Top 10 NHL Lockout Storylines for 2012-13 the Lockout Is Making Us Miss

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Professional hockey in North America finds itself at a stalemate right now, with the NHL and NHLPA entrenched in a lockout that will slowly threaten more and more of the 2012-13 season in the coming weeks and months.

Fans will remember—all too well— the 2004-05 lockout that cost the sport a whole season. The pessimists among us are fearful that a repeat of the lost season could be on the horizon.

We do not simply miss the highlight-reel goals and saves when we lose portions of the season. We miss out on the things we have anticipated for months, since the Stanley Cup found a new home in June.

Many stories were written throughout the 2011-12 season—some beginning long before that—and fans are deprived of the continuation of those stories.

The lockout leaves us with unanswered questions and unfinished business.

These are 10 major storylines that we looked forward to following in 2012-13, whose unfolding is in jeopardy as long as the business side of hockey takes precedence over the love of the game.

The Biggest Winter Classic Ever

Aside from the presentation of the Stanley Cup itself, no storyline will be more missed than the potential 2013 Winter Classic matchup and location.

For starters, while the Winter Classic has been a gimmick to draw the attention of the American media to hockey, an appearance from a Canadian team is long, long overdue. Those who gave us the game will finally be honored, as Canada’s most valuable franchise faces off with the inhabitants of Hockeytown, U.S.A.

But the real story is the size of the spectacle. The Big House in Michigan has a record crowd of 114,804 attendees. In a report on ESPN.com, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seemed ambitious about exceeding that number:

“Even with 115,000 or more tickets available, we still won’t have enough to satisfy the demand,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Of course, unless this lockout is a short one, Bettman can expect to not only fall short of that 115,000 person goal, but he very well could cost the sport hundreds of thousands of fans every single day.

Who Is Hockey’s Best Player?

Even with the rise of the KHL in Eastern Europe, North American hockey can still boast the best players in the world, as nearly all of the premier stars from Canada, the United States, Europe and beyond aim to play in the NHL.

And every season, fans argue and debate the best of the best.

Who will show they are hockey’s top player this year? Can Evgeni Malkin stand out with Sidney Crosby back in the lineup? Will Steven Stamkos’s offense produce results in the standings? Is there any combination more potent than the Sedin twins?

A lost season is a lost opportunity to discuss who truly sits at the top of the sport.

Canada’s Cup Quest

The Montreal Canadiens captured their 24th Stanley Cup in the late spring of 1993, further solidifying their well-established spot in the heralded halls of hockey and placing the Stanley Cup in the nation of its origin, Canada.

Since then, no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup, but every year there are competitors. The Flames, Oilers, Canucks and Senators have all made the Cup Final, with nothing to show for it.

Each season brings a new chance for the sport’s motherland to recapture her trophy. Without games to be played, Canada will remain the bridesmaid at its own wedding.

The Political Circus

The last time the NHL season began in the height of an election year, politicians grew opportunistic. Vice Presidential Candidate and self-proclaimed “hockey mom” Sarah Palin dropped the ceremonial first puck at a St. Louis Blues game, as well as a Philadelphia Flyers game.

In true Philly fashion, Palin walked out to a rain of boos, which probably had less to do with political alignment and more to do with the fact that politics have no place in hockey. With arenas closed as the home stretch of the 2012 election season begins, who knows what voting gimmicks hockey fans are missing out on?

I lament the fact that next month, we won’t get to witness Mitt Romney making a claim that 47 percent of the fans in the stands don’t pay their share of the tickets, nor will we get to see President Obama try to redistribute seating so that everyone sits the same distance from the ice.

Someone Will Surprise Us

It’s inevitable. Every year, one or two teams who should be in the rebuilding phase take a great leap forward, qualifying for the playoffs and sometimes going well beyond.

Last year, the Panthers were surprise Southeast Division winners in the Eastern Conference, and the Ottawa Senators shockingly finished second in the Northeast Divison, ahead of teams with higher expectations like the Leafs and Sabres.

With the lockout depriving us of hockey, we have no way of knowing which team is silently ready to catapult to a playoff spot.

Is Landeskog Ready to Be Captain?

The Colorado Avalanche are far from the glory days of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy, but the rebuilding process is well underway. The youth movement came to a head last month when Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest captain in NHL history.

Expectations won’t be astronomical for Landeskog’s Avalanche just yet, but any new captain is put to the test right away. Will he flourish like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, or will his team need to take back the “C” and let his leadership skills become polished the old-fashioned way, like Vincent Lecavalier?

The Crosby-Giroux Rivalry

Before being traded to Los Angeles, Mike Richards was well known for his personal dislike for Sidney Crosby. Now that the role of offensive leader has fallen to Claude Giroux, Philly’s rising star seems to have no qualms about picking up where Richards left off.

The two players engaged in more than one scrum during their six game matchup in the first round of the 2012 postseason, and Crosby famously commented that he doesn’t like the Flyers.

The lockout could reduce the number of times these two teams square off, and limit the potential for the Pennsylvania powder keg to completely explode. What a shame that would be.

Will Justin Schultz Be Worth the Hype?

Anytime a player refuses to play for the team that drafted him, he’d better be good. Like, Eric Lindros-good.

Schultz decided he was too good to play for the Anaheim Ducks, who selected him in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Or at least, he was too good to play for them under their contract terms.

Not that his $3.775 million cap hit is completely astronomical, but for a guy who went 43rd overall in 2008, he’s certainly made a big stink about his NHL career already.

Raffi Torres Vows to Change

Last season, we watched with anticipation to see how Matt Cooke would earn himself a suspension that could cost him his hockey career. Amazingly, Cooke was well-behaved all season long, apparently having turned over a new leaf.

This year, it’s Raffi Torres, who will be sitting on the bench for the first eight games of the season after this blatantly illegal hit on Marian Hossa.

Torres claimed he would clean up his act in this USA Today piece:

“I don’t think I can afford to go through something like that again,” (Torres) said. “I’ll just focus on my timing, being a little more smarter, and instead of launching myself just remember to keep my feet on the ice and kind of go through guys.”

John Tortorella’s Rants

John Tortorella has always been notoriously brash with the media. In the last season though, he seems like he’s simply trying to make a name for himself as an abrasive person.

Whether ignoring questions, giving sarcastic answers, or labeling Sidney Crosby as a “whining star” and implying that refs show favoritism to Pittsburgh’s top players, Tortorella knows how to simultaneously annoy anyone watching his interviews and yet get a little nod of respect for sounding like a passionate hockey fan in a bar.

If the lockout goes too long, the media should make it a point to follow Tortorella around and get his reaction when his steak is overcooked at a restaurant. That’s good TV.

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