Can the NHL Rise from Lockout Ashes?

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After missing an entire season because of a lockout, the National Hockey League is preparing to start anew Wednesday night. Renee Montagne talks with Michael Farber, senior writer at Sports Illustrated, about the NHL's effort to reinvent itself.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The National Hockey League is back in action tonight after losing the entire season last year to a lockout. Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Farber says the NHL is hoping some changes in how the game is played will lure back old fans and bring in some new ones--that and the appeal of an 18-year-old phenom by the name of Sidney Crosby.

Mr. MICHAEL FARBER (Sports Illustrated): He makes his debut tonight in New Jersey. He is a Pittsburgh Penguin rookie and one of the most anticipated rookies to come into the league, certainly, in the last decade. On Monday in Pittsburgh, I was at a welcome Penguins luncheon. They served chicken and orzo, not fishes and loaves, but you could barely tell the difference. Pittsburgh is counting on a revival built largely around the kid who has a great skating style and great vision but, again, he's only 18 years old and he has to carry not only the hopes of his team but the hopes of his league that looks to refresh itself on his back.

MONTAGNE: So there's the new kid and there are some new rules.

Mr. FARBER: All the rules are designed to work in concert to increase the flow of the game. Hockey is a very fast-moving game at its best. Well, in the past decade, we've been suffering through the dead-puck era. All the rules have been designed to change that, to get more offense in the game.

MONTAGNE: So new season. Is hockey going to come back to the degree it was here in the United States?

Mr. FARBER: Well, certainly in some cities. We've seen an improvement in Nashville. Other cities are excited, but you have to understand the NHL remains a niche sport, kind of the NASCAR of the north, and Gary Bettman, the commissioner, still hasn't found a way to break out the NHL and make it truly a national game in the US, to extend the footprint of his league everywhere, even into non-NHL cities.

MONTAGNE: But Canada, they must be glad they're back.

Mr. FARBER: Canada, where I live, they're going nuts.

MONTAGNE: OK. Michael Farber is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

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