When the National Hockey League resumes play, it will have an icy slope to climb.
Since the owners locked out the players back in mid-September, it’s been league-mandated radio silence. It seems there were a few updates on negotiations when they first got underway, but as games were cancelled by the month, irrelevance took the place of “five for fighting.” Actually, “no comment” and saying absolutely nothing are now fighting for last place.
The NHL’s work stoppage history isn’t so great. In 2004, hockey was the first pro sport in U.S. history to lose its entire season over a labor issue and the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup was not awarded to a team. Neither the ’94 lockout nor the ’92 strike were much better.
It’s never a good scenario.
I’m still not back to fandom following the National Basketball Association’s 2011 lockout. It took some time to get back to 100 percent following the lockout-shortened ’98 season.
It’s not like the clamor fans had to end the National Football League’s 2011 lockout when the players were cheered wildly upon their return. A lot of make-good things happened between then and the ‘87 and ’82 strikes.
Nor will it be as welcoming as it was for the steroid-era homerun-bashing Major League Baseball players following their ‘94 strike. The regular work-stoppage sport (lockouts in ’90, ’76 and ’73; strikes in ’85, ’81, ’80 and ’72) had tougher times winning fans back before the performance-enhancers took over the game and the locker rooms.
Returning from obscurity will be a tough task for the NHL, even if the athletes still have the “I’m just happy to be here” “I want to help the ‘organIzation’ any way I can” soundbite approach.
It will be easier in markets where the teams win immediately and in hockey-crazed “Original Six” type cities, but in professional sports, not every team wins. And certainly not every fan.