October is generally the beginning of a veritable smorgasbord of sports for fans to devour, with the NFL and college football in the midst of the season, MLB in the World Series, and the NBA season about to start, followed shortly after by college basketball. For the rabid fan base of the NHL (National Hockey League), their season may never start.
The NHL should of started this season a few weeks ago but as any diehard hockey fan will tell you it’s been delayed by a case of “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” You see, the NHL and its players association failed to learn from the damage done to the game by the work stoppage of 2004 and now because of bravado and greed, the NHL again this week had to announce that it had canceled games through at least November 1 with no hope in sight for reconciliation. In this column I will give you my opinion on why the NHL is the only committee that can only be perceived as an attempt at suicide at least in sports terms and how well it will depress the loyal fan base. They could actually be a great thing for young hockey players in our region.
As I see it, there are two major hurdles stopping a NHL season. The first of which is the NHL’s self-image problem. You see, the NHL fails to see itself for what it is– a niche sport that has a rabid fan base, though their fan base at least in the United State is definitely made up of the minority of the country rather than the majority, and is mainly made up of the northeastern part of the country with small pockets of people sprinkled throughout the rest of the nation. One example that proves this is me. You see, up until the Sabres made their 96 Stanley Cup run, I will freely admit I had no interest in hockey. In fact, dare I say the most exposure I had to it was the Mighty Ducks movies I used to watch growing up as a kid. The other glaring example is the lack of interest there is nationally in the NHL. I took to social media asking people for their input and thoughts on the lockout and if they missed the game for this column and got no responses. I personally feel the NHL missed any shot it had at gaining a foothold in this country a few years ago when they had a major television contract with ESPN that was the chance to hook in new fans but that contract has sense expired and now the NHL only has national exposure through its weekly games on the NBC network. The cable NBC sports network very rarely, if at all, makes SportsCenter. I mean, come on, my loyal readers. There was more of an outrage over the NFL referees lockout then there seems to be over the NHL lockout. I don’t personally I put the NHL behind such sports as the NFL, MLB, NBA, college basketball, the UFC and college football and I know I’m not the only one. I may just be the only one who will admit it, even though I will take heat from friends for it. So that should tell you why the NHL’s biggest problem is its own ego and image perception.
As for the second and possibly worse problem, the two men leading the negotiations: Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner and Donald Fehr, who infamously was the union had for the major league baseball players Association during the strike of 1994. Both Bettman and Fehr have let their arrogance and ego and the knowledge that the diehard fans will always return no matter what stop them from doing what was best for the fans and players and owners– playing games. The reason they can do this though is because the owners are so rich that they can sit and be patient but unlike in other sports, namely football, which America loves, hockey players can go to other countries in Europe and surrounding areas and make almost as much if not more money playing over there as they would in a NHL, so there’s no reason to negotiate. What this is all causing is the slow and painfully agonizing death of the league as it slowly slips away from the consciousness of the American public.
There are some people who could benefit from this lockout in the short term. That being the local colleges in our region who have just started their season. For example, SUNY Geneseo has played two games this season. They are 1 and 1 but even in their three to overtime loss, the product has been and shows signs of continuing to be thrilling. So, my suggestion to you my loyal readers is this: if you are a diehard hockey fan and are looking to get your fix or even if this is your first exposure to the game, how about going out and supporting not only the colleges like SUNY Geneseo, but also the youth leagues that are scattered throughout our region? These players, their schools, and families play the game for the simplest of common denominators– the fun, passion and competitive spirit of the game, while the billionaires and millionaires bicker over money. How about we show support to the players in our region no matter what age level? Three things could happen if you choose to: you get to see hockey in its purest form for far more reasonable price; you would make the young athletes days and sometimes lives because they might never get to play in front of a bigger crowd in their lives; and it sends a message to the players and owners of the NHL. We don’t need you to enjoy the game we love. Who knows? You may get see the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux so you can someday say I saw him way back when.