Come Saturday morning it should be confirmed that the majority of the National Hockey League's 700-plus players has accepted the new 10-year labour deal brokered last Sunday morning in New York, and that the world's premier puck league is officially back in business. That is, taken off ice, and put back on the ice.
At long last, after 113 days of labour lunacy, peace on ice. Now, fasten your seat belts. Whirlwind training camps to open Sunday. Abbreviated 48-game schedule commencing next Saturday.
Of course, in hockey-mad Canada this ratification and return to normalcy is a huge whoop-dee-doo (since the agreement was reached, fanatics across the country have been spotted doing the Happy Dance in their official NHL-logo underpants while joyfully shooting warm, watered-down, odiously overpriced arena beer through their noses). In other areas of league commissioner Gary Bettman's over-extended universe -- areas such as the Sunbelt States of America, where hockey lags in popularity well behind lingerie-league darts -- the ecstasy is muted, to the point of appearing almost like indifference. Or obliviousness.
OK, perhaps not everyone north of the border is altogether enamoured with the return of hockey. Some Canadian fans will surely refuse to forgive the league and the players for the absurd, avaricious four-month disruption to their puck fix. Likewise, some Canadian fans will simply refuse to forget how the duelling bozos on both sides of the dispute curb-stomped their hearts before finally brokering a deal which, most experts agree, could have easily been reached months ago, if not for all the posturing and finger-pointing on both sides. Hell, there are more than a few cynical conspiracy theorists out there suggesting that the whole labour mambo was choreographed, that the two sides knew from the beginning that they would do the dance of the disgruntled and then finally pair up for a shortened season come January.
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Regardless, history (and surveys) suggest, that approximately 97.6327 percent of all true hockey fans will come skating back to the sport. Which is not to suggest that the league and players will escape this insanity unscathed. It's estimated that over the course of the lockout the players lost some $821-million in salaries. Likewise, the league took a shot or two to the financial groin.
Further, while dyed-in-the-wool fans flock back, the league may well have lost those fans in both Canada and the United States who previously existed on the periphery of the sport (which, in the case of Sunbelters, is most of the fan base). I'm referring to those who were kind of interested in hockey, but kind of not all that interested in hockey. That is, those who would for sure watch a hockey game, if Duck Dynasty repeats were not on television, and the local watering hole wasn't featuring half-priced pickled eggs. And, consequently, a farting contest.
Face it, these people said hasta la vista to hockey right around the time the league shot itself in the foot and began cancelling games. These people simply moved on to other things and quickly discovered they could get along just fine without the NHL. In order for the league to return to prosperity, it has to either lure these people back with promotions and gimmicks, or woo other periphery people into the fold.
In summary, it seems the lockout had no winners. Only big losers.
But wait... a close personal friend and industry insider who wishes to remain anonymous (let's call him Led Zeppelin IV), suggests that the lockout was not a bust for hockey fans, but, rather, a boon. Led says that aside from the world of economic hurt this whole debacle wreaked upon the sport's myriad satellite industries, there isn't a whole lot of downside to the lockout-abbreviated season.
"Well, for starters, we get a one-week training camp in place of the usual month-long snooze-fest. How great is that?
"Secondly, we get a shortened season. Let's face it, the typical season is way too long. If you're a true hockey fan you can't even pretend to be interested in most of those early season match-ups -- honestly, it's impossible to get excited about two bottom-feeders clashing in November when nothing's at stake, and the level of play is minor-peewee, at best. The shortened season inherently injects excitement, intensity and purpose into each game."
True that (as the kids on some horrible sitcom would say).
This is precisely what the National Basketball Association discovered last year following their own lockout lunacy. When the two sides settled, and the league tipped-off in time for its annual Christmas games, fans and media alike were like my buddy Led Zeppelin, giving the truncated season a whole lotta love. Indeed, the NBA was shocked to discover that many fans actually favoured the league permanently ditching the first third of each season, and playing a shorter and more meaningful schedule.
With all that in mind, I suppose we rejoice. Hockey's back. With a brand-new season. Sweet -- and short.