James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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13 Stories to follow in '13

Monday, January 14, 2013

Well, that miserable, multi-month nightmare is finally over. The lockout was dim-witted and dismal (and many other negative adjectives, some that don’t even start with “D”) but it’s over now.

There’s nothing wrong with carrying over some uncomfortable feelings. Personally, boycotting hockey was never really an option because I’m hopelessly addicted. Overall, though, the big question is: why spite yourself just to attempt to spite others? If you love the game, just love it.

One healthy way to do that is to jump right back into fantasy hockey. In case you’re rusty, you can sign up for a new league with Yahoo! by clicking here and prepare for draft(s) with the Rotoworld guide at this location.

Everyone might not love the NHL right now, but everyone loves lists - especially thematic ones. To kick off the 2012-13 season, I thought I’d run through 13 fantasy-friendly stories that have me amped up for the brisk campaign.

1. The Roberto Luongo saga

Roll your eyes all you want, but this is driving media attention for reasons that go beyond Toronto’s and Vancouver’s media presence: Luongo has been one of the most dependable presences in the sport’s most important (and often volatile) position.

My gut says that he’s easily a top-15 netminder if he’s at least given No. 1 reps, even if he lands in a goalie-forsaken pit like Columbus. In the right situation, he might even top Cory Schneider, although it’s tough to overcome the cushy benefits of Vancouver.

2. Oilers spill over

After the last lockout, the Buffalo Sabres went from dregs to delights. The Edmonton Oilers won’t sneak out of left field like Buffalo did - the Sabres didn’t get three consecutive No. 1 picks, after all - but they’re a sexy redemptive pick.

There are obvious reasons for success (yes, you should pick Justin Schultz if he falls in the right place), but one goofy possibility for a rise is Nikolai Khabibulin. His age is undoubtedly a strong counterargument, but don’t forget that “The Bulin Wall” won a Stanley Cup and stole Chicago’s No.1 gig in his last two contract years.

3. Kings’ Quick defense

It almost seems unfair to judge the Los Angeles Kings’ title defense on an abbreviated schedule, but that’s what we’ll be forced to do. The depth and talent retention argue in favor of at least a strong playoff run, but questions linger.

Personally, I’m a little concerned that Jonathan Quick’s surgery rehab isn’t coming together as quickly as expected. Could he be a victim of the American goalie post-breakout curse like Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller have been before?*

4. Sid’s bid

So, will the extended lockout benefit Sidney Crosby’s health enough to outweigh the condensed schedule? The Pittsburgh Penguins star was downright explosive during his 2011-12 cameos, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can stay healthy and productive after two concussion-marred seasons.

Either way, I’d say pick Evgeni Malkin first - especially in Yahoo leagues where he’s C/RW eligible - but that’s just me.

5. Youth explosion?

The Oilers will come into the season with all the newness hype, but despite Nail Yakupov (and Schultz) bidding for the Calder, they’re far from the only team with intriguing potential prospects. It will be tough to top Crosby and Alex Ovechkin rocking the hockey world in their Year 1’s, but perhaps the sheer quantity will get the job done?

Either way, let’s hope Jonathan Huberdeau, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Strome, Yakupov, Dougie Hamilton and a myriad of other potential future stars get a real chance to make an impact this season.

6. Old fogies

Then again, saying “Goodbye” might just be more important than those introductions. It’s quite possible we’ll see the last of Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr, among others. Let’s all be grateful that we got that chance to see two genuine icons one more time. (And yes, they’re probably both worth drafting depending upon when you’re itching to pull the trigger.)

7. Wild changes

The lockout robbed the big, paradigm-shifting moves from carrying headline-grabbing attention into the season, but the bottom line is that it should still be fascinating to watch how Zach Parise and Ryan Suter fit in with the Minnesota Wild - among other transactions. Not having any preseason games won’t help them “gel,” however.

8. Contract (half) years

A lot of money could be made (or lost) in this abbreviated season. Assuming they don’t sign contract extensions, a lot can happen - including potential trades - for the likes of Jarome Iginla, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and perhaps Tim Thomas (stay away) if he decides to leave his weirdo bunker. Honestly, I consider a contract year a powerful tie-breaker between two comparable pick candidates. It’s human nature to work harder when the most money’s on the line, after all.

9. Restricted free agent sagas

This, admittedly, might be more of a preseason storyline for some players. Still, it’s quite intriguing that P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn are on the short list of RFAs without contracts. Could we see some Philadelphia signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet-type drama in the next week or so? Will they hold out during the season? These are fascinating possibilities that could be terrifying if you root for their teams.

10. Injuries

More games in less time naturally increase the possibility of bumps and bruises, both big and small. One cannot help but assume that groin injuries will be on the rise, so beware of guys who regularly end up on the mend.

11. Fatties

Speaking of the downside of the layoff, the crass (but fantasy-relevant) question is: who will be woefully out of shape? Will someone (*cough* Dustin Byfuglien *cough cough*) show up totally unprepared for training camp like Keith Tkachuk (Tkachunk?) did after the last lockout?

Beyond being a ready-made punchline, it’s a legitimate concern for players who weren’t staying busy with overseas games. (For the record, I still expect big things - literally and figuratively - from Byfuglien.)

12. Officiating

Most people don’t want to admit this, but the 2012 playoffs showed that refs were continuing to slip into Dead Puck Era whistle-shyness. Now, it wasn’t height-of-the-trap era bad, yet it was disconcerting nonetheless.

Will this abbreviated season show a heightened willingness to, you know, actually call penalties? If so, we might see more big-time seasons than last year. No one’s hitting 100 points, but stricter obstruction calls could mean more equivalents to 100 point-seasons than 2011-12, where only Evgeni Malkin (109) cracked the century mark.

(In case you’re wondering, 58-59 points in 48 games and 61 points in 50 games would be the equivalent to a 100-point output in 82 games.)

13. Chaos?

Overall, a significantly shorter season means more opportunities for wacky things to happen. Let’s not forget that the Wild spent a notable amount of time around the top of the league last season before coming down to Earth (and delighting mischievous stat-heads in the process).

Who might benefit from putting together a hot run or two? Could the Toronto Maple Leafs finally break their curse post-Brian Burke (possibly with Luongo in tow)? Will the Detroit Red Wings fall apart with less time to adjust to life without Nicklas Lidstrom? Might a few elite teams miss the playoffs because of a slow start? Shall there be another Eric Staal-type quantum leap for a talented-but-once-limited player?

There are a million possibilities attached to the nearly limitless set of possibilities ahead. It almost makes you feel a little more willing to look over that arduous, wholly unnecessary work stoppage, doesn’t it?


* - OK, I made this theory up, but it’s interesting to ponder how much they struggled after career years.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien

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