After a long, uneventful summer without hockey the NHL's regular season was scheduled to start tonight. But, as I'm sure you already know, the owners have opted instead to lockout the players for the second time in eight years meaning that arenas will be dark tonight and that we will have to wait a little longer for the return of the game we love. How long will we wait? Nobody knows for sure but if I had to bet money on it (and I did bet on the lockout) early December would be my guess.
In Edmonton, where the Oilers rule the sports scene and it's becoming clear with each passing day that winter will be here very soon, the idea of going another two months, or possibly longer, without NHL hockey has left a lot of fans quite upset. Some blame the owners. Others blame the players. And some, like myself, blame both sides. Regardless of whom you blame for the lockout the simple fact is that there is no NHL hockey to watch right now. And there likely won't be any time soon either. But as the saying goes every cloud has a silver lining, and as it turns out if you look hard enough there are some positives to all of this for the Oilers and their fans.
Perhaps the single biggest positive can be found between the pipes where Nikolai Khabibulin makes his living. Since joining the Oilers as a free agent during the summer of 2009 Khabibulin has been terrible in more ways than I care to remember. If Steve Tambellini had an IQ higher than his shoe size he'd have bought Khabibulin out last summer and been done with it but instead opted to gamble that he would improve from horrendous to just plain terrible. Every day the lockout lasts is another day you don't have to watch Khabibulin play and it gets us all one day closer to the day when he's gone from our lives once and for all. Tell me that's not a positive.
Khabibulin isn't the only player that a lockout helps us get rid of. Unfortunately Ryan Whitney makes that list as well. Where Khabibulin was a terrible idea from the very beginning, the trade that brought Whitney to town, while not a favourite of mine, at least had a chance of working out. It didn't though. An ankle injury has dramatically affected his mobility and as a result his overall game. Where Whitney could once be depended on to play a top pairing role he can no longer be expected to fill a spot in the top four, which of course the Oilers intend to do when the lockout ends. And we both know how that'll end. For now though, it just sounds like a bad idea. And if you really miss watching someone move slowly and drag their foot at the same time The Walking Dead returns this Sunday.
There's more upside to all of this than getting bad players closer to the door though. Do you remember the playoffs? If you don't it's okay. The playoffs are those games that other teams play after the regular season ends. You might have seen them on TV. Making the playoffs - not winning the draft lottery - is the goal of every NHL team but the Oilers haven't been within shouting distance of the playoffs for years. Sadly a lockout doesn't mean that the Oilers will make the playoffs this season, that is still a long shot at best, but it does mean that there is a better chance that the team will play games after New Years that actually mean something. Even if the end result is the same at least being part of the conversation for a while longer will be a nice change.
And there is even benefit when it comes to a player who hasn't even played in Edmonton yet. I'm of course referring to Nail Yakupov. Currently playing in Russia with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk Yakupov is getting to play against better competition than he would have seen had he returned to the Sarnia Sting of the OHL which is good for him in the long run and because he's in Russia the clock hasn't yet started running on his entry level contract. In other words: win-win. Frustratingly it's standard operation procedure in the Oilers front office to completely disregard the value of having a controllable year at age 26 versus 18 when it comes to the Taylor Halls and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the world but in this case a season long lockout would actually make it impossible for the team to start Yakupov's earlier than they should. They'd be forced to do the right thing and I wouldn't be forced to write another post like this. We can probably all agree that's for the best.
And that's just a few positives with from this lockout, there are probably a few more I haven't considered. I would of course rather have NHL hockey than any of these (maybe with the exception of starting Yakupov's ELC) but that isn't my choice. All I can do right now is sit back and wait while people with more money than common sense figure out how to divide all the money the fans pump into the game. In the meantime I'm going to relax, find positives where I can, and get my hockey fix elsewhere which will be quite easy with both the Oil Kings and Golden Bears at home this weekend. Even getting out and remembering that hockey is a lot more than just the NHL is a positive outcome of the lockout.