Five biggest NHL storylines from 2011-12

The opening face-off seen between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens during the first period...

The opening face-off seen between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba October 9, 2011. (REUTERS)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:29 PM ET

Another season has come and gone.

Well, at least in the 14 non-playoff cities around the league, one-third of them from north of the border.

When the Stanley Cup tournament opens Wednesday, it puts in the rearview mirror some of the good and bad storylines from the 2011-12 regular season.

Here are the big ones which stand out.

1) Jets take flight

OK, we were leery at the thought of the NHL returning to the Manitoba capital with its under-sized building in a smaller-sized market.

Happily, it's become a best-case scenario with a rabid fan base which welcomed back the NHL and nearly willed a team into the playoffs.

(Can't help but think the Jets are a playoff club in the next two seasons and climb from there.)

Sure, the strong Canadian dollar is a big factor, but it's now making the thought of a team back in Quebec City seem logical.

Now, if only the egos and greed preventing a second team in Southern Ontario could take a back seat. Just imagine the NHL with nine teams in Canada.

2) Shanabanned

Brendan Shanahan had his ups and downs in the first year as the league's disciplinarian, but give the man his due for those videos on the NHL's web site.

Sure, he's had more screen time than Ryan Gosling, but an explanation for his decision helps the cause.

Please don't forget to dole out the right punishment in the playoffs.

3) Sid's lid

Whether you agree or disagree with Mad Mike Milbury, everybody must admit having Sidney Crosby missing three-quarters of the season due to concussion issues is a loss.

The detractors love to say the league panders to Crosby, but that kind of talent is entertaining to watch.

Here's to hoping those concussion issues are a thing of the past.

4) Woe Canada

Tough year for the teams north of the border. Five of the seven Canadian clubs missed the post-season, although four of them ended up pretty much where we figured.

The real disaster was in Montreal, where chaos was never-ending and the once-proud franchise sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Does anybody believe it'll get better next season? Really?

5) Surprises

Who pegged the Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues to do so well? Likewise, who had the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks on the bubble with just a couple of games remaining.

Whether it's those stories or others, such as Erik Karlsson's point production, and Brian Elliott's nine shutouts, we've had some great "you never know" moments.

FLAMING C-NOTES

If you're the parent or guardian of a minor hockey player in the Calgary area born between 1997 and 2004, you have until Monday to enter them for the All-Canadians mentorship camp to be held April 21 at the Don Hartman Sportsplex. Attendees will be drawn from the names submitted. The camp, with members of the NHLPA involved, not only involves on-ice skills, but also off-ice skills, such as fitness and nutrition and is free ... It's amazing to see Flames fans wearing sweaters for Sven Baertschi, but here's a question: Do you think he'll wear No. 47 next season and beyond?

HOCKEY TALKY

Speaking of incredible stories: Before this season, would anybody have believed New Jersey's David Clarkson would score 30 goals and Pittsburgh pest Matt Cooke would have one-third of the penalty minutes from last season (42 going into Thursday's game) and nearly as many points (38) ... New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro hasn't been seen playing much the past four seasons, but he was visible during the team's fan appreciation night. DiPietro paid for a hot dog and pop or water for 5,000 fans on the April 1 game ... Sad to say, but the looming battles between the NHL teams in New Jersey and Phoenix and the cities where they play -- Newark and Glendale, AZ -- will be big stories going forward. Although the looming labour battle nobody wants to talk about will soon grow even louder.

YOU DON'T SAY

"It didn't work last year, and it kind of ruined my whole hairdo for the summer. I might just keep the flow going and stick with what's working." -- Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane to the Chiago Sun-Times on why he doesn't plan to grow a playoff mullet.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak

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