The NHL has found its way back into no man’s land.
With the league having locked its players out for the second time in eight years, big names (such as Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton and eventually David Krejci) are headed overseas to play in European leagues. When those players will return to play an NHL season is anybody’s guess, as the league and the NHL Players’ Association have been far off in negotiations and aren’t expected to talk again until Wednesday.
When people speculate as to when the season would begin, the two popular dates are obviously Nov. 23 and Jan. 1. The first of those two dates is the “Thanksgiving Showdown” between the Rangers, and more importantly the first NBC game of the season. The second date is the Winter Classic.
One would really have to be an optimist to think at this point that games will be played before Nov. 23. That hurts the Bruins, as their schedule goes from pretty managable to quite challenging starting with that post-Thanksgiving game.
Here are a few early thoughts on the lockout. We’ll call them early thoughts because there figures to be plenty of hockey-less time to add more:
- This isn’t like the last lockout. When they had the work stoppage and eventually a cancelled season in 2004-05, it was interpreted as greed against greed. The players didn’t want the salary cap, and that at least made them look somewhat to blame in the court of public opinion for the stalemate. This time around, it’s hard to find anyone siding with the owners.
The reason, of course, is that the owners made out like bandits the last time around but want more this time. The players got 57 percent of the hockey-related revenue (HRR) in the recently expired CBA, but that’s what they took in order to give the owners a salary cap. The owners’ first proposal called for the players to reduce their percentage of HRR to 43 percent, and though they’ve moved on that number a bit, the players don’t feel they’re in a position to be making more accommodations for the owners.
- If fans feel their loyalty is being taken advantage of, they’re right. As soon as hockey comes back, the die-hards will once again exercise their right to line the league’s pockets with their cash. As a sign of no hard feelings, maybe teams will paint “Thank you fans!” on the ice again when the games start, like they did in 2005.
In the weeks and months leading up to the lockout, it seemed the bitterness was already there from puckheads, and it’s still there. Season ticket-holders you come across will say they’ll cancel their accounts. Fans will say they won’t go to games. Yeah right.
While there’s no doubt some season ticket-holders will keep their word and try to stick it to Jeremy Jacobs (who is the president of the NHL board of governers) and the league in general, other fans (like those who spent the 2012-13 season on the waiting list because Bruins season-ticket packages sold out) will scoop those seats up. Jacobs won't lose.
Fans will be angry at the league and the owners in particular, but at least in the Bruins’ case, the vast majority won’t boycott the league for even a second when hockey does return. Why? Because as anyone will tell you, hockey doesn’t have the most fans, but it has the most passionate fans.
The idea that Jacobs had finally won the fans over by bringing the Cup to Boston is revisionist history. Go back to a year ago when fans booed the owner at the Garden on opening night as the team celebrated its Stanley Cup win for the last time (or so they said; the Cup still made the rounds at Harvard and Gillette Stadium after the 2011-12 season had begun, which was kind of weird).
Jacobs is never going to be the most popular guy in town, but then again, owners never really need to be. Whether or not the fans are happy with him, they buy tickets. That’s the way it was before the 2004-05 season was cancelled, that’s the way it’s been since hockey returned and it figures to be the way it will be on the other side of this lockout.
- Assuming that games are played this season, the biggest winner with a late start to the schedule would be the Kings. Winning the Stanley Cup without any of the costly fatigue? Where was that a season ago?
The Bruins showed their exhaustion at various points of the season last year (really everything but November through January) after playing halfway into June the year before. An extra month, two, three or more off would certainly help the Kings avoid the Stanley Cup hangover that proved itself to be a very real thing for the Bruins.