The NHL has mastered the craft of torturing fans, forcing its loyal followers to endure two lockouts in the last eight years.
The lockout of 2004-05 cost hockey lovers an entire season. Yet this year, the owners have reportedly told commissioner Gary Bettman that cancelling the season isn't an option (h/t Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun).
My sources say owners have privately informed Bettman cancelling the season is not an acceptable option.— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) December 28, 2012
But while the owners may be adamant about their position, the deadline for salvaging the season is fast approaching. In order to play a 48-game season, the lockout must be over by mid-January. If it's not, the league will lose another year of action.
While this may seem like business suicide, the NHL will survive the latest lockout because of one simple reason: the fans will always come back.
When the '04-05 lockout ended, fans came out to support the league in full force. Twenty-five of the league's 30 teams saw increased attendance from 2003-04 to 2005-06. In Pittsburgh, 33 percent more fans came to games the year following the lockout.
League-wide attendance was up 2.4 percent that year, and the NHL set records in average game attendance (16,955) and total attendance (20,854,169). By many measures, it was the most successful season in league history.
Of course, fans may be less inclined to support the league after the most recent work stoppage. It's arguably been more frustrating this time around, and some people have already started boycotting NHL merchandise.
But as angry as the fans may be right now, they will come crawling back when the league opens its doors. Hockey has some of the most passionate fans on the planet, and you don't just abandon a life-long obsession after a few unpleasant experiences.
Whether play starts next month or at the beginning of next season, NHL fans will still support the game they love.