Hockey fans anxiously awaiting the return of pro hockey

BY ALANNA KOEHLER ’15
Campus Life Editor

Avid hockey fans were counting down the seconds to midnight last Sunday and the dreaded beginning of the fourth National Hockey League (NHL) work stoppage in 20 years. It was quite obvious by the start of the weekend that no agreement would be reached between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA), and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that ended the season-long lockout in 2005 would be allowed to expire. However, the stroke of midnight and the subsequent beginning of yet another lockout on Sept. 16 was still a shot through the heart.

In the 2011-2012 season, the NHL generated a record $3.3 billion in hockey-related revenue, with players receiving 57 percent of the share, as decided by the 2005 CBA. In July, in preparation for the still-pending new agreement, Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, proposed a cut to 46 percent of the revenue despite the record season. The NHLPA maintains, logistically, the share would be closer to 43 percent, which the players deem unacceptable.

After some back-and-forth over the summer, little progress was made, and, in the week leading up to the deadline, the NHL and NHLPA still neglected to cooperate. Wednesday, Sept. 12 marked the date of the last formal negotiation to date, and on Thursday, Sept. 13, the NHL Board of Governors gave Bettman unanimous support of a lockout if an agreement was not reached before the 2005 CBA expired at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.

As predicted by fans, athletes, and sports writers alike, the CBA was allowed to expire, starting the third lockout of Bettman’s career, an achievement for which the Commissioner has been highly criticized.

Teemu Selanne, right winger for the Anaheim Ducks, called Bettman the NHL’s “most hated person” in his Finnish blog. And he certainly is not the only unhappy soul in this predicament.

The NHLPA linked a YouTube video to its official site on Sept. 16 entitled “A Message from Players to Fans about the NHL Lockout,” in which players David Backes, Sidney Crosby, Gabriel Landeskog, James Reimer, and Jonathan Toews, representing the entire NHLPA, explained the reasoning behind the lockout and apologized to the fans, who, in their words, suffer the most from these work stoppages. The players refrained from showing animosity towards the NHL but certainly garnered more support for their cause, if at all possible, and made viewers even more eager for the next NHL hockey game, whether it be in October, November, December, or even next year.

With pre-season games now cancelled through September, many players have been forced to pursue hockey in different countries, with players flocking to leagues in Canada, Finland, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic simply for the love of playing the game. According to the players, the KHL in Russia is the only league that will offer them any significant amount of money.

Those players who have not yet run for the hills and are waiting it out to see how far negotiations get by Oct. 11, the designated date of the first NHL games, have been forced to rent ice for unofficial practices. A few members of the Philadelphia Flyers’ rented ice time, as the general public would, at Flyers’ Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ this past week, using left winger Scott Hartnell’s credit card, and many teams have been forced to do the same as they are locked out of normal use of their facilities.

However, the players are not the only ones taking a financial hit. NHL employees are faced with fiscal issues as well. Employees and team personnel have already been reduced to a shorter workweek, and pay cuts and layoffs are not too far in the distant future if a resolution is not reached quickly. That being said, National Hockey League Officials’ Association told ESPN.com they would not work games in leagues or countries during the lockout for fear of taking jobs from other people who need them. Many will pick up odd jobs in the meantime to make ends meet and they are remaining optimistic that the lockout will end soon.

Alexander Ovechkin, left winger for the Washington Capitals, is not quite as optimistic, however, as exhibited by his stinging, and slightly inappropriate, remark that he may not return to the NHL if the final CBA is not to his liking. Ovechkin’s outburst made many people wonder if the star players will return to the game if the NHL’s offer does not rise. However, that rumor has been quickly squelched by sports writers, who argue that if the players have any hopes of competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they will not dare violate their contracts with the NHL.

Though, while a loss of players may not be something to worry about, a loss of fans is certainly a legitimate, unavoidable fear. Hockey fans are, arguably, some of the most passionate, and consequently unforgiving, fans in the sports industry, which has many people questioning whether or not they will stick around if the lockout persists for any length of time. It is the fourth work stoppage in a short period of time after all, with the last lockout enduring for the entire 2004-2005 season.

Certainly, some fans will be lost due to the petty bickering and politics of the game, which will be a tragedy and a huge hit to the league, especially considering last year’s record-breaking revenue. However, it is likely many will stick around, impatiently awaiting the next drop of the puck, even if all the while they are grumbling about the “damn NHL” because hockey is a sport that gets in your blood.

Though a tad inconvenient, fans can always choose to get their hockey fix from a different source during this time of uncertainty, particularly from the American Hockey League.

Many NHL teams have loaned players to their AHL affiliates, including, 24 loans by the New Jersey Devils, 26 by the Philadelphia Flyers, 23 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and 21 by the New York Rangers, to name a few, and there is some speculation that, without an NHL season, AHL ticket sales will soar.

Fans can also attend college games and smaller local league games to numb the pain a bit. Even here at F&M, there is a club hockey team, believe it or not!

So, amidst all the tempers and the confusion, my advice: do not forsake the NHL, but channel your hockey passion into supporting local teams (or reliving old games or hockey movies on television). Wait it out. Who knows, maybe the lockout will be short-lived. Either way, the suspense is building, and the next NHL hockey game will be that much more satisfying.

Questions? Email Alanna at akoehler@fandm.edu.

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