As the NHL and NHLPA prepare for a players-and-owners-only meeting tomorrow (via John Shannon of Sportsnet.ca), many die-hard hockey fans have already begun to turn their backs on the game that they love.
The NHL has built the blueprint on how to frustrate its fans to the point where they just give up on the league altogether.
Unlike the last lockout, there is absolutely no reason for this labor dispute to still be far from finalized at the start of December. Both sides don't have to make any major concessions to reach a new agreement and save the lockout, and that's why fans are livid right now.
It's important to understand that hockey fans are among the most loyal of any sport, which was evident after the 2004-05 lockout when many people were not hesitant to forgive the owners and players for the lost season.
The fans understood that the last lockout needed to happen because the large-market, high-spending teams were ruining the league by increasing the average player salary by handing out huge contracts, which made it incredibly difficult for small-market, low-budget teams to compete on and off the ice.
Substantial changes were needed to save the league and many of its teams, so fans, and most of the media, understood that the year lost might actually benefit the sport moving forward.
Seven years later, the changes made actually did make the NHL better. Hockey-related revenue is over $3 billion, TV ratings are solid, more teams are competitive now than before the previous lockout, and the league signed its first major television deal with NBC Sports ($2 billion for 10 years) last year.
The same fans who helped build the NHL into a very successful business on and off the ice are now seeing their hard work decimated by ego, greed and foolishness. These are the fans who are beginning to turn their backs on the game, and who can blame them?
There's a level of real anger among the most die-hard NHL fans. As soon as the lockout commenced on September 15, fans responded in a variety of ways, some of which included unfollowing the league on Twitter, not purchasing any NHL-brand products and actually protesting in front of the league's offices in New York.
After being the group of people largely responsible for the growth that the NHL has made over the last seven years, fans are being taken for granted yet again so greedy owners and players can find ways to add even more money to their already-too-high salaries.
At this point in the lockout, fans are not more angry at one side than the other. They realize that both sides have failed them tremendously, and unless a solution to this work stoppage is found soon, these loyal fans could leave the NHL forever.
They no longer want to deal with the constant cycle of no progress being made in CBA talks and rhetoric coming from both sides.
If the NHL wants to keep these die-hard fans, who are so important to the league's success, it has to find a way to end this lockout as soon as possible.
The NHL made life miserable for its fans seven years ago by allowing a lockout to ruin an entire year, but the league was fortunate enough to recover strongly and give fans plenty of reasons to invest in its product.
This time, the NHL won't be so lucky.