It’ll be a bad year for hockey fans.
With a potential lockout just a day away, and with no acceptable deals being proposed by either side, I’d say it’s about time to resign ourselves to a lockout. Throw the toaster in the bathtub—at least part of the 2012-13 season is lost.
There’s no telling exactly how long it will last, but the idea of watching poker on the major sports channels for an entire NHL season makes me shudder. No one really benefits from the lockout, but the fans are the real losers. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the fans are becoming an afterthought in the mind of the NHL owners.
The Major League Baseball strike of 1994-95 is considered one of the worst stoppages in sports history. Though the conditions were different in that the players went on strike rather than the owners locking them out, the result was similar—the cancellation of a season.
A big part of what made the strike so horrible was that the fans simply didn’t come back when it was over. Attendance and television ratings plummeted, and it took an epic home run race between Sami Sosa and Mark McGuire to get butts in the seats again.
This may seem a bold claim, but I honestly believe a sizable number of NHL fans are similarly fed up at this point. The league is a mess—this will be the second lockout in under 10 years, only a handful of teams are consistently profitable, concussions are rampant and coaches have found a way to revive the yawn-inducing dump-and-chase style of play. Part of the reason the fans came back after the 2004-05 lockout was because rule changes provided a more exciting game, but the NHL cannot rely on that this time around.
If a lockout does occur, how would the league move forward? I feel that there are steps the NHL could take in the long run to prevent further disputes, but they certainly won’t be easy. Most importantly, teams that are hemorrhaging money must be moved to more viable markets or eliminated altogether. I don’t care how many teams it shoves into Florida or Arizona—the NHL is not the National Football League to Americans and never will be.
Needless to say, the future does not look bright for the NHL or its fans.