Chicago, IL — If you have ever skied downhill, you know that there are only two possible outcomes to this dangerous undertaking. You can feel the adrenaline rush of living while executing a difficult feat that results in a picture perfect thing of beauty that defies gravity or you will feel hopefully only the embarrassment of falling on your backside in a graceless tumbling act. In the worst case scenario this dangerous undertaking can result in broken limbs and worse broken spirit.
The NHL and it’s players are dangerously close to this experience. It is October the month in which their regular season was to start in and is looking more likely to be in jeopardy but that is the least of what their worries should be. Both sides seem to be taking what has made them both successful in the first place for granted namely their fans. While NHL fans are not many they are passionate but even passion dies after long absences.
What both sides seem to have forgotten is they are also jeopardizing the game of hockey itself particularly US hockey. The NHL and hockey in the United States are at that precipice. The NHL and it’s players are sitting on what could be a boom for hockey in the US if they navigate the obstacles of the course correctly or like the failed skier can clumsily land on their collective behinds with embarrassment and bruised egos and ultimately to no one other than themselves caring.
Unfortunately if this lock out goes on for a long time no one will remember that the LA Kings are the Stanley Cup Champions. The markets that need the most help like, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, New Jersey and St. Louis will be effected the most. Some of these teams made the 2011 playoffs and are poised to capitalize including the Kings so now you have a stoppage and no one will buy their merchandise or have games to go to or tune in to watch. That’s a great plan for helping these struggling markets at a time when the league can not afford any financial mistakes.
Columbus was scheduled to host the All Star game which again would help this struggling market tremendously. I know tons of people in Chicago were planning on attending, well they won’t be now if there are no games. Can the NHL & NHLPA be that silly as to not see they are damaging themselves in the process?
The NHL and the players should be advancing their sport in the US and Europe rather than getting mired down in posturing and ego pumping. Both sides are stubbornly dug into their own beliefs that they have not even noticed not that many people actually care about their plights let alone will be affected by it. The media in the United States and Europe are not even covering their lockout which should tell both sides something. You would think this would signal to both sides they are in real peril of losing their small audience let alone expand it.
The NHL has persistently expanded to markets that were outside of Canada and into non-traditional hockey markets like California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. The Commissioner has insisted that these teams will one day bear fruits. In the meantime they are struggling with the fiscal nightmares of profitability while attempting to bring something new and trying to illicit excitement and demand for something people in these areas traditionally know little of. Yet somehow through no doing of their own US hockey is thriving and growing. The Commissioners vision of US hockey boom in non traditional markets could in fact become a reality but people must be able to see the NHL play if this is to happen.
There are more enrollments in youth hockey programs and the sport of hockey has a real chance to grow and thrive in the United States. You almost get the sense that if the NHL were properly marketed and avoided lengthy labor disputes the NHL could actually one day move up from being the fourth sport in the US and expand beyond Canada and even North America if this game were creatively displayed and showcased.
There are tons of small children that want to be Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews and are flocking to ice rinks across the country to learn the art of stick handling and skating. If there is no NHL being played much less broadcast this building fervor for the game will die quickly as parents will then take their children to basketball courts or baseball and soccer fields and hockey’s traction will be lost possibly forever. Hockey’s future is it’s youth, don’t damage that.
Both the NHL and it’s players live in a vacuum if they think that fans can keep going through these tedious disputes they have. Unlike 2004, the timing maybe wrong for both sides. Economies are on the downside and unemployment on the upside which leaves few leisure dollars being available for consumption. This just maybe enough to drive away their audiences and will irreparably doom their league. How much sympathy does both sides really think there is for two parties who cannot figure out how to divide an embarrassing amount of money that is almost more than some countries worth.
After a weekend of talking about everything but what both sides hold to be of their utmost importance namely the money people are growing weary. Let’s be frank here if this were solely about the money and numbers there are enough talented number crunchers out there who can figure the economics so that both sides come away with beneficial numbers if neither side can do this on their own. That is not the real issue here although both sides want the public to believe that it is.
Do you really think that the NHL & the NHLPA cannot find new ways to bring in more money to the league or for that matter come up with ways to assist struggling teams like the Coyotes, Islanders or Blue Jackets to bring them to profitability? If they can’t then one would have to seriously question both side’s creativity, intelligence and business acumen. Neither side is in dispute regarding the profitability of some teams it’s the how to that they are disputing. While it is not easy to right this ship it is doable if both sides are willing to work. Both sides must work at this including the prosperous owners as well if this league is to survive.
This is about respect and bruised egos albeit humongous egos which complicate the entire negotiating process. The owners just want to win and get their way because that is what they are accustomed to and the player’s egos are still bruised from the 2004 lockout and they feel disrespected and frustrated at being looked at as the hired help. If both sides were serious about getting a deal done they would not keep pushing their own proposals at each other but could work from the current CBA and what they both agree on and is working and just tweak what is not.
There is nothing more tiresome than grown men posturing to try to break one another which is why this time around the fans are tuning out and can you blame them. They’ve seen this game before and sports fans are not fans of re-runs. Both sides are trying to win in the court of public opinion and so what if you do and there is no hockey. How long do you think before people turn on the winner as well and just walk away to another league like the AHL? Their prices are more affordable for most families with children anyway.
This lockout will pass eventually one way or the other. Where will hockey and the NHL be after this lockout and what will it look like? Who knows but for the game of hockey’s sake let’s hope both sides are able to navigate the slopes of negotiations and land intact coming away with an even better NHL for the owners and players alike. Mostly not for their sakes but for generations to come. Let’s hope the NHL and NHLPA do not deny these future generations the opportunity to one day witness or participate in the best adrenaline rush of living and experience the addiction that is currently known as NHL hockey.