NHL Lockout: Fans Suffer as Hockey's Cold War Continues

Derek StaudtContributor IIISeptember 15, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League leaves the podium after addressing the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The sun rose this morning. I didn’t want it to.

For the third time since 1994, the NHL is at a standstill once again. And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. I thought nothing could get worse than the canceled season of 2004-05 and it was comforting to know I wouldn’t have to endure such frustration again. Turns out I was wrong.

The lost season of 2005 resulted in an overwhelming victory for the NHL owners, who essentially received everything they demanded. Since the embarrassment and ridiculous nature of that year, the NHL’s revenue has skyrocketed 50 percent. Now the league is ready to stall everything it has achieved, largely in part to the owners who hate the very deal they worked so hard to implement.

If that isn’t bad enough, commissioner Gary Bettman dares to insult hockey’s feverish fanbase by declaring “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.” Gary Bettman does not care about the fans, and he does not care about the great game of hockey. Don’t you ever tell me about my dedication, only to slide into yet another lockout. If you truly cared, you would have begun hammering out this deal months ago, instead of waiting for and expecting the lights at NHL arenas to remain in the dark. Now it’s become some stubborn domestic standoff, some ridiculous staredown, with each side waiting for the other to blink first.

In the lockout of 2005, the players union received the majority of fans ire for refusing to accept a salary cap. After their hopes were effectively crushed by the owners, players are much less willing to swallow such a pill again. After all, the owners received a king’s ransom after the union caved, but apparently their ideas, which were deemed worthy of losing an entire season over, are not good enough.

These owners are the same people who go out in free agency and sign players to lifetime contracts, only to return to their offices and pound the desks for salary rollbacks. Craig Leipold is at the helm of the Minnesota Wild and complained to a local newspaper in April about his franchise’s state. “We’re not making money, and that’s why we need to fix our system… (and) how much we’re spending right now.” No more than three months later, Leipold handed out not one, but two 13-year, $98 million monster deals to the two biggest fish in the free agent pool. Hypocrisy at its finest.

The whole aspect is infuriating, and our pleads of desperation fall on deaf ears. We’re reduced to the sinister little commissioner praising us for our loyalty and players tweeting about their united union. Once this pathetic league resumes again, we’ll surely be patted on the back in the form of a meek “Thank you fans!” banner on the blue lines, as we saw in 2005. The whole ordeal is so angering and depressing it makes me sick to my stomach.

I wish I could get away from the NHL, but I know I can’t. That’s what makes Bettman’s claim even more sickening, is he knows fans will still come back and fill the arenas. I’ve gotten to the point where I hate directing the slightest bit of attention towards the league, but it’s almost beyond my control. I absolutely love the game of hockey, and I still tear up whenever I watch clips of Raymond Bourque thrusting the Cup above his head for the first time. Al Michael’s iconic “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” call from the 1980 Olympics and Mario Lemieux’s return from cancer sends chills down my spine. Hockey is a drug that always leaves me wanting more.

In reality, the NHL doesn’t deserve any of this. They don’t deserve such fans, and thus, they’ll never be better than fourth fiddle in the United States sports world. The NHL is the blonde bombshell who sits to the left of us in history class and cruelly leads us on with secret selfish intentions. Weeks later, our bruised egos, drained emotions and empty bank accounts float around our heads while the saddening sting of being used like soulless statue sticks in our gut.

I hate you, NHL. I hate that you’re putting your fans through this torturous routine once again and blatantly wink at us, knowing we’ll be back. I can’t believe this is happening again. It’s inexcusable and unforgivable.

But I’ll be back. I know you view me as nothing more than a lost dog, frantically looking for its masters on a suburban street. I know I am nothing more than another pawn, another walking ATM who will mindlessly walk through the turnstiles of a professional arena in the near future. I despise you, but I’ll be back. But you don’t deserve it. And I hate myself for allowing you to put me through such heartbreak.

There has to be some sort of guilt you build up for putting everybody through this course. Bettman praises the fans for literally pulling the league out of the ground, but the rewards are fruitless. The fans are the only reason the league has not only survived, but thrived since 2005. The NHL is so inept it really doesn’t deserve to see a season past 2012. If anything, they should be praying for the Mayan apocalypse to take form in order to save itself some level of additional embarrassment.

The greed of this league absolutely astonishes me, and the hypocrisy is just salt in the wound. I don’t know when play will resume again, or when the two sides will exchange more pointless proposals. Either way, every day the NHL extends its cold war just delves its “world’s greatest fanbase” into a deeper pit of despair. I hope this life-altering dispute over dollars and cents proves to be worth it for all of you in the end.