As the NHL approaches the end of the current CBA, there is only one question hockey fans have to ask.
Will there be another lockout?
Logic says no. Nobody can afford it, be it the NHL or the NHLPA. But as we’ve learned over the past, logic doesn’t always triumph in situations like this. Look at the past lockout. The players held out for more. In the end, they got less. They got so desperate to play again, they took the offer the owners gave them. The same one that they refused. Only worse.
After the NHL came back, ESPN abandoned them. They, at the time, had no major network broadcasting it. It was a long road back to the level of popularity they were at before, helped largely by the arrival of the three best players since the lockout, Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin, and the revolutionary Winter Classic. Now, the NHL sits as the centerpiece of the NBC Sports Network’s programming, having gained millions more fans, including myself. But they lost millions during the last lockout as well.
Look at the NBA lockout. TV ratings and attendance are down. The NBA lost thousands of fans over the lockout, even millions. There was a large public backlash, visible in the ratings this year. People were sick of the “Millionaires vs Billionaires” fight that had been going on for months, and they showed it. The same thing would likely happen to the NHL. Only worse.
The NHL has been rapidly growing. It cannot afford to stop that growth right now, and lose more fans. It is, currently, the smallest of the 4 big sports in North America. If there is a lockout, it will lose even more ground. And that would be tragic for the NHL. The economy is terrible. People will likely sour on the NHL for having a NBA-esque fight over millions vs billions. Many fans won’t come back. Some fans who stuck by hockey during the last lockout will quit, due to them being extremely tired of the constant arguments. And the road back will be even harder.
Yes, the NHL has a fanbase of millions. But how many will remain? And will they still have the same popularity that they have now after a lockout? Donald Fehr and the NHLPA realize this as well as the owners do. They know how horrid a lockout can be for this league. But will they admit it and work together? Or will they stay where they are, stubborn as bulls? The players don’t want to lose any more ground on the owners in the next CBA. The owners likely don’t want to give the players any more. Which leads to a deadlock.
Hopefully, I’m wrong.
Currently, the NHL is the only sport out of the four major North American sports leagues to ever lose a complete season to a work stoppage. It cannot afford to lose another.