NHL Lock Out Underway
I’m the puck-head in my group of friends. For years, I’ve been saying “give hockey a chance” or “it’s one of the toughest, most exciting sports out there” and “there is nothing like playoff hockey”. I only have two buddies who watch hockey as passionately as I do, and I am friends with a lot of sports freaks. Last April, when I went to the bar to watch some postseason action, I was rocking my Ryan Callahan Jersey around a whole lot of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Jerseys. I’ve been a huge advocate for the sport because I can see the skill, athleticism, toughness and beauty that it contains. However, thanks to Gary Bettman, the NHL owners and the NHLPA, I no longer believe I can defend hockey.
As of 11:59 last night, the NHL has locked its players out as a result of the league’s failure to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). It is the fourth lockout in the past 20 years, and comes only a few years after the entire 2004-2005 season was lost to a labor dispute. This is literally the last thing in the world that the NHL needs and it might possibly be the straw that breaks the leagues back. This past season was one of the more exciting on record. You had teams in big markets competing, Los Angeles won its first cup in franchise history, free agency was followed closer by main stream media than in recent years, NBC Sports Network showcased a product that was on the Versus Channel for too many years, and just what appeared to be an overall enthusiasm returned to the game. Momentum was carrying the NHL in the right direction until today.
Immediately, teams are canceling training camp and exhibition games will be soon to follow. Opening night is supposed to be on October 11, 2012, and the closer that we get to that date without any resolution, the more likely it is that we will begin to start losing regular season games. Some experts are estimating the season to kick off around Thanksgiving while others are seriously doubting whether or not the puck will drop at all this season. If that happens, it is safe to say that both the players and owners will be to blame and the NHL will never recover.The NFL was in a similar situation last season, though there is one marked difference between the two lockouts…the NFL has such an immense fan base that we would have all come back to watch football no matter how the lockout played out. The NHL is in a complete opposite situation.
Sure, the die-hard hockey fans will return to game whenever this dispute is settled, though even though this fan base is as passionate as any in the sports world, the problem is that it’s numbers are minuscule when compared to the other main sports in the U.S. The NHL will lose all of the casual fans that they may have gathered in the past few years. This includes the fans who watched in the 80’s and 90’s but stopped after the last few work stoppages, as many of these observers may have been coming back as they missed the pure excitement hockey brings. Also, there are a number of new fans who had never been exposed to the game, but got hooked during the postseason. For the NHL to gain the popularity that is so desperately desires, it must keep these groups of fans in their favor and a prolonged work stoppage will guarantee that these casual fans will lose interest quick.
The really sad thing is that because of the MLB Pennant Race and Week 2 of the NFL Season, the average sports fan has no idea that the NHL locked the players out last night. There is brief mention of the situation on sports networks, but in the realm of the sports world, it is a mere footnote. Like previously stated, the diehards like myself will wait impatiently for these buffoons to come up with a plan to save their sport, and if and when they do, we will tune in. I was incredibly amped up for my New York Rangers to go on another run for the Cup, and if they have the chance, I will support them. However, I can’t say that I will keep promoting a league that doesn’t really seem to have to same ambition. If the NHL wants to fall back into obscurity, what can us, the real hockey fans do about it? Until these knuckleheads figure things out, I’ll be thoroughly entertaining myself with the Yankees, Jets and Brooklyn Nets. Gary Bettman, your product will be missed by some, but forgotten by most. Work with the owners and players and please give yourselves a chance to grow hockey to where it should be.