Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
My friend Ben has always been a dreamer.
The other day he shared his most recent aspiration with me over the phone:
"I want Sidney Crosby to play in our pond hockey league."
Sure it sounded a tad unrealistic but I figured I'd let Ben say his piece before I jumped to any conclusions.
He actually brought up a few good points. The NHL labor situation was still unresolved and unlike some of his fellow NHLers, Crosby was on the fence about playing in Europe. So why not play in Norfolk, Connecticut?
I mean crazier things have happened, right? Plenty of NBA stars played with civilians during their lockout last season. Metta World Peace organized pickup games on Twitter. Michael Beasley brought his game to Dyckman Park in New York. Kevin Durant even suited up for Sigma Nu fraternity in an intramural flag football game at Oklahoma State (Elias never confirmed it but at 6- foot-9, Durant has to be one of the tallest quarterbacks in Sigma Nu history).
Over the years, I haven't always been on board with Ben's plans. But this idea fascinated me.
"Let's bring Crosby to Norfolk. I'm in," I said.
Sadly, we never got the chance. Possibly motivated by the threat of losing Crosby to the Norfolk Pond Hockey League, the NHL and the players finally came to an agreement to end the lockout on Sunday morning.
When all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted the new labor agreement will be a 10-year deal. Crosby's next chance to play pond hockey in Northern Connecticut might not come until 2023.
It's not all bad, though. Ben's beloved Hartford Whalers won't be in action this season but 30 other teams will be and if you ask me, that's pretty darn exciting.
In case you need a refresher, here are 10 (eh, forget 10, let's make it 12) things you should know about the upcoming NHL season:
1. Hockey is played on ice with two nets, a puck ... okay I'm kidding. If you really need me to elaborate you might have clicked on the wrong article. Moving on ...
2. The last lockout-shortened season in the NHL (before this season, obviously) happened back in 1995. The season began on January 20 and didn't end until the New Jersey Devils completed their four-game sweep of the Detroit Red Wings on June 24. Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers took home MVP honors that season.
3. Think the Los Angeles Kings will repeat as Stanley Cup champs? Think again. No team has won it twice in a row since the Red Wings in 1997-98. Sorry, Kings fans.
4. I don't know what the story is on Mars or Jupiter (I wonder if "ESPN Saturn" or "Fox Sports Pluto" will exist during my lifetime) but when it comes to this planet, Evgeni Malkin is the best player on it. Malkin led the NHL in scoring last season (109 points) en route to his first MVP award.
5. If Malkin is No. 1 in Earth's hockey power rankings, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is a close second (he didn't answer our calls when we recruited him for pond hockey). In 2011-12, Stamkos finished with 60 goals right on the button. He's the first player to do that since Alex Ovechkin scored 65 during the 2007-08 campaign. The 60 goals were also a Lightning team record.
6. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist gave up one goal to Stamkos in 2011-12 but he didn't let that blemish ruin his season. The former Olympic gold medalist finished with the fourth-lowest goals against average in hockey while producing a .930 save percentage (tied for third-best). Ultimately, Lundqvist was honored as hockey's best goaltender by winning his first Vezina Trophy at the end of the year. Lundqvist could very well win the award again in 2012-13. Just don't expect him to make a speech (he probably won't be allowed to after using a certain four-letter word during last year's awards ceremony).
7. Speaking of the Rangers, the Blue Shirts improved this offseason by acquiring longtime Columbus Blue Jackets wing Rick Nash in late July. Nash has been one of the most consistent scorers in hockey, tallying at least 30 goals in seven of his last nine seasons. The idea of Nash, Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards playing on the same line together is a pretty terrifying thought for opposing goaltenders.
8. And while we're on the subject of New York, the Islanders (currently located in the Long Island town of Uniondale) are heading to Brooklyn in 2015. Admittedly, this factoid has little fantasy significance but it could give the Islanders a chance to expand their fan base. Plus, who wouldn't want to see Jay- Z and Beyonce sitting front row in Islanders shirts with "Blueprint 3" blasting over the Barclays Center speakers?
9. Minnesota went on a wild spending spree over the summer (pun totally intended), forking over a combined $196 million to sign Zach Parise (69 points for the Devils in 2011-12) and Ryan Suter (46 points for Nashville last season) to a pair of 13-year contracts. The addition of Parise and Suter should help the Wild climb back into the playoff picture after a disappointing 12th place finish in 2011-12.
10. Apparently one Staal wasn't enough for the Hurricanes. After spending the last six seasons in Pittsburgh, Jordan Staal will finally get to play alongside his brother Eric in Carolina. He came over in a trade last June and quickly signed a 10-year extension. Last year the two Staals combined for 120 points in 144 games with their respective teams.
11. Pop quiz: Who has scored the most points in the NHL over the last three seasons? If you guessed Henrik Sedin, you won't win anything but you are correct. The Vancouver center has racked up 287 points since the start of the 2009-10 campaign. His teammate and twin brother Daniel has put up 256 points over the same span.
12. Goaltender Tim Thomas has been a rock for the Bruins in past years but he won't be on the ice in 2012-13. Thomas announced after last season that he's on an indefinite leave of absence. I don't know where Thomas is but I'm guessing it's not the White House (I'm sure that line resonated with Capitals fans).
Now that Crosby is gone, Ben and I have set our sights on a new goal: Winter Classic 2014.
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