Forty-eight games in 99 days?

It's going to be a wild NHL season, and it starts today with a compressed schedule that was the result of lengthy labor talks.

The best thing about the NHL regular season is that it makes possible the NHL playoffs, which provide excitement matching most anything in sports. The playoffs start April 30.

The 2011-12 NHL regular season had 82 games in 185 days, so this time around depth and injuries will be more important than ever in determining playoff teams and positions.

For Portland Winterhawks fans, the fun in following the NHL also comes in seeing what the Western Hockey League club's graduates can do in the big league. More than a dozen former Hawks are lined up for NHL competition this season.

Among the ex-Winterhawks whose exploits should be most interesting to observe:

Sven Baertschi, Calgary — The Flames got three goals in five games from Baertschi when he filled in at Calgary last year. Now the team's No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft is expected to be a regular contributor under new coach Bob Hartley, who won a Stanley Cup coaching Colorado in 2000-01.

Marian Hossa, Chicago — The 34-year-old is coming off a severe head injury suffered in last year's playoffs. Can he produce his 13th consecutive 50-point season or approach last season's team-high 77 points?

Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia — A veteran defenseman with one of the premier franchises in the NHL, Coburn and his mates start with a rematch against rival Pittsburgh, the team Philly upset in the playoffs last season. The Penguins return captain Sidney Crosby, 25, who has had concussion issues.

Paul Gaustad, Nashville — The Predators have given Gaustad, from Beaverton, a four-year contract worth $13 million.

Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen, Columbus — Dubinsky came via an offseason trade with the New York Rangers. Johansen is hoping to make a bigger mark after notching nine goals and 12 assists in 67 games as a rookie in 2011-12. The Blue Jackets had the worst record in the NHL last season. Can they move up?

Andrew Ference, Boston — Ference had a significant role for the players in their union's bargaining talks. Now the defenseman's focus returns to the rink.

One former Hawk who should get back to the NHL eventually is forward Nino Niederreiter.

It was a bit surprising that Niederreiter didn't wind up in the New York Islanders camp when the NHL resolved its labor dispute. But the Isles preferred to keep him in the American Hockey League, where he is tied for seventh in points with 36 in 37 games (19 goals, 17 assists) as a leader of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Niederreiter, 20, has been picked to play in the AHL All-Star Classic in Providence, R.I., on Jan. 27-28.

Happy birthday

Jan. 21, 1960 — Darryl Motley, former major league outfielder from Grant High who played in 413 games over seven MLB seasons, hitting .243, with 44 home runs and 159 RBIs (age 53)

Jan. 18, 1984 — Marlene Sandoval (full name Rubi Marlene Sandoval Nungaray), defender for the new Portland Thorns entry in the National Women's Soccer League (age 29)

Jan. 21, 1984 — Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman from the University of Oregon (age 29)

Jan. 21, 1988 — Ashton Eaton, world record-holder in the decathlon and heptathlon (age 25)

Jan. 22, 1988 — Greg Oden, former Trail Blazers center (age 25)

Oregon sports history

Jan. 23, 1961 — A Sports Illustrated story chronicles the first indoor track meet at Memorial Coliseum:

"Inspired by the completion of the Portland Memorial Coliseum, a glass-and-concrete-and-steel arena with 9,000 theater-type cushion seats, a group of University of Oregon alumni raised $21,000 and last Saturday night put on the first indoor track meet in the Northwest in 21 years. The group — called the Nervous Nine when only $8,000 in advance sales came in — had the foresight to enlist Oregon's Bill Bowerman, one of America's outstanding track coaches, as meet director."

S-I reports that more than 7,000 people attended. Olympic 5,000-meter champion Murray Halberg comes from New Zealand and sets a world indoor two-mile record on the world's first plywood track. Jim Beatty outsprints Dyrol Burleson to win the mile. Roscoe Cook, fresh off his Oregon Ducks football season at half, ties the world 60-yard dash record with a 6.0. Olympian Jim Grelle, also from UO, finishes second to Duck junior Sig Ohlemann in the 1,000.

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