No hockey fan wants to see a lockout. It doesn’t really matter who’s to blame, if the owners are hypocrites for wanting contract lengths to be shortened in an offseason where massive contracts have been handed out left and right, the players are being equally intractable – including their insistence on a 3-4 year CBA (far too short). As fans we’ll be back, we’ve proven that already. If losing an entire season wasn’t enough to drive the most loyal fans in sports away, very little either of these men or their subordinates could do will cause us to say ‘no mas’ en masse. Just for myself, I can’t take any of this personally. As annoyed as both sides make me, in the end we root for our teams and enjoy watching the sport because it’s entertaining. None of the posturing and arguing off the ice affects any of that. When the Devils come back, I’ll be at section 120 in my new aisle seats – I managed to move from the middle of my row to the end of it during an offseason season ticket relocation event.
Everyone knows how much a lockout would stink, we all want to see our favorite teams and the best sport out there. We’re only three weeks away from the start of the preseason (which in itself seems unbelievable after all the hockey local fans enjoyed last year), and we don’t even know if there’s going to be games in September. Or December. Yes, the NFL will still be going on and god knows I’ll be into it more than ever now that I have the NFL Network on Cablevision – finally, but that’s a one-day a week sport for the most part, as much as the NFL tries to spread out its games over Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And while baseball never seems to exist for me as a Met fan after July, Yankee fans still have October…maybe. At least they have September, though they’re struggling right now. I’m not even going to bring up the NBA, since for the most part it seems as if there isn’t a real big crossover between basketball fans and hockey fans – really, to be devoted fans of both an NBA and NHL team when both sports are going on at the same time is problematic to start with.
So clearly there are other sports out there for the big sports fan to enjoy in case of a lockout, whether you want to include college football/basketball, and other non-major team sports or not. Life does go on, whether we like it or not we’ll just have to find something else to do with our three hours a night if there’s no hockey game on, not to mention the time we spend going to and from games. In the age of high-speed internet and pretty much anything you could want at the touch of a button, there won’t be a problem finding something to do. Even if that something to do is just going out for a nice walk on a cool night, or doing some recreational physical activity.
All that said, me, Derek and all of you reading this are big hockey fans because we spend so much time watching, writing and talking about this great sport. Seeing the end of the replay of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals on the NHL Network just now while flipping channels drove that point home further. There is no real subsitute for the best reality TV out there, with hockey’s 82-game season, the parity of tight playoff races followed by unpredictable postseasons where literally anything could happen in a two-month attrition battle for the best trophy in sports – the Stanley Cup. Granted, it’s easier for me to romanticize about missing hockey as opposed to baseball if this were happening there, since the Devils have been by and large a competitive franchise for nearly two decades while my baseball team is stuck in a vortex of ineptitude.
Still, it’s not just Devil fans, or Ranger fans that will miss the sport. You have rabid Canadian markets that sell out no matter how bad their team is, along with competitive teams in big US markets – including the last three Cup winners (LA, Boston and Chicago). Almost every fanbase goes into a given NHL season with hope their team can at least make the postseason. Whatever people feel about the salary cap, it has helped competitive balance. Before the lockout it was mostly the big markets battling for free agents. Now you have teams like Minnesota handing out huge contracts and even a mid-market like Nashville being able to match the Flyers’ insane offer sheet to captain and defensive anchor Shea Weber.
Not to mention pretty much every team has at least one great rival that spices things up, some more than that. Rivalries are more fun in the NHL than any other sport, especially when they meet in the playoffs. Devils-Rangers ECF and Flyers-Pens in the first round this year are among the many examples how rivalries in the playoffs can be entertaining, for different reasons – the former for the quality of play and momentum shifts in the series, the latter for its shenanigans and video-game scoring. And during a long regular season you get goon-fests and intensity you normally won’t see until the playoffs when teams like Boston and Montreal meet. Or Calgary and Edmonton. Or any number of other grudge matches that help make the NHL what it is.
I guess in closing I’ll only say I hope we see hockey sooner rather than later. Yes, there’s a tiny part of me that wouldn’t mind the extra rest for a Devil team that had a deep playoff run, but only a tiny part. Unfortunately it won’t be exactly the same team that comes back to defend their Eastern Conference Championship, but time marches on. Zach Parise may be gone, but young players like Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson and Adam Larsson will continue to develop, and you never know when someone else steps up (after all, few had really heard of Henrique before last year either). Martin Brodeur will be back, of course, but with each passing year there are fewer chances to see the legendary HOF-to be goalie. At least he reminded people of his greatness this spring when he turned back the clock and went deeper in the playoffs as a 40-year old than he has since he just turned 31.
Until then, we all wait and hope for a resolution. I just hope this lockout doesn’t last long enough to make me pine for Mark Everson‘s anti-Devil hatchet jobs in the Post.