After the second work stoppage in eight years, it is business as usual for the National Hockey League as everyone awaits the shortened season schedule on Saturday.
But is it?
The mood was different during this lockout. This time, veteran hockey insiders were fed up with the league and the players association's ability to play nice with each other. I was one of them.
Could care less when they returned, we all said. Now that they have, it's hard to stay mad. Why is that?
Because none of us, not even the fans, are bigger than the game. Goodness knows the players and league executives are not either.
Hockey may not top the list of popular sports in the United States, but if you've grown up in the hockey belt: Canada and the northeastern United States, chances are that the hard line people took during the labor strife will subside once puck drops in their nearest town.
Some will come back grudgingly, some with open arms. Some will wait until the Stanley Cup playoffs, the passively-interested fans will carry on with what they've been doing. However, the latter make up the majority of the United States -- the people to whom the league has been wining and dining since it expanded past the original six teams.
The NHL has been a classic example of a marketing fail.
Assume with arrogance that your loyalists will continue to support you no matter how many times you piss in their Cornflakes and mortgage the future for an audience that isn't there.
This time they have a voice, whether or not the decision makers listen. The people have their own media and it is called the Internet. It is where they have shared their anger, frustration, and love of the game.
But the loyalist will be true to the game. They can't help themselves. Hockey is part of their DNA. There may be fewer of them this time, or maybe not. Time will tell. Put a good product on the ice and the league and the players will be instantly forgiven.
I'm already seeing it -- including my own mirror.
|Pictured with Jarome Iginla|
|With Stanley in Edmonton|