11:59pm (EST) of September 15 came and went with nothing to show for it. Had the NHL and the Player’s Association had a meeting that went down to the wire, there would be cause for a little more optimism. Instead, fans spent Friday and Saturday literally counting down the hours and minutes to the official expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Where to go from here, no one knows and actually, I think it’s a fair statement to say that no one wants to know.
Last December, the NBA was still going through a work stoppage with the threat of a cancelation of the season looming. As a fan of the NHL in general, I took plenty of solace knowing that the sport of hockey is stronger than ever and that maybe, just maybe, the NBA would look to the NHL as a blueprint of success. After all, despite knowing that the league’s CBA was set to expire in less than a year’s time, most hockey fans weren’t worried because, quite simply, agreeing on a new CBA was foolproof. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. So, instead of other leagues looking at the NHL as a blueprint of success, they’ll very likely be looking at the league (like they did seven years ago) as a template on how not to run a league, or a business in general.
Some fans, myself included, feel ridiculous for being so naive, thinking, nay, believing that both sides would do whatever it took to avoid an unprecedented third lockout under the same staff. After all, since the NHL was fresh off generating $3.3 billion in revenue, how could anyone in their right mind put that momentum to screeching halt? Yet, that’s exactly what happened and many more fans are disillusioned, even disgusted, that they’re sitting around on the morning of September 16 wondering if they’ll see hockey again in the near future.
Nothing would please me more than to tell everyone when the NHL will return and exactly what to expect but it doesn’t quite work that way. Instead, us fans are forced to sit on the sidelines and hear about the infantile meetings between millionaires and billionaires who just can’t seem to leave their egos at the door.
Many blame Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners, others blame union leader Donald Fehr and the players while others blame both sides equally. As far as I’m concerned, we can blame whoever we want until we’re blue in the face but until a deal is reached, it won’t matter. Today and in the coming weeks, we’re going to have to deal with the reality of our favourite players signing elsewhere. Many of the younger players will be playing in the AHL or, if they’re eligible, return to their junior clubs. As for the more experienced players, there is the option of playing in Europe, which includes Russia’s KHL.
While I support players to continue their careers abroad, the act of them signing elsewhere just shows how bleak things are with the NHL right now. What infuriates me, though, is that for weeks, Gary Bettman has said that the players aren’t aware of the economic state of the world. Yet, by locking the players out without making much of an effort to avoid a work stoppage, there are now thousands of arena employees out of work.
Since the league can’t decide how many billions are enough, so many of these workers, most of whom are simply trying to support their families, are now unemployed. The concession workers, the ushers, the beer vendors, the security – they now have to go scrambling for new work all because a large group of adults who run a large operation resort to acting like children the second they hear something they don’t want to hear.
This is now Day 1 of the NHL Lockout and as much as I’d love to tell you that it will only be a matter of time before the two sides crack a new deal, I can’t. We could sit around and wait but fortunately for most fans, they have football for the next few months, baseball for the next few weeks and, when that ends, they’ll have basketball to look forward to.
But while most fans have an escape from hockey, it doesn’t take away from the frustration that comes with the NHL’s current labour crisis. As of today, I’m not the least bit optimistic about hockey’s short-term future. I’d love to tell you how positive I am but I just can’t do that.
I sincerely hope that one of these days, Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and everyone else involved will stop and think of the damage they have already done and alas, let there be something for hockey fans everywhere to look forward to.