The start of the delayed season on Jan. 19 was a bittersweet one for hockey fans. The return of the sport, although satisfying, is tinged with disappointment that over half the regular season has been lost.
It is a 48-game sprint to the Stanley Cup this year. The lockout has cost much more than the Winter Classic and half a season.
This is the fourth work stoppage in twenty years, and the third under current NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The most severe of these was undoubtedly the lockout of 2004-2005, when an entire season was lost after the collective bargaining agreement expired, and a new one could not be agreed upon.
Fans feared that this lockout would be a repeat of that, but on Jan. 6, a deal was agreed upon and the players signed off on Jan. 12.
This hasn’t helped get rid of the lingering anger that many fans feel after the lockout. Bettman is the figure most people have heaped scorn upon, but there is plenty of resentment for Donald Fehr, as well.
Although virtually all fans wanted a fair resolution to the lockout, there is a feeling that the League has lost touch with its fan base, or worse, that it has lost respect for it. A common complaint on hockey message boards has been that fans feel manipulated — it’s almost a guarantee that hockey fans will flock back to their sport, back to their teams, and the league is well aware of this fact.
This dedication was highlighted when games opening the season on Saturday pulled record viewing numbers according to sbnation.com. The players themselves came out fighting, providing fans with levels of excitement usually reserved for playoff season.
For the owners and the league, there have been reports of sold-out games and huge retail sales since the season started. It seems everyone was ready for this to happen, and the question remains as to why it took so long for the lockout to resolve. There’s no really good answer for that — blame can be laid at both the doors of the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association for the length of the lockout due to their behavior, both inside and outside the negotiating room.
What remains to be seen is how it will play out.
With half a season of playing gone, the stakes seem higher than ever. The L.A. Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions, are finally getting their time to shine, and the results of off-season trading are now coming to fruition.
There are also many questions in the air about the leadership of the NHL and the NHLPA — both Fehr and Bettman are having their ability to lead questioned by the media, the players and the fans. The current CBA will last ten years, and hopefully when its expiration date comes, both the NHL and the NHLPA will be more adequately prepared to negotiate a new agreement without a lockout occurring.
However, a blockbuster start to the season has signaled one thing for certain: hockey is back, and the fans and the players are more than ready for it.