“Goal Cookies” is a periodic look at the little tricks or treats from around the NHL. The Pup (my loyal sidekick) has been well trained that goals scored by the “good guys” lead to treats. She is also becoming equally well versed in the tricks necessary to garner my attention for off-season goodies. With this spirit in mind, I’ll take a swing at the obvious (or maybe even the oblivious) happenings across the league. Each week I’ll find something worthy of goal cookies; and something else that could use a little obedience training. But really, how can any of us refuse a goal cookie??
The real losers in a lockout
So here we are.
The sun is setting on another summer and as a fall-o-holic, this is my favorite time of year. Not just because of the cool autumn weather, the colors, the comforting smells, or the food; but for the unmistakable sound of steel cutting through frozen water and the thwack of the puck as a crisp pass is received.
As a kid, the pain of returning to school was tempered by weekend trips to see my Bruins prepare for the coming season. My younger brother was afforded the extra trips during the school week, but I still have autograph books filled with scribblings of the likes of Brad Park, The Chief, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman and Raymond Bourque. The tradition of going to Twin Rinks and watching the guys up close was the official start to hockey season.
In my youth, kids were racing around the rink’s empty seats collecting every errant puck from a 3-on-2 drill, today fans old and young are faced with the unfathomable reality that this rite of fall may not come to pass until deep into the winter.
There’s no way you could have made me to bet a sandwich that we would be staring down another lockout—especially after the league’s record revenues, the television deal with NBCSports, increased national attention given the Winter Classic, and the clear disgust well earned by the NFL and NBA from a national audience. Thanks to events like the Olympics, the Winter Classic, and more nationally televised games in the US, the NHL was just starting to find solid footing.
The NHL was starting to see a growing popularity outside of its small niche. No, hockey is not the national sport of America, the way it is in Canada, but with the success of the NHL and the exposure of those players via the last two Olympics, the sport has grown in waves across the world.
If I were to choose sides it would not be the owners, the players, or the fans who would get my sympathies. In fact it is the same group that has been so negatively impacted by the decline in the US economy over the last 8 years. It’s the same people that were impacted by labor issues of the NBA and the NFL. It is the waitresses, restaurant owners, parking lot attendants, sidewalk vendors, ticket takers, and arena workers.
People who have come to make their livelihood via the traffic generated by 40 home games, road game viewing parties, and visiting fan traffic to their cities. The fans are not the concern of the owners or the players, this is about the money.
As @Speakofthedevs wrote so well last week, we all have decisions to make regarding our spending. Since I know my meager contributions and team loyalty do not resonate in these negotiations, I will only say that while I may be making fewer 4.5 hour trips to see my beloved Bruins play. But when I do make my trips north, I will be visiting my favorite pre-game restaurant and tipping very well. I will not be buying NHL13 or any B’s gear for the little B’s fans in my life. I will try to explain the reason they won’t be able to watch and cheer on Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara (their favorites). I’m certain they will move on to other interests, probably with much greater ease than I would have managed in the days of my youth, so the NHL can kiss good-bye that future revenue.
I was skeptical after the last lockout; in fact I stayed away for a whole year, and then gave my heart back slowly. I would much rather have my hockey heart broken by a team giving back a 3-0 series lead than have it trampled by another lockout. I am just old school enough to still have a problem swallowing that this is a business, but more than self-aware to understand that there is a reality to the fact that a player’s career is often wrought with injury. Their careers may in fact be short lived, despite the hours of preparation and financial sacrifice that went into their early years.
I am also painfully aware that owners did not become billionaires by accident and their desire is not to have league parity, but to make the greatest return on their individual investment possible. All of which is chronicled far better by the “experts,” leaving me only to wonder what will become of the game I treasure and share with those I love. Hockey has always been more than “a game,” but the tango that the players and owners are doing could indeed spell the beginning of the end of the NHL in North America.
The NHL should recognize they are not in the same position of strength they were when they forced the players’ hand in negotiations last time. They are no longer the world’s only destination for players and fans will still have access to the game if the league’s best elect to play elsewhere.
Let there be no doubt, the fans will indeed follow.
What the owners have failed to recognize is the “old school” fans of my generation have been marginalized just enough, and the new age fans will follow the name on the back of jersey—regardless of the name on the front. This may not matter to the NHL this year, or next, but it will erode the league and its revenue over time. The NFL and NBA did not face this same challenge and perhaps I am over amplifying it (or oversimplifying it), but I cannot imagine that owners of multi-billion dollar entities can possibly ignore the risk.
So the revenue pie ballooned and instead of conceding that it would be best for all involved to continue along the path of growth, we are again reversing track. I am fairly certain that that NHL revenue growth was due to the product on the ice created by the players. Not the ice girls. Not an atmosphere enhanced by arena’s $8 beers.
But I guess reinvesting in the product that has paid such a strong dividend is no longer considered “good business.” That’s the way the cookie crumbles.