The NHL may be fourth behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA in terms of overall popularity and financial influence, but it is not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Times are bad right now. The NHL's leadership and ownership seems intent on changing the system and exacting financial capitulation from the players.
It is not interested in negotiating a fair settlement. Commissioner Gary Bettman gave the NHL players what amounts to a take-it-or-leave-it offer in mid-October. When NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr presented three counter-offers, Bettman declared it a step backwards and walked away from the table.
That's the kind of attitude and behavior that could make this painful strike long and even more disastrous. However, as bad as it is and it could clearly get even worse, the NHL is not going to die in the United States.
The sport of hockey is not just an avocation. It is part of a lifestyle and a reason for living for many. Whether its youth hockey, high school, college or senior amateur hockey, the sport gets in your blood.
Nearly everyone who has some interest in the game also has an interest in the sport when its played at the highest level. That's the NHL.
It would take a lot more than a full and complete season for the NHL to kill itself in the U.S. The sport has already survived a full-season lockout, as it did in 2004-05.
Another full-season lockout would indicate how badly the sport is run by those with the power. Perhaps it would give some of the owners the impetus to limit the power of those that have decided to show off their muscles and try to push the players around.
The owners are responsible for this lockout. Their point man Gary Bettman is the public face of their villainy, but owners like Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins and Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers give him his marching orders (source: ESPN.com).
Jacobs has owned the Bruins since 1975 while Snider is the original owner of the Flyers, taking control in the original 1967 expansion.
Jacobs is seen as a hard-line owner (source: SportingNews.com) who wants to see the NHL players get even less than the 50 percent the NHL offered earlier this month.
Other owners who follow the lead of the senior owners are going to have to exert leadership of their own and change the course the NHL's leadership is choosing to take.
If that does not happen, who knows how long the lockout will last.
If it lasted a full season and went into a second year, all bets would be off in terms of the league's ability to survive.
At that point, some sharp entrepreneur may choose to start a competitive league.
The NHL owners have already miscalculated the lockout's impact on the players.
They have options. They can play hockey in European leagues in Russia, Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Many have taken up those options, and not just the foreign-born players (source: Toronto Sun).
So, if the owners think the players are suffering, they are not hurting as much as Jacobs and Bettman thought they might.
Sooner or later, the owners and the commissioner are going to have to start acting like adults and looking to the future.
The sport of hockey and the NHL can stand a heavy body blow or two.
But this lockout is going horribly wrong and true leadership is going to have to emerge to end this stalemate that will allow this sport to thrive once again.
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