Six months into the NHL lockout – those words alone are enough to spark feelings of anger, resentment and frustration – someone has finally put a very fine point on the essence of the owners’ and players’ dilemma.
The debacle that Gary and Bob built has people speculating not just how many games will be lost to the labour unrest, but how many seasons. And sadly, perhaps too late, all parties involved are weighing the long-term damage to the players, the league and even the Holy Grail of hockey itself – Lord Stanley’s Challenge Cup.
Some have suggested that the two parties will in fact attempt to salvage a 30-game schedule, with a full playoffs to follow, so the most revered chalice in professional sports will not be tarnished with an asterisk beside the season 2004-2005.
In the midst of all of this the fans, – their wants, needs and opinions – seem to have meant little. Owners and players alike seem to assume that despite evidence to the contrary the fans will just flock back to their local NHL barns and television sets as soon as the locks come off the doors.
Leave it to Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie and now Member of Parliament Ken Dryden to sum up the predicament. Mr. Dryden, a lawyer, author and enthusiastic fan and critic of the game says it comes down to passion or habit – are fans driven by a genuine feel-it-in-your-bones mentality or have they been nurtured into the habit of tuning in on hockey night.
We’ll bet in the case of the NHL and its brand of sports entertainment, it’s truly more of a habit – even here in Canada. Those with a true passion for the game itself are likely out playing in rec leagues, helping out with a son’s or daughter’s team or watching local teams live. A bunch of the passionate ones packed the Coliseum this past Friday night. They witnessed and contributed to something that could be summed-up in two words: That’s Hockey.
The petulant players and greedy owners, or is that greedy players and petulant owners, are about to find out that they have already done permanent harm to the league, pushed fans to the limit of caring, and, yes, tarnished the Cup, part of the fabric of our culture.