Sunday, December 2, 2012

OK, NHL, you've lost most of us

It hasn't been that fun being an NHL fan these days, has it?

You know that in most cases, nothing else will do. Not college hockey, not high school,. nothing else. And certainly, not the evil basketball. The NFL is doing its' job in occupying the American sports consciousness; but north of the 49th parallel, the CFL has suffered thru the 100th Grey Cup, and now becomes a nation lying in wait for its' heritage sport -- professional ice hockey, at its' highest level -- to quit being another case study in bad labor/management relations, and get back to what it does best: Entertaining fans, and giving them something to while away cold Northern winters (except in the Bettman-promoted Southern markets, where they while away somewhat less-than-cold Southern winters).

I, for one, have kind of gone into 'shut-down' mode: 'get back to me when you have some REAL news to report'. I don't believe anything that either side says any more. No amount of grandstanding, posturing, or other attempts to show the public you're 'trying to come to agreement' will sway most fans. We've all just moved on to other things, other pursuits, other interests.

We fans are saving our money. No pre-game restaurant dinners, no post-game refreshments, no money spent on parking, gas, souvenirs. No new items from the 'team store'. (Or, from any store, if that item has any NHL or NHL team logo on it.) And that has its' down side as well; layoffs at numerous restaurants, bars, stores, etc., going into the Christmas/New Year's holiday season. The fact that until now, the Minnesota Wild's staff has been somewhat insulated from the rest of their owners' recalcitrance, pales in comparison to the 600 Xcel Energy Center part-time employees, who comprise the Wild's game day staff. Most of them took these jobs as second (or, in some cases, third) jobs, to earn a few extra dollars to make their lives that much better.

Now, even the Wild's permanent, full-time staff is being affected; beginning after the New Year, their workweek will be shortened by 20%, as the NHL's own full-time staff has been since the start of the dispute, along with several other member clubs. Sadly, the staffers have no one to blame, except their own bosses; if they would actually come to an agreement, come ready to really negotiate, not to 'Draw a line in the sand', then turn and walk away when the other side says 'No' to the latest demand, this would all have been behind us a long time ago.

The fact that neither side -- owners and players -- is willing to give even an inch shows what a disasterous condition the NHL is in right now. The fact that two of the most stubborn lawyers on Earth -- Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr -- lead the two sides, behooves most of us to believe that the final solution will not be achieved this season. Nor maybe even next season.

But, for now, just go ahead, NHL. Just vote next week (in your Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, in New York) to take this already-moribund season off life support. Kill the victim so the disease of the labor dispute can be cured. Then, after the air has been cleared, let's get back to the business at hand.

Let's play hockey.