Andy Baggot: As NHL season finally dawns, former Badgers set sights on Stanley Cup

2013-01-19T07:00:00Z Andy Baggot: As NHL season finally dawns, former Badgers set sights on Stanley CupANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6175

The NHL returns from its self-imposed exile in stupidity Saturday. Owners, players and commissioner Gary Bettman are hoping some temporary ticket discounts, souvenir markdowns and an apology published in newspapers in all 30 markets will be enough to win back all of the fans hacked off by an intensely selfish four-month work stoppage.

Good luck with that.

Like the two previous lockouts — in 1994-95 and 2004-05 — it's going to take more than a few acts of predictable penance to get people back through the turnstiles. The NHL lost the public's trust — not to mention roughly $1 billion in revenue — with the work stoppage and it's going to take years for both to be reconciled.

The impact of the NHL restart has already been felt locally. Former University of Wisconsin players Adam Burish, Brian Elliott, Tom Gilbert, Joe Pavelski, Craig Smith and Ryan Suter have left their Madison-area homes for training camps scattered from Nashville and the Twin Cities to St. Louis and San Jose.

In roughly 10 days, Burish, Elliott, Gilbert and Smith went from being semi-regulars at UW practices to relocating and gearing up for the frenetic grind of 48 regular-season games in 99 days.

For all its flaws, the abbreviated NHL regular season should be intriguing theater for local fans that are still onboard, especially those whose interest is tied to the latest wave of UW players in the league.

A year after defenseman Davis Drewiske helped the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup — becoming the 13th former Badgers player to experience that feat — it looks like he has some intriguing challengers.

St. Louis is a trendy pick to come out of the Western Conference and win the Cup in part because Elliott and Jaroslav Halak comprise an elite goaltending tandem. Elliott, who won an NCAA title with UW in 2006, led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save ratio (.940) last season.

The New York Rangers are among the favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference mainly because they traded for elite winger Rick Nash last summer, but their lineup has two former Badgers as go-to guys: defenseman Ryan McDonagh and center Derek Stepan.

No NHL club made a bigger offseason splash than Minnesota when it signed Suter and best buddy Zach Parise, a top-shelf winger, to matching 13-year, $98-million free agent deals. The Wild will open the season with three former UW standouts: Suter and Gilbert on defense and winger Dany Heatley.

No single rookie has raised more eyebrows in the past eight months than defenseman Justin Schultz, a two-time All-American who left UW after his junior season in 2011-12. He eschewed signing with Anaheim, the club that drafted him in the second round in 2008, to cast his lot with Edmonton. Then he proceeded to obliterate the American Hockey League with 18 goals and 48 points in 34 games. Now he's viewed as a prime Rookie of the Year candidate whose presence on the blue line and power play gives the Oilers high hopes.

The last time Burish and Pavelski were teammates they skated around the Bradley Center in Milwaukee carrying the NCAA championship trophy in 2006. Now they're reunited in San Jose, a dark horse Cup contender. Burish, who won a Cup with Chicago in 2010, is hoping his mojo rubs off on the Sharks.

Carolina (defenseman Jamie McBain), Detroit (defenseman Brendan Smith), Florida (winger Jack Skille) and Nashville (center Craig Smith) are expected to be in the playoff mix, as well.

Now that a forgettable NHL story has run its course, UW products are in a position to write something more intriguing.

Contact Andy Baggotat abaggot@madison.comor 608-252-6175.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Bucky Fan
    Report Abuse
    Bucky Fan - January 21, 2013 5:17 pm
    I read just the other day that the Wild released Jake.....although he may have been re-signed after the grace period and just end up at their AHL team and jump up and down.
  2. pjh16
    Report Abuse
    pjh16 - January 19, 2013 5:10 pm
    Hey Andy, you forgot Eau Claire native Jake Dowell in your comment aboot Ex-Badgers that are playing for the Minnesota Wild...looks like he'll be the odd man out, the guy that's a healthy scratch at the forward position...with the setup for this strike-shortened season I bet he'll end up in the lineup many a night...

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