Reports are beginning to surface from different NHL analysts that the NHL and NHLPA are starting to gain some “traction” and that a deal could be agreed upon within the next 24 hours. While I do not want to jump the gun in any way here, this is some encouraging news and has gotten me thinking about a possible NHL season.
I heard the other day on ESPN that if a deal is made and agreed upon within the next week that a 40-game NHL season would begin on January 19. If a deal is made sometime in the next 24 hours like some sources are reporting, that would give players and coaching staffs about 13 days to prepare and get ready for the season. Keep in mind that a number of players are currently playing in Europe, and there are still some free agents on the market who did not sign on with a team prior to the lockout. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that all teams will be a bit rusty if a season does being on the 19th.
Heading into the lockout, the Blackhawks had not made any significant moves in the off-season to upgrade their roster. They needed/need to be stronger on defense, they need a more reliable goaltender, and they absolutely need an actual number two center. Before the lockout, they signed defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rosival in an attempt to add depth on their blue line. However, those were the only moves that they made. If the season were to begin on January 19th, we would be looking at mostly the same roster from last season.
The Hawks finished the 2011-2012 season with 101 points and 6th in the Western Conference. They were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by a more physical Coyotes team who also had a dominant goalie. While 101 points is by no means bad, this is a Blackhawks team who underachieved for most of last season and in the playoffs. They have the offensive firepower to contend in the West, but their physicality and goaltending are what will hurt them this year just as was the case in last year’s playoffs. Shane Doan, the most notable free agent who did not sign with anyone before the lockout, is the exact player that the Blackawks need. I talked about him a couple of times over the summer, but I will say it again. He is a big physical presence on the ice and is a great leader in the locker room. Last year, he recorded more hits than anyone on the Blackahwks, and he did this as a forward. He has also been the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes for a number of years now. Both of those attributes would provide a huge boost the the Hawks’ roster. Unfortunately, it sounded like he was leaning toward either resigning in Phoenix, or signing in Vancouver before this lockout began. If and when the lockout ends, I don’t anticipate any change in heart by Doan to sign elsewhere.
From the sounds of it, this may be the closest that the NHL and NHLPA have come to agreeing on a new CBA. If a deal is done and done soon, look for a number of teams to make quick transactions in an attempt to bolster their rosters. At the same time, it is entirely possible for some free agents to stay on the market for a week or two into the season before they get signed. Either way, if a season is played (whenever that may be), it will be extremely interesting to see how each team approaches the quick transition from off-season to season. For now, however, all we can do is hope that a deal is made soon.