Say the word “lockout” and any sports fan will immediately cringe, but no more than a hockey fan, who has two instances of nightmares to be dredged up with every utterance of that evil word. The first work stoppage ate up nearly a half a season in 1994/95 and killed all the momentum the league gained from a New York Rangers trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, a moment that no one can argue against that it was the pinnacle of hockey popularity in the United States. Soon after, hockey did recover, and became a very steady sport to watch en route to the second lockout ten years later, in which the NHL became the first professional sports league in history to lose an entire season due to a work stoppage. This second one effectively killed any popularity, as the sport quickly disappeared from television and newspaper coverage, only to be laughed at upon its return as “that sport nobody cares about”. It is hard to fathom that we have yet another potential lockout to face heading into next season, and while I will not get into the particulars, I have no doubt that we will indeed see a loss of hockey, albeit a short one, as TSN’s Bob Mackenzie notes it will probably not last past Thanksgiving. People will cry, people will be angry, and I will be one of those; not crying, of course, because I know better, but I will still be at a loss for words at how the people who are supposedly working to please fans have found themselves creating the very same situation that will leave the fans with nothing to watch.
I have often said that I believed another lockout was imminent, and on occasions like this, it would be damned awful to be correct. There is still hope that an agreement can be reached before any hockey is lost, but I will not hold my breath. In reality, the sport is only in mortal danger if another entire season is lost, something that could be the final dagger in the heart. This league barely survived the most recent one, and another would be unconscionable. A brief loss of time, like maybe 15-20 games, is survivable, because if we think realistically, it’s not like hockey has many casual fans to lose (we often scoff at casual fans as being ignorant or not seeing them as real fans, but without them, few sports could survive). People may be at their final straw and just walk out, something I have definitely considered in case this does happen, but most will just wait it out like they did last time, because the addiction is too great to overcome.
This leads me to start thinking as a Rangers fan, and what a short lockout would mean for the team. Surprisingly, it really would not be the end of the world, and in fact, would only serve to help the Rangers in the long-run (and probably many other teams as well). I do not want to see any hockey lost, but missing out on 10-15 games is a lot better than missing 82, and for the Rangers who will be missing top scorer Marian Gaborik until mid to late November, how can anyone say that starting the season at that exact point in time would be a bad thing? Then comes the MSG renovation which was severely delayed because of the Rangers late playoff run. They barely finished in time last season, even with an extended road trip and the previous season ending a month earlier than this one. As I have speculated before, should this season start on time, the Rangers may find themselves on the longest season-opening road trip in their franchise history, something that is never good for team morale and energy, or even having to find a different arena for early home games.
With the Rangers coming off a season in which they played an exhaustive, battered and bruised style of play, it’s almost in me to hope for a short lockout this fall, something that definitely goes against the grain of being a hockey fan. But I do not see it as being a traitor, because this lockout is going to happen whether we like it or not, and one must try to find the positives of the situation. Money and marketing-wise, it would be a disaster. But for teams who have injured players and could use some extra time off, a ~65 game season does not really seem like such a bad idea. Only time will tell.