Frozen Grounds: Stuck in a never-ending NHL limbo

Bruce Bennett

While the NHL and the NHLPA keep going around and around, fans are wondering if there's a point.

Oh, Seattle. Be happy that you don't have an NHL team right now. Though, if this pattern keeps up, you will also be able to enjoy the frustration, ambivalence, and idiocy that an NHL lockout can bring you when you finally get an NHL team of your own.

The worst part about this for many isn't so much that there's a lockout going on, but that it's the third lockout in less than 20 years. In 1994-1995, they played a shortened season. In 2004-2005, they canceled it. As of right now, for the 2012-2013 season, all regular season games have been canceled through 14 December. The NHL All-Star Weekend that was supposed to be in Columbus this year has also been canceled. And the Winter Classic, which was scheduled to be played in Michigan Stadium between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings has also been canceled.

If there's a season, it'll be a shortened one. They didn't kill the 2004-2005 season until 16 February. In 1995, they came to an agreement on 13 January, and were playing games a week later on 20 January. There have been rumors of the NHL killing the season much sooner than that his time around, but that's all they are - rumors.

At this point, there are no concrete facts to talk about. It's all "he-said / he-said" things going on. The NHL says that the NHLPA isn't willing to make concessions. And the NHLPA is saying that the NHL isn't willing to negotiate about anything at all. Who you choose to believe probably depends upon your general world-view. Oh, they're still talking, but that's about all anyone can say with any sort of authority.

And many of the fans have had about enough. The longer this drags on, the more they become disenfranchised, and the more they start feeling ambivalent about the league returning. It's not that fans don't love the NHL, or love the sport of hockey. But as this is the third time many fans have gone through this, they're wondering if it's worth sticking around for the next lockout. And the next one after that.

A majority of fans are blaming the league commissioner, Gary Bettman, as he's been the only constant in all of these lockout situations. No one is entirely sure how much autonomy he has in regards to what team ownerships want from him - and the same can be said about Donald Fehr with the NHLPA. But, as he's not well-liked, anyways, Bettman makes an easy scapegoat - even for the players, who would rather blame him than the owners and governors of the teams they play for.

In the peculiar situation of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are still owned by the NHL, those players blaming Bettman really are calling out their own owners. But they're the only ones. No other players have the courage to call out their team's ownership for this mess.

But the NHL is doing the same back. They're not calling out the players they employ, but the NHLPA leadership. Fehr is not at all liked by the NHL owners and governors, and they're not afraid to try to blame NHLPA's Executive Director for the lockout - even though it was the owners locking out the players, and not the players striking. An interesting facet to point out here is that many of the people who own these NHL teams also own NBA teams as well.

It's all very murky, there are few actual facts to talk about, and none of it is really worth writing about. But the hockey media that covers the NHL has to write about something, so they keep writing about this. Even as I reluctantly am now. So there's a bit of NHL lockout burnout going on, since that's pretty all there is to read and write about.

The true horror about this situation is this: it's been said that the NHL wants this collective bargaining agreement to last for five years. If that happens, things could very well end up like it is now when that CBA is up. Since they haven't been able to figure out this is a bad idea in three tries, then why wouldn't they give it another shot? If they think that anyone will want to willingly do this again in five years, they're nuts.

Whether this ends in a canceled season or if it ends as a shortened season, the NHL fan base may be decimated for a while. There will be fans that come right back, regardless, but probably not as many as before. It's hard to try to care about a sport that doesn't seem to think much of its fans.

And, really, who can blame them if they don't come back?

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