On the eve of what should have been the Devils’ season opener in Washington, NHL arenas are still dark al over North America and will be at least until the end of October. I don’t want to dwell on what isn’t, like Derek said a while back you don’t want to let them win, so to speak. Especially since it’s obvious Gary Bettman and others in power take the fans’ loyalty for granted. If anything annoys me about this NHL lockout, it’s that. Obviously the fact the fans returned en masse in 2005 without anything resembling baseball fans’ anger in 1995 over ‘only’ losing the playoffs and part of a regular season has added to the arrogance of those in charge. I don’t want to absolve the players completely either, their insistence on having a 50+ percent share of the revenue and a short-term CBA is annoying but clearly this lockout is on the owners and their hatchetman.
As the non-season starts though I can’t help but be annoyed. Particuarly when it comes to the collateral damage this lockout’s causing. Some in frivolous ways, some more serious than that. From a personal standpoint, I miss going to games. Not even so much for the game although that’s obviously part of it, it’s the relationships I have with other Devil fans there. Arena friendships I call them for the most part, including the two guys I sat with last year during that great playoff run, and a handful of other guys and girls I know but for one reason or another don’t really talk with as much outside the arena. It’s easier to contemplate not going to games now, in the spring and summer but when you don’t want to do as much outdoors during the winter, going to hockey games is one thing that usually gets me out of the house. Even going while the weather is nice is good, I used to walk the 1.2 or so miles from Newark Broad Street to the arena any number of times, and often walked around the arena before games as well.
Yet I only went to maybe 1/3 of regular season games factoring in 27-28 of the 41 home games in an 82-game schedule. There are also TV aspects I miss – maybe not so much that Hockey Night in NY show with Ken Daneyko surrounded by Ranger and Isle lifers but that show had its moments. Steve Cangelosi improved as the Devils’ play-by-play man in his first season full-time – just listen to the Game 6-7 winning goals of the first round – and it’s always entertaining when Chico Resch goes into Ted Baxter mode (circa the Mary Tyler Moore show). Aside from MSG+, I hate the fact that now that I finally have the NHL Network I can’t watch anything but a constant loop of old games and team highlight videos. And of course I miss the team themselves, a group of guys that had accomplished more than anyone in almost a decade – and despite many of them being FA’s, they all came back en masse…with one obvious exception that there’s no need to get into now. It is likely now that Devil fans will miss their chance to boo Benedict Parise in early November though…more collateral damage.
What the NHL doesn’t want to admit is no matter how much it wants to bury its head in the sand and Bettman wants to pull his Baghdad Bob act, there will be damage from this lockout. You’re talking about merchandise that would have been sold to fans excited over the dawn of another NHL season, ticket sales, etc. And yes the majority of fans are hardcore and will be back, but the NHL does have its share of casual fans too (there’s a reason Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the Original Six compromise 95% of telecasts and Winter Classics, after all). I would put my best friend in this mold, she doesn’t go out of her way to watch the Devils night in and night out during the regular season the way I might but from going to games with me she’d become a lot more into the team the last few years. Especially after she finally got to experience a real playoff run last Spring. Losing her favorite player during the offseason to a Minneapolis buddyfest is one thing, losing the entire team for any protracted period could definitely affect her passion.
If you don’t believe me, just look at baseball and how many fans like my dad ‘still’ swear that they don’t pay attention or go to games since the ’94 strike. Make no mistake about it, the ’94 cancellation of the World Series was the final straw for many after almost two decades of labor strife, including a shortened ’81 season. Baseball needed Cal Ripken, juiced balls and juiced bodies to get fans back (and now they’ve finally learned their lesson with almost two decades worth of baseball uninteruppted by millionaires fighting billionaires). This is what the NHL has to pay attention to, not the way their fans came back after ’04, but the way baseball fans finally decided enough was enough with constant labor strife. You can tell from reading message boards and hearing some of the anger it might not be as easy this time, especially if this is as long a lockout as the doomsayers on both sides negotiating through the media want you to fear it might be.
Ironically there IS a Devils hockey team that has a home opener on Saturday. And Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson and Adam Larsson will be playing. Of course I’m talking about the Albany Devils, not the New Jersey Devils (and it’s so bizarre seeing the Devils’ Twitter with constant Albany updates), although if there was no lockout all three would be in New Jersey at the very least. I have to admit some level of interest in the baby Devs now that there’s no NHL Devils to watch but I refuse to pay to watch online games. That’s where I draw the line during this lockout, not paying for anything extra although I might be compelled to get tickets to go to a Albany game at some point, but I would be doing that even if the real Devils were playing. Even wearing my myriad of Devil t-shirts is hard, I don’t really want to do it at this point while the lockout’s going on and get peppered with questions over why I’m wearing it ‘now’ while the NHL’s still in the cold.
So as always seem to be the case every few years, we wait on the one hand and have to keep ourselves occupied on the other. Time won’t wait for an NHL lockout or anything else.