How Will the NHL Lockout Impact the Sport Going Forward

It seems like so long ago, but in reality it was under 10 years ago that we were talking about an NHL lockout and it seems that not much has changed.  Just when we all thought the NHL was turning a corner and realizing how to take advantage of their sport the people running it decide to act childish all over again.

The NHL is beginning another lockout and once again there is no end in sight and it looks like we may be robbed of another year of hockey.  The sides appear to be extremely far apart and it blows my mind that a professional sport is in danger of having its third lockout in just 18 years.  It is the only professional sport that had to cancel an entire season and they are in jeopardy of doing it for a second time.  Not the kind of record the NHL should be trying to achieve by any means.

I am not here to talk about which side is right or the specifics of where the breakdown is between the two sides, but instead what this is going to do the future of the NHL.

The sport was able to bounce back after a year off and it really looked like the men in charge were starting to turn a corner.  They were starting to market some of their big stars in Ovechkin and Crosby.  They have started the great tradition of the Winter Classic, which is always right around New Year’s Day.  They moved one struggling franchise and added Winnipeg, which always had a strong fan base.  They have had extremely exciting playoffs in the past few years with some budding rivalries being created along the way.  You would think that with all of these things they would be smart enough to understand that they have a chance to really keep pushing this sport.  Well, maybe we are expecting too much from this organization as at this point I do not know if I would trust them to run a local pizza shop.

It does not seem like the sport has lost any fans after their past lockout and it is possible that the popularity of the sport has continued to grow among people.  But one thing the sport did certainly lose after its last lockout was media attention.  ESPN does not broadcast any NHL games and it is a rare occasion that the sport is even talked about on the channel and if it was not for Barry Melrose it may never have a segment on SportsCenter.  At this time last year there was so much coverage of the NBA lockout and the NFL labor dispute was talked about throughout the whole day it seemed.  But when it comes to the NHL, there is never even a whisper coming from ESPN.  So this is just one area that I expect to see a negative impact for the sport.  I mean at this point how could you even trust the organization to play all of their games.  Almost any contract that a station has with the NHL will require some kind of clause in case of another lockout and I would even be afraid to go ahead and pursue a deal with the NHL at this point. 

I know I will be there waiting with open arms to accept the return of the NHL and many fans will have that same mindset.  The problem is that a big corporation like NBC may not be so forgiving especially if the sport returns without some of their most marketable stars like Crosby or Ovechkin.  That is when we may start to see the NHL face a serious problem.  So what will happen if NBC decides to say we will not cover your sport any more at this time?  Will everything only be on the newly named NBC Sports Network from here on out?  There are some people who do not even get that channel.  What would that do to the playoffs and the Winter Classic if some people cannot watch the games on basic cable anymore?  Fans will be loyal to a fault, but when it comes to broadcasting, I am sure NBC will have no problem finding something else to put on.

I fully expect the fans to be there waiting when the next season does eventually start, but there is no way the sport will not be hurt by this.  One of the main concerns has to be if a superstar were to get hurt playing in another league.  These are not the prima donna basketball players that threatened going overseas that we are talking about.  Instead many of these players actually grew up outside of the United States and would have no problem going overseas to play in front of their own nation.  We have already seen numerous players sign contracts with other teams and what happens if the NHL returns and they are missing their biggest face in Sidney Crosby because both sides were too stubborn to come to an agreement.  Best case scenario is that this just stunts the progress that the NHL has made over the past couple seasons.

In the end, I am just shocked that we are back talking about this same situation so soon.  I was hoping we saw a side of maturity after having gone through a lockout and that learning experience, but I once again was expecting too much from a league run by children.