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NHL back and better than ever

By By Fred Lunjevich

Published: 2:04PM Monday August 01, 2005 Source: ONE Sport

Almost a year after the NHL player lockout put an end to the 2004/05 season, the business of professional ice hockey in North America is cranking along at an incredible rate.

A new collective bargaining agreement, rule changes, a rookie hailed as the "next one" and the largest free agent pool in NHL history are set to make this season's league one of the most interesting in recent history.

The rich getting richer will no longer be a catch cry in the NHL as teams will now be capped to spending just under $40 million on players.

Some teams are faced with tough decisions. It is not uncommon to see teams spending over $20 million on three or four players so those teams will be hardest hit.

Teams such as Colorado, Detroit, the New York Rangers and Boston are four teams that over the years have attracted the best talent because of the ability to pay whatever they liked for players.

Key players have been the first to receive contracts and cream the big money but sacrifices will have to be made and old ties severed. Expect more deals and trades before the puck drops in October than a typical week on Wall Street.

If players can't make the dollars they were privy to under the old free market model they'll go where they like as opposed to where the money is.

The obvious consequence is that Canadian players, which make up the majority of the league, will play for the teams they idolised as youngsters. That's most likely to be the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs so we could see those teams return as the forces they once were.

But money is where the restrictions end in the new NHL. A pool of talented rookies led by Canadian teenage phenomenon Sidney Crosby is brought a new excitment to the league.

Crosby's dazzling array of skills and his ability to put the puck in the net has earned him high praise. Ice hockey's greatest ever player - Wayne Gretzky - was called "the one" and many are calling Crosby "the next one". How he adapts to the NHL will be interesting to watch as will his battle with Russian Alexander Ovechkin who was last year's top draft pick.

He will be playing alongside another of the game's greats in Mario Lemieux at the rebuilding Pittsburgh Penguins.

Expect goal scoring to improve also. Rule changes designed to open the game up were announced the day the new NHL bargaining agreement was announced. The most notable rule changes include the size reduction of goalie pads, the extension of the offensive zone by pushing the net back a few feet, and a zero tolerance approach to obstruction.

Tied games will be decided by penalty shootouts - a nightmare for goalies but a treat for the fans.

Bringing back the buzz to the NHL will not be easy but the developments so far will make for a very different, and most would say, better game.

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