Monday Mumble: Caution! Watered Down Hockey Ahead

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]Every Monday, I’ll unload a weekend’s worth of ramblings as a part of the Monday Mumble. It’s a mixed bag of Barons verbiage that is completely unfiltered, but always spell-checked (maybe).[/box]

Photo courtesy of JaAaron
Photo courtesy of JaAaron

There stands Gary Bettman. Mics in his face. Reporters probing him about the CBA. And there stands Bettman. Smiling from ear to ear. Hopefully faking the disgusting mess that has happened in a brief time between lockout and potential lockout. The Commissioner of the National Hockey League has added a hard date for the new CBA to be approved, thus saving the beginning of the season in October. That date now apparently is September 15th.

Here is what Gary had to say on the matter (via SI.com):

“Time is running short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon,” Bettman said after the two sides met at the league headquarters.”

Here is the response from NHLPA Executive Director, Don Fehr:

“Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or impose a lockout,” Fehr said. “There’s no requirement that they do so, and if nobody does anything, you continue to work under the old conditions until they do change. … So if there’s lockout, somebody has to choose to do this.”

You could dissect the nuts and bolts of the CBA and the proposal set forth by the owners of the NHL. It’s actually quite interesting to see the lofty tower with which the league’s ownership views their product. You could position yourself in the seat of the players association, with whom the members make over $2 million on average per year. Despite the side of the fence you gracefully fall on, there’s no denying that you could make an argument for both sides during these negotiations. And eventually, the two will come together, and a new CBA will be agreed upon.

But at what cost?

As a fan of minor league hockey in North America, the thought of an NHL lockout should make me giddy. It means more attention is given to my team in my market in my backyard. It’s a perfect setup. So why am I worried about an NHL lockout when I’m likely the fan that benefits the most from a higher league simply not playing while a minor league continues on? Simply put. The lack of high-end hockey being played, greatly devalues professional hockey as a whole. Here’s why.

The great struggle with the NHL has always been connecting with an audience. From where the games are played on your television to the lack of recognizable star power, very few casual sports fans realize the simple things that make hockey accessible in the United States. People just don’t stumble upon the game in regular cycles. That’s a problem. Ask anyone who watches less than ten NBA games a season to name ten high quality players in that league — they likely can do it. Same goes for the NFL, NCAA football, and likely MLB. There’s an overall need to know these things because we are spoon fed successful sports endeavors daily, whether we like it or not. The one sport shunned from the watercooler in the US has, in recent years, been the NHL. And that’s the NHL’s fault.

So the cycle comes full circle. If you assume that the NHL being locked out helps the AHL, then I’d encourage you to consider what product you are buying into. The end game is not success in the minor leagues, nor the AHL for that matter. The success of hockey in the US is directly determined to how entertaining the highest level of the sport can display. Without the NHL – its speed, its velocity, its skill, its ferocity – we are left with a sampling of hockey that is good, but not great.

Should AHL cities seize the opportunity in the wake on an NHL lockout? Absolutely. But will they is the question that needs to be asked. Because there’s no Mark Cuban in the NHL. An entity that steps on the throat of opportunity when it tells you to do the complete opposite. It might be somewhat self loathing, arrogant, and annoying but it makes for an entertaining product. And that’s what sports boil down to – entertainment.

In summation, when/if the NHL lockout occurs I’ll enjoy a healthy dose of minor league hockey as I do every season. I’ll hope that my AHL team of choice decides to promote the living daylights out of ticket packages and weekend promotions. I’ll invite one and all to come experience the game. We will sit. We will enjoy. But in the absence of the NHL, I’ll mourn the season-long connection to the Edmonton Oilers (at least for a season), and I’ll pine for the day when the best hockey in the world can be played on the main stage where it belongs. I’ll insist that by missing another season, more harm is being done than good. And I’ll also attempt to persuade you that it dramatically waters down the game on every level below. Through that trickle-down effect, the sport in general takes a hit, and earns another black eye.