NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters Dec. 6 in New York. The NHL has rejected the players’ latest offer for a labor deal, and negotiations have broken off at least until the weekend.
More than 80 days into the NHL lockout, talks between owners and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) stalled yet again Thursday night.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told the press “this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future,” USA TODAY reported, leaving hockey fans with mounting frustration toward the league.
“You’d think the owners and players would’ve learned their lesson, I don’t know, seven years ago when the last labor stoppage happened,” Rory Masterson, 21, said, referring to the lockout which canceled the entire 2004-2005 NHL season.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that he would not play a season shorter than 48 games, the length of a shortened season in 1995, also due to a lockout.
“I would say most fans probably put most of the onus on Bettman, the league and the owners,” said Jill Pellegrini, a Boston Bruins fan. “But there are also a lot of people who blame both sides — both sides being the league and the players’ association — because they see it as millionaires fighting billionaires, so it’s frustrating.”
Some students have found parallels between the current NHL lockout and the NFL and NBA lockouts in 2011.
“I care more about this [lockout]. The NFL was never going to miss a game, it’s too much of a money machine. Not enough people care about the NHL so the owners can do whatever they want,” said University of Central Florida student Bryan Levine. “It kind of sounds backwards, but if the NHL generated the kind of cash flow the NFL had, they wouldn’t be able to afford to miss so many games.”
Masterson also places at least some of the blame on fans.
“I blame the fans for not going out to games and supporting teams in the seasons leading up to this. Had they done that, the money struggle wouldn’t be what it is,” the Rangers fan said. “If a small-market NBA team like the Thunder can build a following in Oklahoma City, no doubt they can do it with the NHL. Granted, they have a transcendent star in Kevin Durant, but still, the point can carry on a smaller scale.”
Fans have struggled to fill the hockey void and are worried about the ramifications the lockout will have on the future of the league.
“Even half a season would retain the fans,” said Masterson, who has turned to fantasy basketball. “Playoff hockey is what gets people coming back anyway.”
“I miss [the NHL] because hockey games occur so frequently,” Pellegrini said. “Hockey is always pretty big in Boston but the interest has really grown since the 2011 Stanley Cup win, and they’re going to lose a lot of that casual fanbase if they lock out for the entire season. That’s magnified tenfold in places like L.A.”
Pellegrini, who attends Fordham University in New York, has considered attending college hockey games in Massachusetts on trips home, as well as the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks.
As the Boston Globe reports, however, while the lockout has drawn more media attention to local teams, “some local teams are drawing fewer people to rinks.”
The NHL has canceled all games through Dec. 14, as well as the All-Star game and Winter Classic. Though the league could reportedly be up and running as little as 10 days after a deal has been reached, hockey lovers are pessimistic.
“It’s so late now, I think it would be pointless to get a deal done at this point,” Levine said. “I’m a diehard hockey fan, but they’ve soured me for this season. Maybe they can get a deal done and work on getting me back as a fan next season.”
And until then?
“I’m just counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report,” Levine said. “62.”
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