Check out the new NHL

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager J.,”Hear that roar coming from Canada? The low drone that seems to fluctuate the closer one gets to Montreal and Toronto? That's cheering. Constant cheering. You know why? Because the NHL is back after a year-long lockout.

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi would be wise to resign himself to a season of fan apathy in 2006. For should the Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs, even their off-season will draw more interest than another middling baseball season north of the border.

That being said, is anyone paying attention to hockey here in the United States now that it has returned?

According to a recent poll on ESPN's Web site, many people are actually enthusiastic about the return of the game in its revised form, which involves a number of rule changes, such as a no two-line passing rule and tag-up offsides.

When fans were asked in the ESPN poll what they thought about the NHL and its changes, 55 percent responded, "Love it, the game's never been better!"; 35 percent responded, "Who cares? Hockey is back!" and a mere 11 percent said, "Hate it, bring back the old NHL!"

These results were tallied from a total of 21,851 people nationwide.

ESPN even has a snazzy state-by-state breakdown of all the different results. It's obvious there is a market for the game, and that while hockey fans perhaps keep the lowest profile of any of the four major sports, they are arguably the most loyal.

From the Anaheim Mighty Ducks fans in Beverly, Colorado Avalanche fans on the South Shore, from the local New England Sports Network (NESN) to the national Outdoor Life Network, viewers all over seem to be excited about the return of the game. NHL teams are reporting a 3 percent increase in ticket sales from the 2003-2004 season.

Who even knew the Outdoor Life Network existed? Seems like a ridiculous concept, doesn't it? A 24-hour channel devoted to watching other people do things outside while you eat chips and adjust the television volume with the remote control.

Who would watch that?

Many more people than that idiotic assumption made it seem, considering the Canadian station now has the rights to most NHL games because no one else wanted to take the risk.