Fans ready for lockout

William Curitore and William Curitore

It’s obvious that fans of the sport of hockey and the NHL, including myself are looking forward to seeing a number of stories play out in the NHL this coming season. Stories, such as the Lightning trying to defend their championship, their captain, Dave Andreychuk, playing into his 40s, and who will be the annual big surprise toward and into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen as the union lockout that experts have been predicting for the last two years is seeming more imminent every day, Thursday especially.

It was on that day that the NHL Players’ Association made their first new proposal in nearly a year. As was promised by the NHLPA, a system was offered which did not include a salary cap as the league had demanded. That left the NHLPA and their directors to believe that a lockout would indeed be imposed by league owners after the current collective bargaining agreement ends next Wednesday.

No further talks are scheduled in the near future, which almost guarantees that training camps will not open on time later this month. On top of that, it is likely that the season will be put in further peril when the NHL Board of Governors meet in New York next week, without a settlement.

The preseason is scheduled to start Thursday, September 23rd, while the regular season is scheduled to begin October 8th.

No hockey fan can forget the lockout after the 1993-94 season that lasted 103 days and reduced the 1994-95 season to 48 games. It was the longest NHL players’ strike to date. This impending lockout will most likely be far worse and last for quite a bit longer than that one.

It’s apparent that the NHL has almost the same problem that Major League Baseball has had since 1994. The MLBPA forced a strike that began on August 12th, and lasted 234 days and shortened the 1995 season to 144 games. The same thing almost happened close to exactly eight years later as the union and the owners came to another agreement on August 31st, 2004 with only hours to spare until the deadline.

The problem with these agreements in both Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League is their length. The agreement reached after the ’94 baseball strike was for eight years, and was to expire in 2002. Same for the NHL as their nine-year agreement is set to expire next Wednesday.

There is no telling how long this latest contract dispute will last, but many say it won’t be short as the NHL Players’ Association isn’t prepared to budge on high-priority issues such as the luxury tax, the salary cap, and revenue sharing. The other question is of fan loyalty after this all ends. Will this end up like when baseball came back from their strike over a month after the 1995 season was supposed to begin? Will NHL apparel, a huge moneymaker for the league, be even two thirds as high as it was before? Will the demand for tickets diminishm, and how low will attendance fall when this whole situation blows over? All I know is that NHL hockey fans better get set for the long haul as there is no end in site to this dispute and no set date to when this season will begin assuming it actually does.