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Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Updated: January 11, 9:58 AM ET
Looking in our crystal puck

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

With the CBA finally worked out, hockey fans everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief. But what would have happend if the lockout hadn't been settled? We consulted our crystal puck to come up with some interesting possibilities.

• With no end to the lockout in sight, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby shocks the hockey world by buying the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators, the former ECHL farm team of the Atlanta Thrashers, who play just north of the southern city. Crosby immediately signs teammates Evgeni Malkin and James Neal; the team moves into Philips Arena in Atlanta, where the renamed LockoutBusters sell out 10 straight games, prompting former Thrashers fans to bring signs reading, "Oh, so that's what hockey looks like." Oddly enough, Crosby does not play center, but goalie. "This is more fun than shooting Jakub Voracek's glove into the corner," Crosby tells reporters.

• Denied a spot on Crosby's team ("I really don't care for any of those Philly guys, lockout or no lockout," Crosby explained), Claude Giroux applies for and receives a special midseason ECHL franchise based in Hearst, Ontario. In order to entice players, Giroux buys each player matching snowmobiles and toques. Among the players who sign with the Hearst Le Gateau Est Sur La Table ("The Cake Is on the Table") is netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. The enigmatic goaltender wanders into the woods looking for "big, humongous bear" one day after practice and does not return. Bryzgalov is replaced by Bernie Parent.

• Not to be outdone, defending goal-scoring champ Steven Stamkos forms his own ECHL team featuring his dad's beer-league buddies. The team does not win a game but does secure several major sponsorships from breweries, and HBO, starved for real hockey stories to tell, begins a year in the life of the Stamkos Swillers called "Two-four/7."

• Looking for a way to recapture millions of dollars in lost revenues, the NHL's marketing agency suggests a mud-wrestling tournament involving owners. The first match scheduled between Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis sells 14 tickets, and police threaten to charge both with public indecency if they appear anywhere, at any time, wearing wrestling tights. Instead, the marketing firm decides on a monster truck competition involving souped-up Zambonis. Leonsis is victorious while driving an ice-resurfacing machine festooned with Alex Ovechkin sticks and dubbed "Union Buster."

• Later, Leipold is seen panhandling near the Xcel Energy Center wearing a Wild jersey with "Parise or Bust" emblazoned on the back with the "Parise" x-ed out.

• In an effort to maintain player solidarity during the lockout, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr rents a theater in Midtown Manhattan for a special showing of the hockey movie "Miracle." Cracks in the union's foundations appear, however, when Fehr leans over to his brother, Steve, during the crucial U.S.-Russia game and whispers, "What's that black thing, and what are those things on the boys' feet?" A showing of the Rob Lowe classic, "Youngblood," is quickly canceled.

• In a moment that evokes equal parts Dr. Seuss and "A Christmas Carol," Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attend the same hockey game in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minn., at the behest of the ghost of hockey past, who happens to be Wayne Gretzky. They see children having fun, parents clapping and they turn to each other and, in their best Boris Karloff imitation, say in unison that they didn't stop hockey from coming after all and that maybe, just maybe, the game means a little bit more. Then, witnesses later report, the two suddenly attained the strength of 10 Grinches plus two. Twenty minutes later, a deal for a new CBA is completed. Proving that Gretzky has a healthy sense of irony, the date is April 1.

• After debating whether they can get away with playing a five-game regular season and then playoffs, the players and owners, sitting around a large campfire in Central Park in New York, agree to play an NCAA basketball-style tournament to determine the 2013 Stanley Cup champion. They then celebrate by toasting marshmallows, singing "Kumbaya" and Stompin' Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song." Bettman plays guitar while Fehr plays the harpsichord.

• As the tournament is set to start in different NHL cities, embarrassed league officials are forced to cover over a large sign painted at center ice of TD Garden in Boston that reads simply "Suckers." Turns out the sign painters had been given a note from owner Jeremy Jacobs' bargaining notes by mistake. The message is replaced by a simple, large "Moo."

• Based on recent futility and plain old meanness on the part of other players and teams, the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets are forced to take part in a play-in competition starting at 8 a.m. on the day of the tournament. "I haven't had to play this early since I was a mite player. I'm dressing at home," grumbled Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro, who then pulled a ligament in his hand signing an autograph before the Isles' first game.

• Having squeaked into the main tournament by virtue of a shootout goal by Nazem Kadri, the Maple Leafs then knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the first game of the tournament as Curtis Joseph makes a surprise appearance in goal for the Leafs. "Maybe now I'll get a shot at the Hall of Fame," Joseph said. Head coach Randy Carlyle, after getting a call from former head coach Pat Quinn, pulls Joseph in favor of Felix Potvin for the balance of the tournament.

• Meanwhile, Columbus takes out the second-seeded New York Rangers in their opening match, although the fact that new president John Davidson is seen in the Rangers' owners' booth wearing a Rangers jersey and hat during the game does take some of the shine off the victory.

• Among those players who do not take part in the playoff tournament are Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, who continue to play in the Kontinental Hockey League even though they have NHL contracts. Both players insist that having gone to law school during the lockout, they have found an out clause that allows them to continue to play in Europe with impunity as well as continue to draw their NHL paychecks. They also announce they will be taking on personal-injury and medical malpractice suits.

• As the tournament nears its conclusion, Columbus and Toronto square off for a best two-of-three finals. Sadly, with the Toronto Blue Jays the talk of the baseball season after having got off to a 20-3 start, only 6,500 fans show up at the Air Canada Centre and many leave early having believed they were going to see a monster truck competition. Phil Kessel scores in overtime to give the Leafs a one-game lead but declines to talk to reporters, citing his last-place selection in the player draft at the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C.

• Columbus ties the truncated final series at home, where 16,000 fans show up wearing "Rick Who?" jerseys. Jack Johnson goes end-to-end with time running out in regulation to give the Blue Jackets the win. In a postgame interview, Johnson says, "I'd like to see Drew Doughty do that. See you in Sochi, pal."

• The deciding game of the finals, played at a jam-packed Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., goes into a third overtime period, when Dion Phaneuf scores from center on Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky who, replays will show, was waving at former teammate Ilya Bryzgalov, who was at the game in a large bear costume. Keepers of the Cup, Mike Bolt and Phil Pritchard, both of whom had been growing beards in protest since the lockout began, trip on their own facial growth delivering the Cup to the ice, and the grand trophy skitters across the surface, sending Bettman and Fehr sprawling like bowling pins. It marks the first time in two decades that the commissioner is not booed during a Cup presentation.

• The Leafs celebrate their first Cup win since 1967 with a parade through the downtown core, but with Leafs ownership charging $200 for a spot on the sidewalks along the route, and with the Blue Jays playing an afternoon game, the celebratory march is watched by an estimated 65 people.

• A week later, Bobby Ewing emerges from the shower at Dallas' American Airlines Arena wearing a vintage Sergei Zubov jersey and tells fans not to worry, this has all been a bad dream.