Interest in the league diminishes as owners, players fail to agree
Sports | Neil Vance for The Clarion
Zach Parise (9), captain of the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils last season, will be an exciting new addition to the Wild once the NHL season begins. | Photo for The Clarion courtesy of MCT
November is a time most sports fans love. The NFL is in full swing, the NBA is just getting started and collegiate sports are moving into the playoffs. However, one sport is notably absent this year: professional hockey.
The NHL lockout has already cost the league nearly two full months of action, including the preseason and 326 regular season games thus far, not to mention the popular Winter Classic, played outdoors on New Year’s Day.
For some, the lockout has brought to mind the 2004 work stoppage, which forced the league to cancel the entire season. Although the league isn't at that point yet, the best-case scenario appears to be a 66-game season beginning on Dec. 1, provided an agreement between the NHL Player’s Association and the NHL can be reached soon.
If a shortened season does occur, many fans will draw a comparison to the last NBA season, which was also limited by a lockout. The shortened NBA season was largely successful, but it is unlikely that a shortened NHL season would be as well-received.
Junior hockey fan Neil Eukel expressed concern about the lockout’s effect on the sport itself.
“Most hockey fans are casual followers of the teams, and lockouts do not allow the sport to grow in America,” he said. “There simply are not the big names like there are with the NFL and NBA, and there are very few die-hard fans in the U.S.”
With money and fan loyalty at stake, many don’t understand why the lockout occurred in the first place. There are a variety of issues forming a barrier to negotiations, the biggest being the percentage by which hockey-related revenue should be split between the players and owners. The owners are looking to increase their share, and the players are trying to maintain their current revenue.
However, there are many other issues as well. These mainly include other ways to limit the growth and costs of contracts, such as setting a maximum length on player contracts, lengthening entry level contracts, eliminating signing bonuses and extending how long a player must be in the league until he can be an unrestricted free agent. Among other issues are player pensions and whether or not current contracts would be honored under the new agreement.
This lockout came at an especially unfortunate time for Minnesota Wild fans, as the team spent big money this offseason to bring in top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, adding to an otherwise young upcoming squad.
“The Wild would have been a top-five team in the West if the season had gone as scheduled,” Eukel said. “They would have been fun to watch and very competitive.”
Now, fans may never find out how the hometown squad would have done this season. Although all hope is not lost and negotiations are occurring, action must be taken soon.
“Not having a season is a lose-lose situation,” said senior NHL fan Nick Habisch. “The owners aren’t making any money, and although some players are playing overseas in other leagues, they are not making nearly as much money as they would in the NHL.”
Hockey fans must hope that mutual motivation is enough to strike a deal in time to save at least part of the season. If not, the NHL may suffer lasting consequences.