NHL missing link and the point

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

So, now we're assured, this is it, really, no more kidding around, "we're-gonna-do-it" time.

Okay, maybe not today, but tomorrow, for sure.

Reports are NHL commissioner (for now) Gary Bettman will step up to a microphone in New York today ... uh ... tomorrow, and officially pull the plug on the respirator that has kept the 2004-2005 season alive, if in spirit only.

It has been on life support for the better part of a couple of weeks and you could make the argument everybody who is responsible for bringing us to the cusp of this unprecedented situation in North American professional sports has been brain dead.

There were reports of another last, last, last-ditch negotiating session yesterday and of a player initiative to broker a deal. You can only hope that having to stare into the abyss has got some people thinking.

What did they see? That maybe Dr. Bettman's antidote is looking worse than the disease.

The NHL mantra through this whole thing has been the hardship of a lockout was a more attractive alternative to the status quo.

Now?

Dunno about you, but I'm not so sure and, it seems, neither are some other people.

OLD SYSTEM LOOKS GOOD NOW

Teams were going to fold under the old system, we were told, but you'd have to say that exists as a very real possibility on the scorched Earth of the new NHL world.

Consider the possible landscape if the NHL is ever capable of resurrecting itself from beneath the mound of dirt and ashes under which it has buried itself.

I'm not so sure now the status quo looks that bad. Some teams were making a lot of money and the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning, one a small and the other a non-traditional market, made it to the Stanley Cup final.

The teams that weren't making money probably will still struggle to do so in a post-lockout environment because their problems are market, rather than labour, related.

The biggest miscalculation by everyone in this is the amount of indifference with which a winter without NHL hockey has been greeted, even here in Canada.

It has been stunning.

People, particularly in the U.S., just don't care.

Even here in Canada, NHL fans, thinking of another night of watching the Leafs or Senators play the Blue Jackets, realize they aren't missing much.

Which brings us to an important point.

WALK AWAY

As the NHL closed its doors to its players, it opened another. That was the door that allowed fans, season-ticket holders, sponsors and corporations to walk away and find out they didn't miss the game that much.

They are finding out there are other things on which to spend their money.

Maybe, as Ken Dryden suggested the other day, the NHL was more of a habit in the lives of many Canadians than a passion.

Once you stopped your regular partaking of Bettman's Kool-Aid, you saw the cult for what it was: An overpriced, over-coached, usually uninspiring product.

It's not out of the question now, given the raging indifference, that the damage incurred by this lockout will outstrip the losses the league suffered under the old system.

If there is a fan backlash, that means a decline in attendance and TV ratings. The best the NHL could do in the U.S. before the lockout, was a deal in which it split profits (if there were any) with a network.

Here in Canada, it could mean less money from the CBC and TSN, the two networks which were actually willing to pay to distribute its games.

If corporations have found their sales have not drastically declined in the absence of entertaining clients at NHL games, that means a reduction in sponsorship and luxury suite revenues.

SALARIES TIED TO REVENUES

The damage incurred by the lockout means the NHL will be even more steadfast in its insistence that player salaries be linked to revenues because the revenues are going to be taking a hit, maybe a massive hit.

The NHL owners are going to want the players to share the pain.

A sad twist on this situation: The NHL could find itself just getting back to where it was (that's not saying much) before the lockout in terms of fan and corporate support just about the time the next CBA expires.

Then we get to do all this again.

Just another happy thought ... and something all concerned should be thinking about before Bettman insists on pulling the plug today, er, ahh, tomorrow.


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