For many NHL-less months, I was constantly reminded of a song from the 1963 English musical about World War I, "Oh, What A Lovely War."
The tune in question opened as follows: "When this lousy war is over, oh, how happy I will be." And that's precisely how I felt about the seemingly endless CBA Battle.
Amen! The hockey war is over and I -- along with millions of fans, media types and other onlookers -- am tickled pink. And that, I might add, is the understatement of the half-century.
All of us -- from our dedicated fans of MSG Network and those who jam The Garden every hockey night -- to everyone in the hockey world, especially in Islanders and Devils Country, it's time to have stickhandling fun once more.
ALL of us puck-followers can now chant: THANKS! THANKS! THANKS!
We're thankful that the 2013 season is saved.
We're thankful that the CBA agreement will keep us from any more migraines and now we can turn our attention to whether our favorite teams are en route -- hopefully -- to important things, such as winning a Stanley Cup.
We're thankful that recriminations can now be turned to full-scale rooting in the right directions.
You get the point; it's over and we're glad and now we have to figure what will develop in the blossoming immediate future. The following are some thoughts:
Many rooters were suitably unhappy about three months of a hockey drought. I sympathize and empathize with them. Been there; done that. My prediction is that once the puck officially is dropped, fans will return as they have in the past; secure in the knowledge that they're assured that they'll have a work-stoppage-free hockey life.
The stickhandlers all will be in shape. Either they've been playing overseas or working out here in North America. Players such as Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, et. al. have operated on the theory that a settlement eventually would be achieved. Most should be in mint condition.
QUALITY OF GAMES
I vividly recall the shortened 1994-1995 season which finally began in January 1995 after a lengthy work stoppage. As it happened, the tighter campaign inspired intensely played contests. "It was like every game was a playoff game," recalled Marty Brodeur, who paced the Devils to their first Stanley Cup -- I was there for all four of the Final games -- in June 1995.
There were the usual charges and countercharges that characterize any labor dispute. They surfaced throughout all previous work stoppages and this was no exception ... but with an asterix. Never before was the hi-tech social media employed to express opinions. At times, the emotional outbursts crossed the level of what my Uncle Joe would call "Revolutionary Decorum." I believe that any damage caused will turn out to be as illusory as smoke rings. We all know that hockey is an emotional sport, and once the intensity of a game subsides, reason prevails. And that will be the case as we prepare for the new campaign.
What about our local clubs? The following are a few capsule comments. I'll have a more detailed review in the next few days.
ISLANDERS: A five-year playoff drought finally could be over this Spring based on the maturation of talent amassed by Garth Snow. Let's look 'em over:
1. Matt Moulson and John Tavares have developed as potent a one-two scoring punch as any duet in the NHL; plus neither has reached his prime.
2. Mark Streit spent last season recovering from a serious injury. Not until the end, did he shape up into top form. This should be his year as defenseman and captain.
3. The Whiz Kids -- Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic and Matt Martin -- figure to be more Whiz than Kids this time around.
4. Prospects: Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Kevin Poulin are among several youthful talents with a shot at the varsity roster. Especially, keep your eye on Strome.
5. Jack Capuano has the backing of Snow, but Cappy must get his club out of the starting gate as speedily as possible.
6. Snow added toughness in Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton. The Isles will not be pushed around this year.
7. Bottom Line: The fate of the Isles could well be decided by secondary scorers such as Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and newcomer Brad Boyes.
RANGERS: The sky's the limit for the Blueshirts this year and you know what that means: The Stanley Cup is a genuine possibility. And here's why:
1. Goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron is top-notch.
2. Top players are in their prime. Namely, Rick Nash, captain Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, just to name a few.
3. Veterans still have the goods and that includes Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards topping the list.
4. Solid role players abound -- Mike Rupp, Arron Asham, et. al.
5. Youth will be served by Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto, among others.
6. The coaching staff, led by John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan, is as good as you can get.
7. Bottom Line: Glen Sather's plan to build through the Draft is working to perfection.
DEVILS: Reaching the Stanley Cup Final, as they did, proves that one never can underestimate the magic of Lou Lamoriello. But the Devils boss faces challenges. To wit:
1. Zach Parise was lost to Minnesota via free agency. Lou himself has said, "You don't replace a Zach Parise -- you just don't do that." Scoring by committee will be the answer.
2. Rookie sensation Adam Henrique won't be available for a few weeks because of injury, which means youngsters such as Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson must step up with quality hockey.
3. Martin Brodeur is 40 and Johan Hedberg is only a year younger. Only the next four months will determine whether their experience and intense training will enable them to maintain excellence.
4. The offensive nucleus -- Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus -- is there and could surprise even without Henrique.
5. Through the playoffs, the defense was a pleasant surprise and that was thanks to Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne, Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder.
6. Hidden talent: Adam Larsson should have a break-out year along with the newest Crash Line -- Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.
7. Bottom Line: The high command, including Lamoriello and solid coach Peter DeBoer, insure that "Devils Hockey" will be as efficiently pursued as last season.
MAVEN'S COMMENT: Drop the puck. LET'S PLAY HOCKEY!