Now that the NHL Awards for the 2011-12 season have been handed out we can begin to look forward to next year. The quick transition from one season to the next began Thursday afternoon when the NHL released its 2012-13 schedule featuring another batch of 1,230 games.
One noticeable game missing from the schedule is the absence of a Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs pre-Winter Classic game in December. What's been a staple of every third episode of the past two 24/7's on HBO to help build up the game isn't there, which is a shame because those episodes have been the best of the series.
But we digress. After the jump, our 10 dates on the 2012-13 NHL schedule you won't want to miss.
Opening Night (October, 11, 2012)
It's here. After all the off-season moves, the previews, the debates and predictions, hockey returns and signals the official end of summer. Ottawa-Montreal, Boston-Philadelphia, Vancouver-Calgary, and St. Louis-Colorado will be the four games kicking off the NHL's 96th season.
New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings (October 12, 2012)
It's the matchup that many thought and hoped would happen in the Stanley Cup Final. The Staples Center in Los Angeles will finally get a championship banner for hockey in its rafters along side the many already hanging for the Lakers. The Kings can't own the stage and play on the NHL's official opening night on the 11th thanks to a Madonna concert, but prolonging their summer of celebration by one day won't be shot down by anyone involved.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers (October 18, 2012)
It's the series that produced 56 goals, over 300 penalty minutes in six games and a coaches spat. The Battle of Pennsylvania is never a dull one and with at least six meetings next season, the love will once again not be lost.
Phoenix Coyotes at Chicago Blackhawks (October 30, 2012)
Raffi Torres, for the moment, still has 13 games left on his suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa during the first round of the 2012 playoffs. We're still awaiting Commissioner Gary Bettman's ruling on Torres' appeal and whether or not the total will be reduced or Phoenix's preseason schedule will count toward the suspension. This game will be the seventh of the Coyotes' season, so if Torres is still suspended for this game, Chicago can look to get their revenge when the two meet again on Feb. 9.
Jeff Carter already made his return to Columbus in March to rekindle the memories of his tenure with the Blue Jackets. This time it's Jack Johnson's time to visit his former mates as he faces the Kings in Los Angeles for the first time since the February deal. Hopefully Johnson keeps his eyes down low and away from the Staples Centers rafters.
It's the only game on the NHL schedule this day. Michigan Stadium will be packed on New Year's Day 2013 for the sixth edition of the NHL's Winter Classic. While it's not a matchup between two hotly contested rivals like the Flyers and Rangers or Red Wings and Blackhawks, it will feature two Original Six teams and likely the the biggest star-studded alumni game in recent memory. Hopefully Gordie Howe can take a shift a la Bernie Parent this year.
NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus (January 24-28, 2013)
The Blue Jackets play host, but who will be their captain come next January? Will Rick Nash finally get dealt, and if so, who will captain one of the All-Star teams should the NHL continue using the host city's biggest star? We've had Eric Staal and Daniel Alfredsson so far. You prepared, Jack Johnson?
Los Angeles Kings at New Jersey (February 9, 2013)
The one and only rematch -- during the regular season, at least -- between the 2012 Cup finalists. How drastically different will both teams look in eight months time? Will Zach Parise be wearing black and silver, red and black or a different color combination?
Hockey Day in Canada (February 9, 2013)
Hockey Day in America (February 17, 2013)
Two days, eight games and a celebration of the game in both of our countries. Also, a great excuse to stock up on the chips and beer, hide the "Honey Do" list and lay on the couch for hours.
Almost Super Saturday (April 13, 2013)
Sadly, there's not one day on the 2012-13 NHL schedule that features all 30 teams in action, but this one is close. Just like in April, the final day will the busiest one with 28 teams playing and likely some playoff berths and seedings on the line. We're already planning the drinking game.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy