The NHL Lockout Is Over - Now What?

And we're back.

That wasn't so bad, was it? It is not like being without an NHL game in the self-proclaimed "State of Hockey" for 9 months had its benefits. There were the dreams of the day Minnesota picked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the nightmare of Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin getting injured in the same game. Getting to know nature. There was even plenty of hockey around between college, HS, AHL and showcase tournaments that I feel like I've gotten my fix.

Hell, you could have both conceived AND had a baby in that time.

But we're back to the NHL like we, the so called "greatest fans in the world" said we would be. While NHLers spent 113 days out gooning for Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin (or at least seeing Donald Fehr be right in D2: The Mighty Ducks), the league and the NHLPA hammered out a CBA agreement that should be ratified later this week. There are plenty of ramifications, which we'll take a look at after the break....
Hockey Day Minnesota will feature a new opponent

The good news for Minnesota Wild fans is that opening night is expected to be January 19th, aka Hockey Day Minnesota. That's a great happy accident. Having the first Wild game in 9 months is an event of its own but what better way to open the season than following a day of outdoor hockey games in Grand Rapids and the last WCHA regular season game between Minnesota and North Dakota?

Unfortunately, it won't be against Pittsburgh.

With a condensed 48 game schedule the Wild won't be playing any Eastern Conference opponents. Sorry people looking forward to seeing Pittsburgh, Montreal, Toronto, New York Rangers, Winnipeg or a scorned New Jersey team. In addition the NHL is looking to open the season with rivalry games, meaning Minnesota will be playing some sort of rival when the schedule gets announced. Or a straggler since let's be honest, the Wild have no rivals in the Northwest Division.

Regardless, the fact NHL hockey is back in Minnesota (again) should be enough to keep it above Gophers-Fighting Sioux in the main event pecking order. But what a co-main....

The schedule is still TBD

But will be released soon. When that happens...

..Be prepared for a lot of late games

With all games being in conference, the majority of games are also inside the division. For Minnesota this means you better start getting to used to those 8:30 and 9:00 pm division starts that come with having a division which stretches from the banks of the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. On a team level, this remains the biggest issue facing the Wild and unfortunately realignment isn't happening for 2013.

Anthony LaPanta gets to make his Wild VOX debut

It can't be as bad as everyone thinks. If all else fails, we'll bring back FSN Bingo - I missed that most of all while spending the Lockout doing other things.

So do Zach Parise and Ryan Suter...and Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka

Remember how excited everyone was when both Parise and Suter signed matching 13 year, $98 million contracts (which for the record can't happen anymore under the new CBA)? Even those like me who thought there was no f***ing way in the world it would happen? Crow eaters and hopeful idealists alike get to witness the beginning of a long, beautiful stint* in St. Paul.

At the same time, it's easy to forget a few other moves Minnesota made over the summer. The team brought in Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to bolster up the middle, signed center Jake Dowell to a two-year contract for insurance purposes and brought in defenseman Brian Connelly from Calgary on a two-way contract. We'll get more into these later but regardless it's a new-look team.

*Because Minnesotans never boo hometown stars on large long-term contracts.

Finnish Baby Jesus (aka Mikael Granlund) will also make his Wild Debut...

Since this has been the one sure thing keeping fans sane during lean times - honestly, there's something insane about the two-year long "Zach Parise will sign here because he's a Minnesotan" quest we went through - finally seeing it come to fruition will make that time worth it. We've seen #64 in prospect development camp and in the AHL, but there's no substitute for FBJ in Iron Range Red.

...Jonas Brodin might too but remains injured

The 2011 first round pick has missed two months with a broken clavicle and expects to miss 3-4 more weeks. Although he may make his debut this season, it won't come right away

Other injured Wild players are Marco Scandella and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (never cleared for contact despite skating).

Becoming Wild comes back!

That episode about Dany Heatley on a boat? It's happening! Also maybe this means I'll get the Cal Clutterbuck signed puck I never received from the Wild.

And it's Dany "F***ing All-Star" Heatley on a boat!

Bars and restaurants around the Xcel Energy Center get much needed customers

As disappointing as it is to be without a NHL team or things to write about during the Lockout, fans have no gripes compared to local bars and restaurants. Sure, there are plenty of things the league should (and probably won't) do to help sooth things over after spending four months telling them that they mean nothing other than painting words on the ice. But the big losers of this recent lockout have been the Tom Reid's, the Eagle Street Grille - places who depend on 41 home games a year to boost sales.

Now that the NHL is back, I hope the local bars and restaurants are shown their own appreciation.

Photo Credit: Tony Da Costa, Minnesota Wild trainer (@styleswild)

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