The NHL's collective bargaining agreement has expired, and that can only mean one thing: the league has locked out its players for the third time in less than two decades.
Many hockey fans are grieving the probable delay in the start of the hockey season. Nobody knows when the season will start, how many games will have to be cancelled, or if there will be an NHL season this year.
I'm not going to pay close attention to the negotiations, or the demands of each side, or the empty threats, or the concessions associated with the collective bargaining process. The game itself is bigger than the NHL, and there are other levels of hockey that I'll enjoy watching.
I feel bad for the fans who are going to miss the NHL this year. I worse for the true victims in this dispute: the team employees and rink workers who don't make much money, who depend on the NHL for their livelihoods, and who have to go without work, or find a new job, while the billionaire owners and millionaire players squabble over cash.
I'm not on the owners' side or the players' side, although I do sense a greater level of support for the players compared with the previous lockouts. After all, it was the owners who triggered the lockout of 2004-05, and secured the cost certainty and the salary cap they coveted. In seven years, they have taken a profitable system, and screwed it up so much that most teams are now losing money or only breaking even.
The betting here is that there will be an NHL season. Expect a lockout that will last four to eight weeks, a regular season that will start by early December, and a season that will be 65 to 72 games. You can also look forward to the Vancouver Canucks winning the Stanley Cup.
This lockout is very different from its predecessor. Eight years ago, the league needed a new economic system. They needed cost certainty and the salary cap. Now they need to tweak their system. There are some significant issues – the players' percentage of hockey-related revenues, along with contract length and structures – but those aren't as enormous as the issue of the cap that dominated the last lockout.
I won't miss the NHL. Between now and the lockout's conclusion, I look forward to watching lots of hockey: junior hockey, minor hockey, and any other form of hockey I can find.
When the NHL season begins, I will pay close attention to the league. I'll watch as many games as possible. But until then, the NHL will be an “out of sight, out of mind” proposition, just like it was eight years ago.