There’s nothing quite like it: the crisp, cold air; the crackling of pads and bodies smashing together; the feeling of a hoarse voice after an intense game. It’s enough to get me giddier than a kid on Christmas morning. And no, I’m not talking about playoff football.
Hockey is back, ladies and gentleman.
Myself being born and raised in St. Louis, I’ve been bred as a true-blue baseball lover, a passion for the Cardinals running deep within my bones. However, I’ve also grown to love one of St. Louis’s smaller, less accomplished franchises: the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues. Being a Blues fan hasn’t always been easy. We’re forty years into our franchise’s history and still searching for our first Stanley Cup. But the recent past has been promising. Ownership has encouraged an influx of youth and excitement, building one of the NHL’s youngest and most dangerous teams.
That is, until the NHL and the players decided to shoot themselves in the foot. From September 15, 2012, to just 6 days ago, there was no hockey played. No players suiting up and gliding gracefully across the frozen arena. No raucous fans pounding the glass of the boards and screaming at their least favorite players. And, most importantly to the players and owners, no money being made. Players fled to Europe, a safe haven for hockey fandom. For those left behind in the States, almost 4 months of ridiculous quarreling and stubbornness stole half of the season (and half of the revenue) away. There were times of near triumph (the league’s 50-50 revenue proposal gave fans a dose of hope), yet those were promptly shot down by an insatiable greed and lust for the almighty dollar. Luckily, someone had enough sense to save the season before it was melted down like the unused ice that sat in thirty arenas across North America. And after more than half of a day was spent negotiating, a new collective bargaining agreement was agreed upon. Players began to travel to their respective cities. Advertising teams worked on hurried commercials to throw on their local cable networks. And the fans all breathed a sigh of relief that their hockey wouldn’t be shut down for another year following the lockout from 2004-2005.
Well, at least the fans that have decided to come back.
You see, that was the most curious thing about the NHL lockout. It wasn’t the greed that caused a rift over hockey revenue. It wasn’t salary cap limitations. It wasn’t whether the owners would honor absurd contracts they had offered, only to turn around and complain that they were broke.
In this case, it’s all about the fans.
No major sporting association in America had as much to gain as the NHL. The popularity of a faster, more streamlined game since the ’04-‘05 lockout was soaring. The 2011-2012 season set a new record for total profit in the league’s history. And the insurgence of young talent around the league only meant that the ceiling was far off. But at the same time, no league in America had as much to lose as the NHL either. As the NFL, NBA and MLB continued their vice-like grip on the sporting world, the NHL was struggling to stay relevant and the question of stability remained an issue (for good reason). So why would a business that seemed to be headed in the right direction do such a stupid thing to themselves by shutting down? It’s a head-scratcher. And as we stand on the verge of the half season that is yet to start, the fate of American hockey doesn’t rest in the hands of the NHL or its players. Ironically enough, it belongs to the fans, the group who no one seems to care about.