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More concussions, more fan frustration? We'll see in 2013

It can be a cruel world on and off the playing field.

So as we unwrap the glittering year that lies ahead, we may find a few lumps of coal left over from 2012 amid the tinsel.

Here’s a look at some possible storylines to watch for in 2013:

No 1: How deeply will the NHL lockout bite at the box office?

There’s no question the lockout has generated a lot of bitterness among fans.

Some have even tried to organize a boycott online over the NHL lockout.

But that’s a hard sell in many Canadian NHL cities, where you pretty well have to inherit season tickets. Even Winnipeg, where the Jets returned in 2011-12, is sold out for years to come with thousands on a waiting list.

That demand is certainly not an issue in places like Tampa and Phoenix, where owners have trouble filling seats at any price.

The NHL could lose goodwill where it already has little.

Which brings us to . . .

No 2: Will more NHL teams move out of the U.S. sunbelt?

The Phoenix Coyotes have been struggling for years, languishing in the desert while the league seems loath to do much to push them out.

Instead, prospective new owners willing to keep them in Phoenix are courted.

With Quebec City, Hamilton and even Seattle clamouring for a team, will anything change in 2013?

The return of the Winnipeg Jets to Canada made many hopeful more teams would follow but not much has happened since, unless you count the losses the Coyotes continue to accrue.

At this point, any move here would be a big surprise in 2013.

No. 3: Are the Blue Jays going to soar in 2013?

They reloaded big time in 2012 through a mammoth 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.

Toronto walked away with all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio.

It was startling enough to warrant careful review and commissioner Bud Selig took his time before eventually giving it his blessing.

Toronto also made a deal with the Mets to acquire Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and signed free agent slugger Melky Cabrera.

The Jays did lose manager John Farrell to Boston but had no trouble replacing him with retread John Gibbons. All is forgiven if that pennant flies above Rogers Centre.

No. 4: Dopes and doping

Will professional sports take doping more seriously after the Lance Armstrong scandal?

World doping experts say many pro sports have policies that leave gaping cracks for anyone who wants to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Professional leagues all have their own testing regimes and penalties.

The CFL, for example, has only been testing for a couple of years and in 2012 was expected to test only 35 per cent of players.

The NHL drew jeers in anti-doping circles when commissioner Gary Bettman claimed they had no steroid problem.

No. 5: St-Pierre vs. Silva?

A lucrative Georges St-Pierre-Anderson Silva fight looms on the horizon but first up for GSP is a welterweight title defence against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in Montreal on March 16.

St-Pierre requested the fight, calling it unfinished business. The bout was supposed to happen in October 2011 but Diaz was yanked from the card by the UFC for blowing off a pair of news conferences.

Delaying the Silva fight may be by design from the St-Pierre camp.

They say they will fight Silva but only if the conditions are right. Plus the longer they wait, the older the 37-year-old Silva gets.

Another subplot for the year will be the emergence of fellow welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald, who trains with GSP at Montreal’s Tristar Gym. The two say they won’t fight each other but the 23-year-old MacDonald is rapidly climbing the ladder.

MacDonald fights Carlos Condit — GSP’s last opponent — at UFC 158.

No. 6: Can the Canadian men’s soccer team rebound?

It’s a big year for the Canadian men’s soccer team, which is looking for both respect and results after being bundled out of World Cup qualifying by an 8-1 thrashing in Honduras in October.

That loss cost manager Stephen Hart his job. The Canadian Soccer Association continues its search for a successor and will rely on a caretaker coach for January friendlies against Denmark and the U.S.

Look for Canada to test out young talent as it eyes the next round of World Cup qualifying which starts in 2016.

Canada’s under-17 and under-20 teams will both in action in 2013 in CONCACAF qualifying for their respective world championships.

No. 7: Prepping for another Olympics

This will be a key winter of preparation for Canadian athletes going to the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

It will be as much about testing and tinkering as it will be about reaching the podium.

But they’ll likely have to do it with less money and public support than they had four years ago at this time.

Canada captured 26 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, including a Winter Games-record 14 gold.

Can Canadian athletes live up to that performance in Sochi?

It won’t be easy.

Much of winter sport’s sponsorship money disappeared when the curtain went down on the hometown Games. The Canadian Olympic Committee has managed to double its support from corporate donations to almost $100 million over four years, but it’s still not clear how all that money will be distributed.

No. 8: CFL expansion

While a new Ottawa franchise won’t debut until 2014, the expansion draft is expected at the end of 2013. It was originally set for 2012 but delays sealing a new stadium deal pushed it back.

Ottawa gets to snatch eight imports and 16 non-imports from the existing eight teams. They also get preferential treatment in the CFL entry drafts.

It will be interesting to see who gets protected and who doesn’t in a league where talented quarterbacks in particular seem scarce.

Meanwhile, dreams of expanding to possibly a 10-team league haven’t progressed very far.

There has been talk, but little more, of teams in Moncton, Halifax or Quebec City. Slow and steady seems to work best for the CFL.

No. 9: Tennis anyone?

Milos Raonic has raised the hopes of Canadian tennis fans, and a Davis Cup tie with No. 1-ranked Spain in Vancouver in February means they won’t have long to wait.

Canada currently sits at No. 12 in Davis Cup team rankings and Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is personally ranked No. 13.

Home turf provides one advantage and Canada’s odds may increase a little more if No. 4 ranked singles player Rafael Nadal doesn’t play for Spain, which lost the 2012 final to the Czech Republic in November.

Nadal hasn’t seen any action since Wimbledon last June but the top team in the world isn’t a one-man show. David Ferrer is ranked only one spot below Nadal in singles play.

No. 10: The school of hard knocks

Head injuries, concussions in particular, have become big news, particularly in hockey and football.

Sidney Crosby’s long absences from two concussions during the 2011-2012 NHL season helped highlight the problem but there is already plenty of evidence out there.

Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce missed key games with what was billed as a “mild concussion” and won’t discuss just how many he’s had during his career.

Boston University is studying the brains of deceased pro athletes and some leagues are trying to curb hits to the head, but their efforts seem unable to eliminate the problem.

Expect more hand-wringing but anything else seems a longshot.

— With files from Neil Davidson and Lori Ewing.