The sparring that took place over the past 4 months finally came to a halt as NHL owners and the NHLPA finally came to an agreement to end the 4 month lockout that left suffering hockey fans out in the cold. Sunday January 6 2013 was like a second Christmas for diehard hockey fans around the globe as news spread like wildfire of the settlement.

Over the past few months myself and other diehard fans followed along closely as the labor talks resembled a roller coaster. Some day’s talks seemed to be going well only to eventually hit a bump and stall everything. At some points during the lockout I thought for sure they’d come to an agreement only to find out both sides weren’t even close. Other periods of the lockout made me think we would surely lose another NHL season which would have been the 2nd in the past 10 years. The NHL already had the label of the first North American sports league to cancel a season over a labor dispute and the last thing any fan wanted was to lose another season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a drop dead of January 11 for when the season would be cancelled if an agreement wasn’t reached. As pressure mounted to get a deal done both sides came through and finally reached an agreement in the morning hours of Jan 6th. Don Fehr head of the NHLPA and Gary Bettman will forever be remembered as villains, out to ruin a sport loved by so many. At the same time they’ll also be remembered as leaders who stayed the course and made sure an agreement was reached in time to save the season and the game. Bettman in my eyes is the worst commissioner in sports and has no right in his position. This is the 3rd lockout under his tenure and surely he’s responsible for setting this sport down a potential path of destruction. But the bottom line is when you love a sport like I do you forget about all the politics and once the games begin it’s about watching the greatest game on earth.

So now with the lockout behind us we look ahead to a shortened 48 game 2013 season. I for one actually think this season will end up being one of the best ever. Instead of a long marathon you’ll have a sprint to the Stanley Cup and every game will matter in this shortened season. It will almost have the same feel as an NFL season. Teams will be playing 4-5 nights a week cramming in game after game and one slip up could easily set you back quite a ways. The schedule will consist of half the games being interconference games and the other half division games. As nice as it is to play every team in the league during the regular schedule most of us are ok with sacrificing outerconference games to see our teams play bitter rivals as much as possible during the shortened season.

So how will our hometown Philadelphia Flyers perform in this shortened season? In every sport effected by a lockout usually those teams that come back mostly still intact from the season before do the best. Just look at the recent NBA and NFL lockouts that took place over the past two seasons. Most of the teams that were contenders during those seasons affected by the NBA and NFL lockout were teams that brought back the majority of their players from the season before. The Flyers have mostly the same team returning from last year’s playoff team.

Last season was a year full of change for the Flyers as it was their first season without Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They accomplished a great amount in their first season together and surely will grow from that in season two. A lot of the younger guys such as Brayden Shenn and Sean Couturier will be better in season two. The coaching staff is still basically the same as last year and these players won’t have to learn any new systems unlike teams that are coming into this with a new coaching staff and many new players.

Goaltending will once again be the key to how far this Flyers team can go and Ilya Bryzgalov will be the man in the net making his return for season number two in orange and black. His first season was very inconsistent but it’s fair to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was playing his first year in a new city. Bryzgalov played over in the Russian hockey league, the ever popular KHL during the lockout and turned in a very respectable 2.13 goals against average in 12 games. Bryz can certainly build on that as he enters the shortened season with the Flyers. It’s pretty clear he’s a goalie that needs to play on a regular basis and I expect to see him in net for probably 35-40 games. I believe Bryzgalov will have a bounce back season in Philly and take this team on a serious Stanley Cup run. He knows last year was a fluke and seems very calm and collected coming into this season after the lockout.

Claude Giroux put his name on the NHL map last year as a top five player in the league. Giroux will certainly have a bull’s eye on him in every game he plays but he’ll continue to grow and get better. As good as Giroux was last year I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet which is scary for the rest of the NHL. We saw Giroux dominate Sidney Crosby in that epic first round playoff matchup against the cross state rival Penguins. I fully expect to see more of the same out of Giroux in a shortened season.

It’ll be an interesting season to say the least but hockey fans around the globe are ready to put the lockout behind them and watch the sport they love. Someone will lift Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2013 and with that said here are my predictions for the abbreviated 2013 NHL season.

Eastern Conference playoff teams in Order:

1. NY Rangers
2. Boston Bruins
3. Washington Capitals
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New Jersey Devils
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
8. Montreal Canadiens

Western Conference playoff teams in Order:

1. LA Kings
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Phoenix Coyotes
5. Chicago Blackhawks
6. San Jose Sharks
7. St. Louis Blues
8. Calgary Flames
Eastern Conference Finals:
New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers

Western Conference Finals:
LA Kings vs Vancouver Canucks

Stanley Cup Finals:
Philadelphia Flyers vs LA Kings

Stanley Cup Champ:
Philadelphia Flyers

Sure I sound like a homer with this prediction but I truly believe the Flyers have a huge advantage with a shortened season. The majority of the team is back from last year and with the young legs they have I don’t think the compacted schedule will affect them like it will other teams. Bryzgalov has the ability to get hot and stay hot throughout a shortened season and Claude Giroux will elevate his game to another level. The Kings also have most of their squad coming back from last season and the run they had to capture their first ever Stanley Cup in 2012 was so remarkable I see no reason they can’t get on a roll like that again in a shortened season. It’ll be an epic Stanley Cup final as former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter face off against their former team as they try to defend their title. In the end though the younger, fresher Flyers will have the energy to finish the job and capture their first Stanley Cup since the mid 70’s. I fully expect fans of other teams around the league to give Flyer nation a rough time because of them winning a championship in a shortened season but you know where to find us in late June… celebrating down Broad St.