The National Hockey League is back and we’re excited, tentatively. You should be too. Just don’t let it ever, ever, ever happen again, NHL.
Hockey fans are resilient and the players are the most down-to-earth of athletes in the major professional sports. But the league has done us wrong. Three work stoppages in less than 20 years is simply too much. Two seasons shortened, one completely lost. The league and its teams need to recognize that and appreciate the fans who return while doing whatever it can to bring back those it lost.
Hockey has been mismanaged financially for years. The biggest blunder was that, after missing the entire 2004-05 season due to a lockout, the resulting collective bargaining agreement was so ill-conceived that it led to another work stoppage just seven years later, after salaries spiraled out of control in size and breadth.
Fans do not want to hear about work stoppages and labor agreements. If a flaw emerges in this agreement, just fix it. Sit down and resolve it civilly, in a timely fashion. Fans won’t sit through another delay. Many have already had enough.
The league needs to recognize it is out of mulligans. It needs to take advantage of the opportunity in front of it and make the fans feel appreciated and welcome.
Sports are there for our enjoyment, not to increase our stress levels. In the Chicago area, we love hockey. We need hockey. There is really no substitute.
So play the game. And don’t stop. Don’t let numbers get in the way again.
Eventually, we might forget about missing the past two months. Next time, we will not.