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NHL Wounded Regardless of Lockout Result

The longer fans are without hockey, the tougher it will be for the NHL to recover.

How many mediators does it take to drop a puck?

That was the question on everybody’s lips this week as news emerged that members of the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association met with federal mediators. The answer was: none. Federal mediations were just another bust in the prolonged NHL lockout saga.

Unable to find any mutual ground and with the very real possibility of even more games being cancelled, both sides will now have to take another step along a long and uninspiring path that many hope will result in some good old fashioned hockey. In fairness though, the number of those hoping for a season is probably dwindling by the pointless, agreement-free meeting.

It doesn’t matter how you spin it, this season’s lockout – now in its 10th week – is going to leave a gaping wound in the National Hockey League.

It doesn’t take a genius to come to this conclusion, but then again, you wouldn’t think it would take a genius to come up with a plan for the two factions to share the billions of dollars of revenue flowing into the league. But here we are.

Regardless of when the League and Players’ Association finally make an agreement – and let us consider that such a decision won’t necessarily come this season – there will be less people watching. That’s less people in the arenas and less people tuning into Hockey Night.

It doesn’t matter what the two parties do now, they will be forever known as the selfish money-grabbers that wiped out hockey, again.

We’re barely out of the shadow of the infamous 2004-05 season, or rather the lack of a season, when all 1,230 games were torn from the schedule in favor of, well, nothing. Now, just seven years down the line, we’re experiencing the very same thing. As Yogi would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Sure, once an agreement is made, plenty of people will be back along for the NHL ride. For some, the game of hockey itself is more important than the back room politicking and payroll shenanigans that we read of today, but for others, this will be the final nail in the coffin. People simply don’t like being taken for a fool, and that’s exactly what this entire hapless process feels like. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Here’s something else for those involved to consider also. Amongst the casualties of the lockout so far are the Winter Classic and All-Star Game. These two marquee events, particularly the Winter Classic, have been responsible for enticing more and more viewers to the league. Without these, how exactly does the NHL expect to seduce an audience that is happy watching the NBA and NFL and eagerly anticipating baseball season?

Simply put: it won’t. If an agreement is made this season, skates will be laced and in the blink of an eye those that choose to stick with the league will find themselves watching the Stanley Cup Finals. For the record, there will be a big fat asterisk next to the name of the team that does win the giant trophy. Just ask the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs.

So as Messers Betts and Fehr, and all those others involved in putting a deal together, contemplate their next move they’d do well to consider this particular mission to be one of damage limitation. Irreparable injury has already been done and that’s a fact.

If you’re looking for a silver cloud in all of this – and be warned, you’d need to look pretty damn hard – it’s that the AHL is proving to be a good watch this season. Abbotsford currently leads the charge in the Western Conference, while Syracuse is top dog in the Eastern Conference, just in case you’re looking for a few pointers. Perhaps, in lieu of an NHL season, the two will meet for the Stanley Cup this season, but that’s a whole other (very long) story.

As to whether we will get that elusive NHL season this year, bookmakers are offering 11/10 in the affirmative and 2/3 in the negative. Around these parts, fooled once already, we’re not looking to bring shame on ourselves.

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