Hockey is a BIG deal up here, and I am a fan. I actually prefer college hockey over the pros, but I am disappointed in the NHL's cancellation. I blame both sides, but place most on the shoulders of that puny little geek, Gary Bettman, the commissioner. He used to work for the NBA and thought he could bring what he learned there into the NHL. Several problems with that theory: 1. Hockey remains largely a regional sport. Outside the snowbelt I would wager most fans are transplants. When the Tampa Bay Lightning went to the Stanley Cup final a year ago they did so without selling out their home arena once all year. Hockey in Florida? That's like expecting haute fashion in North Dakota (oh....never mind.) 2. The owners put themselves in the position of losing money; they signed HUGE contracts with no possible way to raise revenues enough to cover the payroll. No big TV deal to bail themselves out. 3. Too damn many teams. I think there is a real possibility that the NHL will not come back in its present form. I would not be surprised at all to see the players try to form their own league. I know they tried that last autumn, but I think there is a loyal audience (within a few hundred miles of the US/Canada border) that will support a small league staffed by big name players. It is VERY sad that two different classes of people are being irreparably harmed here: the working stiffs employed by the teams (most of whom have been out of work since September) and at arenas; and the sort of so-so hockey players in the middle of the skill and pay continuum. These players won't be back if and when the NHL comes back because they have non-guranteed contracts, and will be replaced by young stars just out of college or juniors signed to lower contracts. I hope Bettman gets run over by a NYC cab this afternoon on his way to the bar to gloat over his "accomplishment".
It doesn't help small-market Canadian teams that contracts are drafted in US dollars. Towns like Winnipeg should have NHL franchises. Phoenix, Miami, and Tampa don't need them. What it needs is a revenue-sharing system like the NFL, which year-in, year-out can sustain small-market franchises. Without revenue-sharing, teams like the Green Bay Packers would never survive (and as a Bear fan, this would not be such a bad thing, either.) As a native Chicagoan and Blackhawk lifer, I blame Dollar Bill Wirtz as much as Bettman. We've had to deal with his hijinks of the Blackhawks owner for years, from dealing away Bobby Hull to not running players out of town all through the 90s like Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, Chris Chelios, Joe Murphy, Bernie Nicholls, Steve Larmer, just to name a few. What smarts for the league is Dollar Bill's high-ranking position in the league. Because of Wirtz, ESPN rated the Blackhawks as the worst franchise in professional sports, which is a crying shame because of the inherent benefits that such a franchise possesses by virtue of Chicago being the third-largest city in the US and an Original Six franchise. It was said that more than two-thirds of the teams agreed to the terms offered by the players union. Two of the 8 holdouts, publicly speculated by ESPN, were Chicago and Boston. The league would be a different and better picture if Wirtz were crossing the street with Bettman when that cab comes barreling through Times Square, and only Bettman could be revived.