Matthew Barnaby also reported that the NHL is looking at a 54-game season that would begin on December 26th, and many owners have already reached out to players in Europe telling them to prepare to come home immediately.
While the lockout has dragged on for more than 80 days, the past two nights have been the most influential in the negotiations and have brought back hope to fans who feared of a cancelled 2012-2013 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman said (via NY Daily News) he was "pleased" with how negotiations were going, and it seems like we will actually see the NHL back in action this year.
As for the New Jersey Devils, they may be facing a problem if the season starts at the end of December. Along with starting a new era without captain Zach Parise in the lineup, New Jersey will be without Adam Henrique and Anton Volchenkov for the beginning of the season due to injuries.
Volchenkov suffered a fractured ankle at the end of October while playing for the KHL and still has not returned to the ice. His original projected time off was 4-6 weeks, but he hasn't seen any action since October 15th, and that may not be good news for one of the team's best defensemen.
Henrique also suffered a significant injury while playing for the Albany Devils, and his torn thumb ligament will keep him out 4-6 weeks as well. Tom Gulitti of New Jersey blog "Fire and Ice" reported that Henrique suffered a similar injury to the one suffered by Jacob Josefson in 2010, and that injury kept him out two months.
However, despite the injuries, the New Jersey Devils do have a few hot players coming back from Europe that should make an immediate impact. Ilya Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky have both been tearing up the ice since going to Europe, and each player is at the top of their league's respective scoring categories.
According to In Lou We Trust, Kovalchuk currently has 12 goals and 18 assists in 23 games with SKA St. Petersberg and Zidlicky leads all defensemen in the Czech Extraleague with 20 assists in just 23 games.
With Henrique out, the Devils will likely rely on Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson to carry the load, and they may be forced to use Patrik Elias at center for the third year in a row. Other names to look out for are Matt Anderson, Tim Sestito and Mattias Tedenby.
As for Volchenkov, the Devils have some of the best depth at the defensive position in the NHL, so players like Bryce Salvador and Henrik Tallinder should be able to step up in his absence. Adam Larsson will likely return to the starting lineup after missing most of the playoffs and players like Peter Harrold, Alex Urbom and Eric Gelinas may get a shot as well.
Another name to look out for once the lockout ends is Petr Sykora, who did not re-sign with the team despite having a minimum contract and a very productive year. The Devils already lost Parise and Alexi Ponikarovsky, so it will be interesting to see if they fill the hole at the wing position with Sykora.
While the lockout rumors may not be 100 percent true, it seems that the NHL is on pace to get back to the ice fairly soon. If the season starts at the end of the December, the Devils will have to overcome injuries and fill big holes if they want to have any sort of success in 2013.
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