While hockey fans have returned in 2013, the future may not be bright.
The lockout is over, games are being played, fans are back in the stands and it's onward and upward for the NHL, right?
On the surface, things look far better than either Gary Bettman or Don Fehr had a right to expect. However, the problems associated with the lockout that may have weakened the sport have not disappeared.
During the lockout, angry fans issued utterances that were along the lines of not coming back and having players compete in empty arenas.
It didn't happen that way. When the players returned and the schedule started Jan. 19, it was a watershed of relief for everyone concerned.
But that doesn't mean that all is forgiven and there will be no problems in the future.
Actually, the NHL has several issues that it will have to address much better if it is going to alleviate the problems associated with the four-month lockout.
Fans have come back to the game, but that does not mean all is forgiven and forgotten.
Fans were thirsty for NHL hockey during the lockout, as if they were trapped in the desert in search of water. When the lockout ended and the games began, fans began to drink once again from the fountain of hockey.
But as they have become sated again, the memories of the lockout have not disappeared. There is still the lingering resentment of four months without hockey.
In addition to not seeing the game played at the highest level, the fans resented having to listen to the excuses of commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners who were locking out players.
They also resented the threat the entire 2012-13 season would be wiped out, not just pared by nearly half.
None of those feelings have gone away.
Whatever the NHL did to hockey fans in general doesn't compare to what it did to Canadian fans.
The game is a thrilling sport in the United States; it is religion in Canada.
In the video above, Canadian fans showed their willingness to support all Canadian teams ahead of any American teams.
The Canadian fans' love of hockey is akin to American fans' love of baseball and football combined.
You don't take away something that Canadian fans consider their birthright without consequences.
The NHL's brand has been diminished by more than $300 million, according to a report by consultant Brand Finance Canada (source: Yahoo.com).
This is significant because the NHL ranked fourth behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA among North America's major professional sports leagues before the lockout.
Now it is further behind the other sports.
The NFL brand is worth $9.1 billion, MLB is worth $4.4 billion and the NBA has a brand value of $2.7 billion. The NHL's brand value is now at $1.56 billion according to Brand Finance Canada.
The NHL was not just hurt by the most recent lockout. The league has had three significant lockouts over a 20-year period and that has hurt the sport significantly, according to BFC managing director Edgar Baum.
Once the NHL lockout ended, teams welcomed and tried to woo fans back with incentives.
From jerseys to autographed sticks to free food or food discounts, many teams around the league provided incentives to their fans in order to get them back.
While many of these incentives are new to the game and somewhat surprising, they may pale compared to what was lost during the lockout.
A meet-and-greet with a coach or a star player may be nice for fans, but it does not erase the bad feelings borne from the lockout.
Fans found other things to do with their time during the lockout.
While the NHL lockout hurt and many fans wanted nothing more for the NHL to return, other fans found other activities that interested them.
It could have been the other primary winter sports. Fans who had been casual basketball fans might have given that sport more of its attention.
Fans who spend their money on season tickets could have opted for more regular trips to movies or dinner outings.
Not all fans were waiting with bated breath for the NHL Some went elsewhere.
They may not come back any time soon.