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December 16, 2012

More questions than answers will greet end of NHL lockout

Whether the NHL labor dispute can be settled in time to salvage an abbreviated season is anyone’s guess. But if it happens, what might the sports world expect?

“The hockey is very energetic, it was in 1994-95, but it had a lot of errors in it,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “So from a fan’s standpoint, it was really, really exciting. From a coach’s standpoint, it was like trying to plug holes in the dike. You just had to adjust all the time.”

Some NHL players have been playing in Europe or for minor-league affiliates; some have not been playing at all. Some will be close to NHL speed; some will be far removed. Time will be short and by necessity, patience will be thin. Reputations will not carry nearly as much weight as productivity.

“The first thing you need to do is not assume,” Hitchcock added. “The way you finished the previous season, the roles players played when you finished, all of that stuff goes out the window.

“The players are in various stages of conditioning. Some are 30-40 games into a season, and they’re in their zone. Some will come in and not have played one hockey game. You just can’t assume the same status quo will be there. You’d like it to be for the most part, but the realization is you have to coach players for the way they look the moment they hit the ice and adjust accordingly.”

In a concentrated world, a third- or fourth-line forward by trade could open with a first- or second-line assignment. A primary player may not be ready for the responsibility and the minutes, at least at the outset.

For Hitchcock, the essential barometer falls on the defensive side, where the competitive coagulant is most apparent, where sputtering players will compromise.

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