to strong start either. Speaking of poor starts, Jarome Iginla is a notoriously slow starter and his totals could take a hit in a shortened year. The Flames need their captain to be at his best if they hope to end their postseason drought because over reliance on soon-to-be 36-year-old goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff may not be the safest strategy. Calgary might benefit slightly from a lockout as it may give gifted prospect Sven Baertschi some additional time to develop, but cohesion factors and slow starters could hinder their chances of getting into the playoffs.
Dallas brought in veteran wingers Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney to complement their top-six forward group this summer. Under normal circumstances, those additions would probably produce favorable outcomes, especially on the Stars' power play, but in a compressed schedule it may be hard for their 40-year-old bodies to keep up and avoid the wear and tear of playing often, without the luxury of many rest days. The team's other big off-season acquisition, Derek Roy, underwent shoulder surgery and he isn't projected to be ready until November, so getting him back before any games are played would be a blessing. Without him the Stars would have to promote an unproven commodity like Cody Eakin or give the spot to third-liner Vernon Fiddler. Dallas has a great deal to lose in a shorter season in what could be a rebound year for their organization if their newest add-ons can remain out of the infirmary.