It's game on for the NHL and there are plenty of questions surrounding the Jets. Though one thing is for sure, fans of the game will flock back as though nothing happened.
You know what's going to happen.
At some point later today or tomorrow (perhaps both), Gary Bettman will stand behind a bank of microphones, his head will begin bobbing up and down like a cork in water, and he will tell us that the NHL has "the greatest fans in the world."
He'll even sound sincere. Genuine. But you'll know he's lying because we've been through this far too often.
If anything was confirmed during the Great NHL Hissy Fit of 2012-13, it's that the commish, the owners and, yes, the players don't give a damn about the fans. They take the fans for granted. For fools, actually. Otherwise they wouldn't have wasted close to five months calling each other names instead of putting nose to grindstone, increasing efforts to return their product on the frozen ponds of North America.
Owners care about owners. Players care about players. First and foremost.
And you the fan? They gave you the finger. For four months.
So pay no attention when they begin bleating about "the great fans" of "the greatest game in the world" now that labor bliss has visited the NHL and the NHLPA. It's lip service. Nothing more, nothing less.
I don't want to hear about winners and losers, either. When Bettman put the padlock on NHL rinks on Sept. 15, the owners were billionaires. The players were millionaires. Well, regardless what they tell us they've surrendered and lost during a work stoppage that droned on for 113 days, the owners remain billionaires today and the players remain millionaires.
Both sides have lost in the court of public opinion, of course, but customer angst and anger will have disappeared by the time the puck is dropped later this month. Especially in Canada.
You think the Little Hockey House on the Prairie won't be bursting at the seams the first time the Winnipeg Jets surface? Guaranteed there will be 15,004 butts on board. And Dancing Gabe in the aisles.
In short, it will be business as usual.
So, I'm not interested in the winners and losers, the heroes and villains of the lockout and what hill Bill Daly died on. I'd prefer to move directly past the past and deal with the now, which is to say the Jets and the 2013 season.
And here's who and what I'm thinking about:
* Dustin Byfuglien. What kind of condition is this guy in? In one of our last check-ins, he looked as large the Green Bay Packers offensive line. Then, weeks later, a much trimmer Byfuglien hit the internet. What has Big Buff been doing during the 113 days of the lockout? I would submit that Byfuglien's conditioning is the great unknown heading into a mini-camp and a Coles Notes version of an NHL season, because this thing is going to be a sprint. He'll have to hit the ground running, not just hit the ground with a thud.
* Mark Scheifele. Watching him during the World Junior Hockey Championship, I couldn't help but wonder if I was looking at an NHL-ready player. He's certainly skilled. Although playing out of position on Canada's top forward unit, Scheifele was a significant contributor and not shy about engaging in physical combat. He played with an edge. My concern, however, is that he's knocked off his pins too often. As much as I'd like to see the Scheifele Shuffle introduced to the Jets roster, I'm not convinced he's physically ready for the NHL. Still, I'd like to see him in the lineup when they drop the puck. For one thing, he's in game shape.
* Mark Chipman. Does the Jets' bankroll still walk on water in River City? Keep in mind that Chipman was part of an NHL ownership group who unanimously voted to lock out the players, and he was part of a cozy ownership group that became involved in direct negotiations with the players and attempted to hoodwink them into agreeing to a deal without their rep, Donald Fehr, in the room. I don't know about you, but that little bit of hocus-pocus struck me as being beneath Chipman.
* Ondrej Pavelec. Will his DUI conviction in the Czech Republic come back to bite him in the butt? Pavelec kept his drunk-driving rap on the QT while his agent negotiated a deal that will pay him $19.5 million, and that's extremely bad form. You have to know that Jets ownership/management is royally p-ohed that their pricey goaltender kept his nasty business hush-hush, but how angry are they?
* Ron Hainsey. Is he going to be viewed as the Big Bad Wolf of the NHL lockout? The Jets defenceman was both visible and vocal during the lockout and fans in the anti-player camp might be inclined to give him a rude ride. What happens when he turns the puck over in his own zone for the first time? It could be ugly.
* Claude Noel. At the close of business last spring, the head coach said, "The bar has got to go up and we have to raise it. I was real patient this year, which was real good for me and I think it was good for the team. I'll be less patient next year." Did he mean it? Is it really no more Mr. Nice Guy?
* Evander Kane. Will people just let the kid play hockey, or will he continue to be dogged by rumour, falsehoods, innuendo and gossip?
* Jacob Trouba. Though unlikely to make the Jets' roster this season, does anyone still think the Jets made a poor decision when they plucked the Michigan defenceman with their first pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft? Didn't think so. He's going to be a monster player for many, many years.
* Zach Bogosian. The Jets' best defenceman is recovering from wrist surgery and might not be ready when they drop the puck on either Jan. 15 or 19. Recovery from his surgery is anywhere from four to six months. Mid-January puts Bogo four months removed from the scalpel, which means he could still be as much as two months away. This would be a crippling blow to the Jets in a sprint of a season.
* Olli Jokinen. What does he have left? I'm guessing there's plenty of juice in his 34-year-old tank and he'll deliver quality work.
*The fans. Will they forgive and forget? In Winnipeg they will. Guaranteed