Several members of the Chicago Blackhawks appeared onstage during the Rush concert at the United Center September 15. Right now, that may be the last we'll see of them in that building for a while.
The return of hockey to the Madhouse on Madison is now in the hands of the owners and the NHLPA. As of 11:59 p.m. on Saturday night, the NHL is officially in lockout mode.
Up until this point, I've operated with the hope that somehow a CBA would be agreed upon and that I would be attending the 'Hawks Training Camp Festival with my family September 22. It's probably time to make other plans.
With the sides still quite a ways apart on a number of issues, we can only speculate on when the NHL will begin the season, if at all. Will the entire season be lost as it was in 2004-05? That remains to be seen. However, the stakes are definitely higher for the Blackhawks this time around.
Eight years ago, Chicago was coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history and were playing to thousands of empty seats. Heading into the current lockout, the 'Hawks lead the league in attendance and have a team that has reached the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.
Is a revitalized fan base going to support the Blackhawks as feverishly this time around?
A long waiting list for season tickets suggests that the fans may return whenever play resumes. Starting the season late isn't exactly a momentum builder, though.
The 'Hawks moved a slew of players to their AHL affiliate in Rockford in anticipation of a work stoppage. 2011 first-rounders Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault have been assigned to their junior teams.
The immediate futures of current stars might be in Europe or elsewhere depending on the length of the lockout. Right now, fans in need of a hockey fix are going to have to venture down I-90 to check out the IceHogs or enjoy the game at the lower levels.
With the lockout now in effect, it is hard to talk about anything else. For now, all we can do is hope for a increased sense of urgency between the players and owners that results in some hockey being played in the United Center again.
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