For the last few months, everything that could have been said has pretty much been said. Yesterday, defenseman Roman Hamrlik sounded off on Donald Fehr, suggesting that he needs to be ousted should the season be canceled. As for Gary Bettman, while many fans would love to see his exile from the league, realistically, he’ll be in charge as long as the owners are satisfied – and for the most part, they are. But now what?
With the Thanksgiving weekend under way in the United States, the state of the National Hockey League won’t be much of a priority for the next few days. Just yesterday, a fan (I think he was a fan) heckled Commissioner Gary Bettman while trying to address the media. After watching the clip a few times, I couldn’t make out what the fan had said but Bettman reacted and later spoke with the fan directly in which event, the fan apologized. So, I guess whatever the issue was, it was resolved quickly. Whatever the case may be, perhaps Bettman (and Fehr) should spend more time talking to the fans. They may learn something. Then again, I'd be lying if I said that the idea simply isn't wishful thinking.
Of course, as time goes on, everyone affected is simply just getting tired. I, for one, am near exhaustion. Fans, arena workers and sponsors alike are running out of patience (assuming there are some who still have patience). Yet, when the smoke clears, the NHL and the NHLPA still have the audacity to act like children. Asking what it’s going to take to end this dreaded lockout seems to be the million-dollar question these days and not even the powers-that-be know how to answer it.
This week, Kraft Canada pulled the plug on their annual Hockeyville event which encourages Canadian minor hockey communities to contest with one another with a prize of $1 million on the line to go towards the winning community’s hockey-related needs. Instead, the event, which has been running since 2006, has decided to distribute said prize money to all minor hockey programs across Canada. The gesture is certainly a silver lining considering the circumstances.
While bars across Canada are still able to attract fans of the NFL and even the UFC, the absence of the NHL has left such a significant void. I distinctly remember this time eight years ago when the NHL was last going through a work stoppage. Myself, my father, my two brothers went to a popular sports-themed restaurant for dinner. We were literally the only four customers in the restaurant that night (and we were there for a good few hours). While a number of markets in the United States are fine without hockey, the void is still there as well. Philadelphia may have the 76ers and the Eagles but they’re still missing the Flyers and thus, no reason to see anyone in the City of Brotherly Love wearing black and orange past Halloween. While Los Angeles is witnessing their Lakers starting to turn their season around as well as watching the upstart Clippers, the absence of the Kings is monumental. You cannot possibly tell me that a quarter-million fans came out for the Kings’ Stanley Cup Parade this past June and not tell me that hockey doesn’t mean all that much in La La Land. Outside Sundays when they show football all day long, multiple Hooters locations in Greater Los Angeles are certainly hurting from the lockout given that the restaurant chain is a popular site for Kings’ watch parties.
Alas, it’s the same old song and dance. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors but one can certainly imagine the attitude on the lack of progress. I’m sure many within both parties are frustrated but those outside said closed doors, is there even a word to describe how they feel? The fans themselves are certainly disillusioned but what about the arena workers? From the employees selling the popcorn to the ones who clean the ice to those who place the white towels on every seat before each playoff game, many of them were forced to scramble around looking for more jobs while millionaires and billionaires continue to cry wolf over issues that should have been resolved eons ago.
More and more players are speaking out while the game's most important player Sidney Crosby (okay, that's up for debate) sounded off more than once on his feelings. Nothing seems to be working.
Just a few nights ago, there was a story on TSN’s Sportscentre where many of the league’s most loyal sponsors are beginning to move on, frustrated and unwilling to wait around for a settlement to be reached. My apology for sounding vindictive but if that is the case, then I hope every sponsor of the NHL decides to part ways with the problematic league. Don’t get me wrong – I love the game, I love the Los Angeles Kings and although some can take solace that the Kings are over their Cup hangover and will still be defending champions should the season be lost, I want to see my team raise their Cup banner and more importantly, defend their crown the right way: on the ice. While I’m fortunate that the Kings did indeed win hockey’s Holy Grail, fans of the other 29 teams are just as determined to see their boys have a better year where they can witness their team do what I and millions of other Kings fans had the pleasure of enduring this past June.
I was on the side on the NHLPA, I was on the side on the NHL and now I just don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. There have already been multiple occasions where fans got their hopes up only to have those hopes diminished just as quickly. While some fans maintain their unwavering hope for NHL hockey this season, most have all but given up and honestly, who in their right mind can blame them?
What else is there to even say aside from good riddance?