When the 2012 NHL lockout finally ended in the beginning of January, a lot of focus was turned to the hockey faithful.
Would they show up to games? Would they be so upset about losing the majority of the season that they would bail on the NHL?
But with teams' training camps wrapping up--well, as much training camp as they can squeeze into roughly a little over a week's time, that is--the focus is turning to the players themselves. Not to whether or not the players are still disgruntled with the league, but how they are going to perform when the puck finally drops on Jan. 19.
Sure, the shortened season will bring on a level of competitiveness nobody is ready for.
It will also show us, however, how the 119-day long lockout has affected the level of play.
There are players in the league who jetted off to other countries so they wouldn't miss out on any play time. Others took to the minor league affiliates in the states, such as the ECHL and AHL. But there are also those players who either tried to wait out the lockout and have gotten very little, if any, play time in since the 2011-2012 regular season ended.
Former San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell waited out most of the lockout before signing to the San Francisco Bulls, the Sharks' AA affiliate, on New Years Eve. He would play two games with the Bulls before the NHL and NHL Players' Association finally made nice and unofficially ended the lockout on Sunday, Jan. 6.
While he would help draw crowds to the Cow Palace and contribute a goal in his first game back on the ice, Mitchell said post-game that he felt out of shape.
"I should have done this a month ago," he told the press afterwards. "You can practice all year long, and it's just not the same as playing a game."
With the puck dropping in mere hours, the question must be asked: Was this push for speedy training camps a benefit to having salvaged some what could be left of a hockey season? Or is a lack of practice time and fewer games only going to bring on sloppy play?
There is also belief that the grueling travel schedule, particularly in the Western Conference, will play a major role in the shortened season. In fact, as SportsIllustrated.com recently reported, the NHLPA had raised issue with the league's implementation of a four-conference system last season because if the "concerns about increased travel and competitive imbalance."
This issue was not, however, one of the many items argued over during the 2012-2013 lockout. And so, the "Left Coast" teams will be playing with less practice.
At the end of the day, the NHL faithful can only sit and watch to see how the shortened 2013 NHL season plays out, and how it will affect the level of play on the game they've been waiting so long to watch.