This likely won't be a popular post or a popular opinion, but here it is anyway.
For those who don't know (i.e. those who aren't Canadian) Peter Mansbridge anchors The National, CBC's nightly newscast. He's written a great piece about the lockout and the NHL in general.
We'll start with the end of the piece first, because it's very good:
None of us is ever forced to watch a regular season game, either in person or on TV. So if the NHL can continue to get away with what it's doing, I guess the most appropriate response is a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head.
But we cover this lockout as if a day without NHL hockey is an unbearable burden. And yes, I know CBC is as guilty as every other media outlet.
Here's a prediction: If the lockout continues for a while, the league will begin to get questions about when it will decide to shut down for the year. At first, the commissioner will say it's too soon to even think about it. But in time, he'll say that it's a real concern. And that he's considering what the minimum number of regular season games can be before the season loses its "integrity."
In fact, that happened long ago.
There are two great points in that: The first one is that you don't have to watch the NHL. In fact, because the league knows how dedicated the fans are, everyone in charge is pretty much okay with a long lockout. They know that most fans will be back. Responding to the league with "a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head" is possibly the best thing that fans can do right now.
One reason why demonstrations and petitions and other kinds of public outcry from the fans won't do anything to stop the lockout is because telling the NHL how much you love the league and how you'd do anything to watch it just reinforces the fact that you'll be back no matter what. It tells everyone involved that the dedicated fanbase isn't going to stop watching, so the lockout can continue for a long, long time.
The second point is a more controversial one and it's one that Mansbridge explores throughout the article: that the NHL regular season is too long.
We love hockey, we do (obviously) but we agree that there are a lot of meaningless games during the season.
But I find it difficult to get too excited about missing some regular season hockey games. The season is too long. There are too many games. In their quest for revenue, the NHL has made regular season games almost meaningless. I'm baffled about how anyone can look forward to a November game between the Leafs and say the Columbus Blue Jackets. Or the Jets and the Nashville Predators. Or just about any combination you can name.
The league schedules 82 games for every team. They don't play those games to determine which team is the best.
Oh no. The Vancouver Canucks were the best team in the last regular season. All they got for their trouble was the privilege of playing five playoff games against the Los Angeles Kings, losing four of them, and watching the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV, just like the rest of us.
Those Kings? They treated the regular season as a nuisance. They lost more games than they won. But they made it to the playoffs anyway. And then they won the only prize that counts, the Stanley Cup. So remind me again why they play a regular season.
We know that diehard hockey fans will watch just about anything that the NHL shows, but we're guilty of not really caring about February games against Nashville or November games against Winnipeg from time-to-time. We'll miss a regular season Penguins game because life gets in the way, but we wouldn't dream of missing a playoff game. Why? Because one regular season game doesn't really mean very much. When the Penguins won the Cup in 2009, they were out of the playoff picture in February. It didn't matter and the regular season rarely matters. Over the course of months, obviously, it matters but each individual game doesn't mean all that much.
That was one of the great things about the proposed realignment plan that failed: It would have increased play between teams in the same conference and made each game mean more. Right now, outside of games against your own division, most single games don't mean all that much because you have 81 other games to win.
Some fans will get upset over the very idea of less hockey, but fewer games means that each individual game will be more exciting. It also means fewer nagging injuries, fewer games that stars "rest up" and a general higher quality of play for the rest of the year. Obviously no one is going to agree to reduce the number of games in a season, but it's certainly something to think about and it's a bold position for a Canadian television personality to take. We enjoy seeing the media take chances sometimes.
It's also great to see people publically getting upset with the NHL. The threat of the fans losing interest or the media moving on could actually make the powers that be realize that a long lockout could actually hurt things for the league and the players.