This time tomorrow, the NHL lockout will be underway and there’s nothing we can do about it as fans. We can swear up and down that we’ll turn away and protest games but it does not matter what we say. Most of us will keep coming back and, now that the NHL has a longterm deal with NBC, the sport will reach a larger audience once it does return.
Just think about all that pent up anxiousness and desire all coming to a head with the tease of two of the NHL’s most storied franchises, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, hitting the outdoor ice for the 2012 Winter Classic.
Today, you may plan on boycotting the game and questioning whether it will even take place but it will happen and you will watch it.
How couldn’t you? Who wouldn’t want to see such a legendary game? After all, it’s not about the squabbles between owners and players. It’s about two of the historically best teams on earth playing the best game on earth in one of the most ideal settings. (One has to wonder how calculated of a move it was to match these two teams and their diehard fan bases up this year.)
The game will happen. I am certain of that. The NHL will be ready to settle by then because they know they will make gobs and gobs of money off of that game. Soon thereafter, all will be forgotten and it will be business as usual.
But it does not have to be that way. Owners, fronted by their puppet, Gary Bettman, believe they hold all the cards and can bully the players. Is that really case, though?
With the exception of some fan bases that are loyal to a fault — oh, say Toronto and Detroit, for example — the average team suffers when it plays poorly and teams tend to play poorly when they are sans superstars.
So, while I do not think that a fan boycott will have much of an impact — after all, it is clear the league does not care about the fans — I think that players can hold strong and take a short-term hit in order to improve their situation in the long run.
Just imagine the impact players could have on the NHL if they made some drastic decisions.
Think of how owners would feel if Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin defected to the KHL. With Crosby’s concussion history and the KHL’s poor track record of dealing with injuries, Mario Lemieux would cringe at the thought of what could happen to his star player after taking a hard hit on Russian ice.
How would Ed Snider feel about Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier, riding the same rickety, unsafe planes from game to game that took the lives of former NHL greats like Brad McCrimmon just last year?
What if Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Semin, llya Bryzgalov, and Ilya Kovalchuk decided to just throw in the towel and return back home for good?
Certainly, playing abroad for a few short months or maybe even a single year would limit the concerns owners might have but if the threat — yes, just a threat — existed that superstars could permanently abandon the NHL, the balance of power would shift drastically to the NHLPA.
The aforementioned players, as well as many others, could turn the KHL into a legitimate threat to the NHL and would allow the league to produce enough revenue through increased ticket and merchandise sales to improve the conditions of the league and make it a safer and securer environment for players which would, in turn, attract more players.
In no way do I want the KHL to pose a legitimate threat to the future of the NHL and there’s absolutely no way I want to even imagine that Claude Giroux et al. could fly on those winged abominations.
I also could not begin to fathom the complexities involved in players defecting to other leagues.
This is, in fact, just a tirade — but one with a point. Players do have the ability to turn the tides and gain the upper hand. The question is, do they want to resort to such tactics and run the risk of turning their backs on the dreams they worked so hard to achieve?