The regular season concludes tomorrow, separating 16 teams with a glint of Cup silver in their eyes from the 14 holding nothing but draft lottery tickets.
Surviving clubs will bore you all week with quotes that the past 6 1/2 months were a meaningless dress rehearsal, but don't believe 'em. In the wake of a damaging lockout and commitment to radical change, the past 1,230 games have dramatically altered the National Hockey League.
Here's a look back at a turbulent 2005-06 schedule:
WALKOM TO THE JUNGLE
The biggest story was the league's all-out campaign to put hackers and whackers out of business.
Despite media predictions that the clean-up would never last, public protestations that the physical element of the game was being erased and Tiger Williams declaring the whole thing an insult to Gordie Howe's memory, the style did change.
"In the old (officiating) culture, a rule broken in certain situations was not called," NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom told the Sun in March. "The difference is our guys see it and they call it, regardless of the situation. Do that, you have consistency; if you don't, it's clutch and grab again. Stay the course and the playoff intensity will still be there."
Entering 2005-06, just five players had 100-point seasons since the turn of this century. Six already are there this season and as many as nine could hit triple figures. For the first time since 1998, as many as four players could reach 50 goals.
Much of it is linked to a spike in power-play chances, converted at a league average of almost 18%, as well as defrocked defencemen and restrictions on goaltenders. But did anyone expect this good an offensive bumper crop from the new rules?
The Turin Olympics -- watching Team Canada was like seeing the mid-season Maple Leafs, six hours earlier each day and dubbed in Italian. No fire from the Russians, Czechs or Americans either, but Scandinavians soared in the final.
Worst-to-first predictions never were quite fulfilled. Super Mario was felled by a heart condition and hey, whatever happened to those veterans who were going to insulate Sidney Crosby?
Too many clubs got cabin fever playing eight times in their own division. Some Western cities won't see Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk until 2008. Detroit feasted on a steady diet of Blues, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks to bloat its point total.
A bigger flop than the Leafs.
Wayne Gretzky goes behind the bench, but can't make Paul Coffey out of Paul Mara.
Shootouts get a shout-out.
Public and players gradually won over by the idea of one team leaving the rink a guaranteed winner every night. But bonus points are a bone of contention.
JOE THORNTON TRADE
Boston gives up its star and kisses the playoffs goodbye; Thornton lights up San Jose and makes a charge at the Art Ross Trophy -- he's up three points with one game to go.
A 36-point jump from 2003-04 to contend for President's Trophy. The St. Louis Blues drop 35, ending their major pro sports record of 25 consecutive years in the playoffs.
Glen Sather gets it right and the Rangers end a seven-year playoff drought. The Sabres stick with Team Regier/Ruff and also clear 100 points.
FAITH NO MORE
Mike O'Connell and Mike Milbury finally walk the plank. Will Craig Patrick follow?
WHAT'S THE FUSS?
Dealing for the first time with a salary cap, savvy general managers made $39 million US work and still made the right player moves, with an eye to a higher ceiling in 2006-07.
Gretzky and the NHL were swept up in the speculation, but only Phoenix assistant coach Rick Tocchet is under the microscope.
Some sore losers in the union have yet to sway the majority that Ted Saskin should be turfed. After a year of CBA rhetoric, the public couldn't care less.
The so-called scourge of hockey didn't raise hell, but didn't do much of anything to help Team Canada or the Canucks.
- Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks.
The first 50-goal Canadian since Jarome Iginla in 2002 and just the fifth in nine years, with thanks to Thornton.
- Marc Savard, Atlanta Thrashers.
More than 30 points better than his career-high 65 with Calgary.
- Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators.
Attention Jacques Martin: He's an everyday player
- Brian Gionta, New Jersey Devils.
Picks up the Munchkin scoring baton from Martin St. Louis.
- Cristobal Huet, Montreal Canadiens.
Possibly the best NHL goalie to come out of St. Martin D'Heres, France.
- Tom Renney, New York Rangers.
Please come back to Vancouver, all is forgiven.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ...
- Jeremy Roenick. Sean Avery stole his thunder as the King of controversy and now both could be done in L.A.
- Sergei Fedorov. The big trade didn't quite turn around the Columbus Blue Jackets, just as he failed to ignite the Ducks. Former employers Detroit and Anaheim are now playoff bound.
- Sergei Gonchar. Nothing close to what the Pens thought they were getting to bolster the defence.
- Nikolai Khabibulin. From Stanley Cup fever in Tampa to life support with the Chicago Blackhawks.
YOUTH IS SERVED
Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Crosby, Eric Staal, Henrik Lundqvist, Dion Phaneuf, Marek Svatos, Jussi Jokinen, Brad Boyes, Petr Prucha, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Richards, Alex Steen.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Dave Andreychuk, Steve Thomas, Scott Stevens, Cliff Ronning.