By Tommy Keeler Jr.
For me, there's plenty to be excited about this time of the year.
The NFL playoffs are winding down. Duke has the only undefeated men's and women's basketball teams in the country. The NBA season is in full swing. The Australian Open starts next week. Not to mention that my favorite show "Pretty Little Liars" is back for another exciting, mysterious season, and my favorite soap opera "One Life To Live" is back from the dead and set to return online soon.
Lost in all the excitement is the return of the NHL. I can say that I am not excited that the NHL is back, and quite frankly I didn't miss it. However, that doesn't mean I'm not glad it's back.
I think this season will be a perfect one for the NHL. They are probably only going to play 48 games, which to me is the way it should be.
I don't dislike hockey, I just don't pay attention or care about it until the playoffs. That's the only time any sports really matter, but with most sports I still find myself watching the regular-season action, at least a little bit. Part of the problem with hockey is that it doesn't seem to matter what happens in the regular season.
Everybody has a chance to win it all, whether they're a top seed or an No. 8 seed. All in all, I think that's a good thing, but it also doesn't make me want to watch the regular season. All that matters is getting into the playoffs, and then if you have a hot goaltender you can win it all.
There are many that are wondering if the recent lockout will hurt the sport, but I don't think it will. It's certainly not going to help it, but it's not like the sport was that popular to begin with.
Last year was a pretty good one for the NHL, with the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup. It never hurts having a champion from a big city market like L.A. The Kings are my second-favorite team behind the Philadelphia Flyers so I was happy, but to be honest, I barely watched the Stanley Cup finals. Some are worried that L.A. fans who became interested last year will turn away -- but let's be honest, who are they going to watch? Most people in Hollywood don't claim the L.A. Clippers, and the L.A. Lakers might as well not have a team this season.
I think it could be a very interesting year for the NHL. The short season makes every game that much more important. Every injury becomes that much bigger.
If a team can start out fast, that would go a long ways towards making the playoffs. Of course, if a team starts off slow they could be doomed. At least it changes things up a bit, and gives the casual fan another reason to watch.
It could be a good year for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have been known for getting off to great starts and then fizzling out in the playoffs. Maybe this year with a shortened season they will hit their stride at the perfect time and make a real run at a title.
After the disappointing playoff appearances the Nationals and Redskins made, D.C. fans could use something to cheer about.
Alexander Ovechkin has been playing hockey in Russia ... sadly, I only know this because I am a fan of his fiancee, tennis player Maria Kirilenko (yes, another Russian tennis player named Maria). Like Ovechkin, many of the players have been playing in other leagues or in some cases working out together. I would expect many of the players to come back in decent shape, and so I don't think the quality of play will be much different from what it usually is.
When you think about it, maybe the NHL and other sports should consider doing this all the time. If the NBA, NHL and especially the way too-long MLB considered shortening their seasons to around 50 games or so, I think it would be much more entertaining. Of course, that will never happen since the owners only care about making more and more money.
I think it would be great to see reduced seasons and see how teams would handle it. The Miami Heat did just fine with it last year, and can anybody really say they didn't deserve to win the title? It would certainly help my aging New York Yankees, and a shortened season would have helped the Washington Nationals with the debate around Stephen Strasburg.
There's part of me that's happy to see the NHL back, but at the same time I'm not sure how much I'll watch until they get into the playoffs. That's when it's all or nothing, and like with most sports the finality of it all is what makes it so much fun to watch.
That's when I'll finally get excited about the NHL being back.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org