It was a year ago yesterday that the NHL re-opened their doors after a lengthy lockout ate up a half season that was on the brink of not happening at all.
For months, owners, player representatives, Gary Bettman and Don Fehr took to podiums in various New York and Toronto hotels to make their latest round of demands known.
"There has been little to no progress in our latest round of negotiations", seemed to be the common refrain. As the calendar slipped from December to January, Bettman and Fehr became more disgruntled and more dishevelled in their pressers. It was clear the toll this lockout was taking on them. Be it an all-nighter of negations or weekends filled with scheduled meetings, the labour dispute carried on with a frenetic pace.
Finally, the morning of January 6, 2013 around 5:00 EST, after a sixteen (!) hour negotiation process, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was achieved. NHL hockey was on the threshold of making it's return.
"We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper", said Commissioner Bettman on the new deal.
Fans went rabid over the news.
The Winnipeg Jets kicked off their 48-game season January 19, 2013 with a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. From there, they would ride out a 24-21-3 record that left them four points short of winning their first Southeast Division title since moving from Atlanta.
Fast forward one year and the 2012-13 NHL lockout is but an afterthought now. Gone are buzz words the likes of revenue sharing, cost certainty, cap compliance and the ever dreaded HRR. The Jets, for their part have been mired in what has been a losing season, burning through the tenure of former head coach Claude Noel and replacing him with Paul Maurice in the process. The team sits in the basement of the NHL's restructured Western Conference along with their western neighbours the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.
This fan base has spent much of the year complaining about the direction of this team, the play of it's talent or the player utilization by the previous coaching regime. But as we embark on the one year anniversary of the NHL lockout, it's important to remember that regardless the frustration we have felt due to subpar efforts, at the very least, we are still being treated to the sport many of us call our favourite pastime.
Gone is the legal jargon. Gone are the press conferences of he-said-she-said accusations. They have been replaced by a pair of skates, a well taped stick and the rumbling of a raucous crowd. Art and poetry in their purest form.
While the Jets have been downright unwatchable for portions of their first year in the Western Conference, it still beats the alternative of no hockey at all.
And with that, let's get into this week's Love Hate.
Three things I love this week:
Advanced Stats: Granted it's early and the Jets are coming off games against the aforementioned Oilers, Flames and Phoenix Coyotes, but the Corsi numbers have been miles better under Paul Maurice than they had with Claude Noel. Though I currently don't have the stats to back it up, it feels as though their zone entries entail more puck control than dump-and-chase. While being in the sixtieth percentile won't be sustainable for the long run, it's encouraging to see what a change behind the bench has done thus far.
Rookie Showcase: Man, what's not to love about the play of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba lately? Scheifele's seven points (3G, 4A) in the last six games have him sitting fourth in rookie scoring as he continues to make a push in the Calder Trophy race. Trouba, for his part almost singlehandedly defeated the Oilers on Saturday with two goals, including the overtime winner. His seven tallies on the year rank him only behind Torey Krug in goals by a defenceman. While it's highly unlikely that both players can be Calder finalists -- and there's a good chance neither could be if they cannibalize each other in the vote -- it's relieving to see that the plan of developing talent internally seems to be working quite well.
Big Buff: We can argue whether he is best suited to play forward or defence but there is no denying that Dustin Byfuglien looks reinvigorated under Paul Maurice. Byfuglien is playing some of his best hockey right now and has been physically dominant on the rush. He's certainly been a treat to watch.
Three things I hate this week:
Tough competition: What's the best way to break a three game winning streak in the NHL these days? Why, a trip to California to face the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks of course. Both Anaheim and San Jose are among the Western Conference's elite this year ranking first and second in the Pacific Division respectively. Moreover, they are a combined 36-2-5 on home ice (Anaheim hasn't lost in regulation at home yet). Both teams have faired well against Central Division opponents so this will be a great litmus test to gauge just how far the Jets have come. To top it off, they finish their weekend with back-to-backs against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks. Talk about treacherous.
Oh captain, my captain: Dial the clocks all the way back to December 29, 2013 if you were wondering the last time that Andrew Ladd has scored a goal. Through that nine game stretch since last scoring, he has amassed only a paltry four assists. If we were talking Dustin Byfuglien or Evander Kane here, this would be big trouble. But the effervescent undoubtedly gets a pass. He averages 0.4 goals per game against his next four scheduled opponents, so here's hoping he can turn the light switch on in a big way.
Richard Sherman hate: Ice up, son. U MAD.