Bitter? Jovial? Apathetic? Hopeful?
Pick an adjective and most NHL fans have probably experienced it over the past three plus months. The labor dispute that many NHL fans felt was unnecessary turned into a war of attrition as players and owners pointed fingers at one another while carelessly tugging at the heart strings of their fans. Both the NHL and the NHLPA have acted like victims of some great bully, as both sides have tried to sell their story to the fans of the game. What they do not understand, however, is that the fans are the true victims of this shortened season.
NHL fans, like any other professional sports fans, lay down their hard-earned money night after night to be entertained by the home team. For the hockey faithful, game night is a time of magic and excitement. It's a night of camaraderie and a chance for not only family and friends, but complete strangers to connect over their love of the sport. It's the night where young kids can watch their sports heroes perform great acts of strength and skill. It's a night where fans can experience three hours of exceptional entertainment.
The NHL has lost 625 of those nights.
The problem that the NHL and NHLPA now face is the disillusion of the fan base. The man behind the curtain has been revealed. The magic has momentarily run out.
I have been asked time and time against over the course of these bitter months "Will the fans come back?" or even "Should we come back?" I must admit, it has been a question that has weighed heavily on my heart and is part of the reason I have been avoiding the keyboard over the past few months. The 2012-2013 NHL lockout was the most unnecessary work stoppage in professional sports history. NHL fans are some of, if not the most, passionate in all of major sports. We love our game. For most of us, hockey isn't just a sport but a way of life. Our lives have been interrupted. Just last night one of my good friends in Columbus called me up and asked "What should we do?"
I don't have an answer for him and I don't have an answer for you, dear reader. Part of me wants to crow like Peter Pan and go dancing in the street. The other part of me has become so embroiled in these negotiations that I feel nothing but animosity for the NHLPA and the NHL. We as fans have supported one side or the other during these difficult months, yet there seems to be a pervasive disgust for both sides. I think the main divide for the fan base is not which side was in the right, but how we can voice our feelings and displeasure. Or should we just be thankful hockey is back?
Many people have tried organizing protests against the NHL. I have heard everything from walking out of third periods to never buying tickets or merchandise. Some have suggested chants during games or signs to show fan solidarity. I certainly understand those sentiments, but I will probably not be joining in that crowd becaue I am thankful we have a season. I would encourage you to do whatever feels right for you and then not to judge others for not taking the same action. If that means walking out of third periods or not buying merchandise anymore so be it. I will not think any less of you or more of you. We are all individuals who have suffered a terrible blow. We have collectively suffered. Healing takes different times and different paths for each individual.
I encourage you to remember those families affected by this lockout. Sometimes we forget about the people within the organization, the ones who work tirelessly behind the scenes in the normal day to day operations. These people are probably the most affected by the stoppage and I know they have had a very stressful few months. If you have a chance, thank them for their work. Their dedication to the organization is invaluable and no one is more relieved about the new CBA than these individuals.
Let the healing and hockey begin!