The NHL is totally mismanaging its connection with hockey fans, according to a McMaster University communications expert.

“Fans don't appear to be a part of the equation lately,” said Alex Sevigny, an associate professor of communications at McMaster. “They've been taken for granted, it seems.”

Sevigny says both the NHL and its players are trying to lock fans out of the conversation surrounding the work stoppage, just like they did in 2004.

And post-social media boom, that just doesn't fly, he says.

“Almost everyone I know watches hockey with a smartphone or tablet in hand,” Sevigny said.

So people get connected to the sport in ways they never did before. Through Twitter hashtags, player posts and Facebook groups, the NHL experience has become more community-oriented.

Take the Stanley Cup champion LA Kings, who have almost 178,000 Twitter followers. Then there's the Montreal Canadiens, with over 335,000 followers — not to mention individual players with their own accounts.

A quick glance at Facebook yields similar results. The Toronto Maple Leafs have 633,000 “likes” on their page. Fans are definitely more connected to the sport.

But that's only the case when things are rosy, Sevigny says.

“When there's a problem, fans get excluded. And that's telling people that they're clients, not members of a community,” he said.

“In an age of social media, people want to participate. They want to be part of the conversation — so you can't just turn community on and off.”

A glimmer of hope, crushed

A deal to save the season seemed tantalizingly close last week — but collective bargaining talks imploded in spectacular fashion on Thursday night.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, raised hopes after tabling a new proposal during an hour-long meeting on Thursday night and claiming the sides were "clearly very close, if not on top of one another in connection with most of the major issues."

The optimism didn't last long. A voicemail left on union special counsel Steve Fehr's cellphone during the press conference carried an important message: Not only was the NHL flatly rejecting the union's offer, it was also pulling all the concessions it made earlier in the week off the table.

By the time commissioner Gary Bettman met reporters, he was in a rage over the enthusiasm Donald Fehr expressed while characterizing the status of negotiations.

"I find it almost incomprehensible he did that," said Bettman, who shook as he spoke.

Heading to other avenues

Sevigny says with all this jockeying for position and public posturing, the NHL is doing “real damage” to its brand.

“A lot of people perceive professional sports as a public good,” he said. “And with all these new lines of communication open, people just won't be ignored anymore.”

If anything, the league is pushing fans to other places to get their hockey fix, he says.

“People that love hockey don't necessarily love the NHL,” he said. “And other enterprises may present themselves.”

Whether that's the AHL, OHL or minor leagues—- the NHL is going to have a hard time drawing people back into the community they'd built, he says.

“That risk is just growing and growing,” Sevigny said.

“You have to remember — there is a powerful emotional and mythological connection for people when it comes to hockey.”

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • 15. San Jose Sharks

    $223 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Alamy

  • 14. Edmonton Oilers

    $225 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Alamy

  • 13. Dallas Stars

    $240 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Getty Images

  • 12. Calgary Flames

    $245 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Alamy

  • 11. Washington Capitals

    $250 million. <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> GETTY IMAGES

  • 10. LA Kings

    $276 million. <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a>

  • 9. Pittsburgh Penguins

    $288 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skates during an informal workout with teammates at the Iceoplex in Canonsburg, Pa., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. The NHL would've opened the regular season on Thursday if it weren't for the current lockout. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

  • 8. Philadelphia Flyers

    $336 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> FILE - This April 7, 2012 file photo shows Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky keeping his eye on the action during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in Pittsburgh. The Flyers have traded Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft choices. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

  • 7. Vancouver Canucks

    $342 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Vancouver Canucks' goalie Cory Schneider uses his blocker to deflect a Los Angeles Kings shot away from the net during the second period of game 5 of an NHL Western Conference quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff hockey series in Vancouver, British Columbia on Sunday April 22, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

  • 6. Detroit Red Wings

    $346 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> This Feb. 23, 2012 file photo shows Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm celebrating his goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit. Helm has agreed to a four-year deal to remain with the Detroit Red Wings. General manager Ken Holland announced the contract Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

  • 5. Boston Bruins

    $348 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> This March 19, 2012 file photo shows Boston Bruins' Tyler Seguin during an NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Boston. The Bruins continued their pre-lockout signing strategy Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, agreeing with Seguin on a six-year, $34 million contract extension. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)

  • 4. Chicago Blackhawks

    $350 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Head coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks and (L-R) Viktor Stalberg #25, Patrick Kane #88, Jonathan Toews #19, Bryan Bickell #29 and Brendan Morrison #17 watch the closing minutes from the bench against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on April 23, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 4-0 to win the series 4 games to 2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

  • 3. Montreal Canadiens

    $575 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Montreal Canadiens' Francis Bouillon arrives for an informal hockey training session, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, at the team's training facility in Brossard, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)

  • 2. New York Rangers

    $750 million <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron looks on during an informal NHL hockey practice in Amherst, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

  • 1. Toronto Maple Leafs

    $1 billion <a href="">Read the entire list on Forbes</a> Toronto Maple Leafs players acknowledge the crowd at the end of their last home game of the season as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning during overtime NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Thursday, April 5, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)