NHL Lockout: Have Fans Come to Terms with No Hockey in 2012-13?

Al DanielCorrespondent IINovember 24, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12:  A general view of the interior of the arena prior to the New York Rangers hosting the Ottawa Senators in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 12, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Metropolitan Detroit will have no hockey-related boosts in tourism this year with the cancellation of the NHL Winter Classic three weeks ago.

Columbus can now make the same melancholy claim in the wake of Friday’s cancellation of the NHL All-Star Game.

All that is left in the way of marquee events for the year 2013 is a Stanley Cup tournament and championship series, the latter to be split between two yet-to-be-determined markets.

From that angle, there is still technically hope for everybody in a better-than-nothing NHL season.

But in light of the latest tide eroding a little more of the schedule, are people retaining or relinquishing that hope?

It is most likely the latter.

Even before Columbus’ All-Star Game was called off, a week prior as a matter of fact, one of the local beat writers opined that hockey fans are already prepared to accept that a 2012-13 season is a lost cause.

Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch concluded his critical column as follows:

“It is apparent that the league is bent on a path to irrelevance and, at this point, fans are willing to cooperate. Most of us could care less every day. Mission accomplished.”

Unfortunately, one week after publication, Arace’s assessment could now be looking more dead right than before.

There is still enough to stand on for those who still prefer to envision a timely resolution to the lockout. But Friday’s news is bound to have more fans wishing not to raise or retain hope and thereby risk an emotional letdown come January or February.

No matter how much optimism you may have, virtually all of us have been through both the worst-case and less-awful-case scenarios before.

An NHL labor stoppage has forced the cancellation of two previous All-Star Games in 1994 and 2004. In that situation, the league boasts a .500 record of 1-1 in the way of salvaging seasons.

On the one hand, the more disastrous lockout from 2004-05 is fresher in everyone’s memory, which is enough to percolate a new batch of pessimism now.

On the other hand, with all games through Dec. 14 called off, roughly a month still remains if the league and the players’ association are striving to duplicate 1994-95, when normal business finally resumed in the latter half of January.

That, however, was a much different era.

As the attempts to negotiate continue, the authoritative TSN has a list of 37 NHL players passing the time in the five-year-old, Russia-based KHL and another 137 distributed over roughly a dozen other overseas leagues.

That dense of a presence of players in or near their native countries, but especially Russians in the KHL, could stall the negotiation process back in North America, if it has not already.

There must be a clear-cut single-mindedness among the NHLPA as it pushes for a satisfying deal.

Otherwise, the owners, who some bystanders (like Arace) believe are perfectly content with continuing the lockout, will not be convinced to put forth a more doable proposal or to accept whatever their counterparts present.

Already, the owners in Columbus, Detroit and the would-be Winter Classic visitors from Toronto have effectively passed up their chance to partake in a special event.

If there are any calendar casualties of note still to come, it will involve those three, along with the owners of 27 other franchises passing up their respective team’s bid to compete for bonus springtime action and a championship.

One has to think that everybody genuinely wants normalcy replenished in the NHL, even if it is true that some would just as soon push it off until next autumn, or at least take the needlessly rougher road to it.

But take what the players and the owners have done to this point and try to plug them into the equation without checking the answer in the back of the book.

It need not be any surprise if most fans are now concluding that this problem cannot be simplified in time to preserve a 2012-13 NHL season. It would be more curious if the opposite sentiment was more prevalent.

At least 174 NHL-caliber players have found employment elsewhere, to say nothing of the generous quantities of NHL-caliber talent currently in the AHL or even the ECHL.

Two out of three signature events have been scrubbed out for a year at the expense of 10 percent of the league’s franchises and two of the league’s economic markets.

This author is still not ready to give up on the 2012-13 NHL campaign altogether.

Nonetheless, upon assessing the damage to date, it is impossible to blame those who are conceding and preempting the pain of a potential 2004-05 sequel.