Out of the 4 major leagues in North America, NHL fans are used to being jerked around by the commissioner's office, their favorite teams front office, and players. That doesn't mean they stand for it though. Finally, after 113 days of being fed PR spin, drivel, and useless explosions in negotiations that made facepalms the only medicine required, the lockout ended. The noise has thankfully been stifled, and pucks can be dropped where they belong; on sheets of ice, not a New York City sidewalk turned to ice by the dead of winter. Fans are quick to decide "winners" and "losers" of this labor strife, but is it worth it, when it's clear everyone sans Mr. Beckenbaugh lost?
The familiar refrain a year or so prior to the latest lockout was, "There's no way this can happen again, right?" This was comforting to fans with 2004-05 still fresh in their minds. But as the witching hour got closer, murmurs surfaced and heads began to roll, as the lockout seemed more inevitable. Fans were then treated to the ride of their lives, a social media induced roller coaster of positives then negatives with only podiums, Guy Serota, and an NHL insider in funny photoshops to quell nerves. While the NHL is back, and it sure has felt like something has been missing from the sports calendar, how can we as fans say anyone won these negotiations when they have been so asinine, infuriating, and downright painful to track? The NHL is the butt of jokes around the sports world for a reason.
Yes, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr are supposed to be spin-doctors by trade, but that doesn't mean that issues that seem so small and minute can be blown up to be "the hill we will die on" so quickly, when they didn't register a day before? Hearing negotiations have blown up when they look so positive is infuriating, and no column that makes up synonyms for infuriating can replace that feeling for the fans. At a point, you can only spin something so fast before people get whiplash, and fans got that quickly. Apathy set in soon as well, unsurprisingly. So, the reactions of many who are certainly glad to see the NHL back, but are by no means happy, are understandable. While the people who work in NHL arenas and the businesses that depend on NHL hockey have been the biggest losers in this whole ordeal, no player or owner has won anything in these negotiations other than the right to say they have saved face. Arguably the most passionate group of fans in North American sports, especially in the US, deserve better than this. Thankfully, everyone was saved by the calendar (not the Mayan one).
The job now of these men, plus their constituents is to rebuild trust with the fans, because everyone involved in the NHL had a role in this being dragged out. All the momentum from Crosby, Ovechkin, the 2010 Olympics, and a fresh TV deal in the States has been stopped cold, and now everyone has to build it up all over again, and that's no small feat. Small displays of charity to the people that make the league go, and certainly not buckets of blue paint on the NHL's ice will not build this trust back. It might take years to do that, and luckily the next work stoppage might not be for another 8 years. Lucky us.
How different the NHL landscape looks in 2020 is not relevant right now, but how different it looks in the next 2 weeks is, because the sight of empty seats in NHL arenas cannot be coated over with "Thank You Fans" and a Marek Malik skills competition goal between his legs. There is work to be done, and now that the PR has been shelved, it can at least begin. No one can win from this, and hopefully everyone can work together to minimize the losses. That's the only way to save this league from itself.
Game on indeed, NHL. Now help all the fans out at let it stay on for good.
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