With the NHL season shortened and revamped, here are some people, places and things to keep an eye on:

Opening night

Commissioner Gary Bettman might attend tonight's game at Madison Square Garden between the Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres. Behind the scenes, Bettman is being credited with "saving" the season. But how do the crazed fans in New York feel? Will there be boos or cheers?

The Hex-man

Can new/old goalie Ron Hextall carry the Philadelphia Flyers and new coach Terry Murray to the playoffs for the first time in six season?

New ice

The new Kiel Center in St. Louis and the United Center in Chicago are both expected to open to full houses this weekend. In Chicago, when tickets went on sale Monday, fans circled the building to buy tickets for the Blackhawks' first game in the new facility, Wednesday against Edmonton.

In St. Louis, the Blues will play for the first time in their new building Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings and Wayne Gretzky, but team spokesperson Susie Mathieu said plans have changed. "We were going to celebrate a new building, a new coach [Mike Keenan] and new uniforms," she said. "But there have now been other events in the building, so it's a moot point. Instead, we're celebrating our fans." All 19,260 seats are spoken for.


When the Boston Bruins open their season Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers in Boston Garden, it will be the first game of the final season in the famed old house. The Garden will see it's last regular season NHL game May 1 against Ottawa. Next season, the team will move across the street to the Shawmut Center. The Bruins have invited the team's former captains to Sunday's game.

Will he or won't he?

New York Rangers captain Mark Messier is in camp working out, but will he reach a contract agreement in time to be in uniform and on the ice tonight when the NHL Stanley Cup banner goes up at the Garden?

Balance of fame

Fans who live in Eastern Conference cities may find NHL stars in short supply. The league's biggest names -- Gretzky, Vancouver Canuck Pavel Bure, Detroit Red Wing Sergei Fedorov, Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne, St. Louis Blues Brett Hull -- all play for Western Conference teams.

Boo on hold

Rangers fans who can't wait to voice their displeasure with Stanley Cup winning coach Mike Keenan for leaving the Rangers last summer for St. Louis will have to wait until the Rangers and Blues meet in this season's Stanley Cup finals or, more likely,

next season.

How will the knife slice

An intriguing question is how the lockout will affect older players like Gretzky, Messier, Ray Bourque and Mike Gartner. And what will its impact be on Boston's amazing Cam Neely, who had 50 goals and 26 assists in 49 games last season with barely a leg to stand on? Will they benefit from less wear and tear, or find they never quite get in stride? Neely, who never played back-to-back games last season, said "I hope to play every game this season, but we'll have to see."

Injury benefits

For some, the NHL lockout may have been just what the doctor ordered. In Buffalo, Pat LaFontaine has had time to recover from knee surgery. In New York, the Rangers' Adam Graves has a well-rested back. In Washington, newly acquired defenseman Mark Tinordi's broken left leg is completely healed. Each of them could have been sidelined and out of the mix if the NHL had opened on time.


The NHL will return to a national over-the-air network when it makes its debut on Fox in April. In the meantime, ESPN will broadcast 51 games, ESPN will show 14 (beginning tonight with Buffalo at the Rangers) and ESPN2 will have 37. ESPN2 will premier "NHL 2Night", a hockey news and highlights show, beginning February 7 at 11:30 p.m.

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