October 2004 to June 2005: otherwise known as hockey hell for die-hard fans. The NHL could not solve labor disputes, which forced the cancellation of the season. It was the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup was not awarded.
Since that dreadful year, the NHL has been as successful as ever. The “new NHL” brought a whole new generation of fans to the game.
The shootout added excitement and suspense to regular-season games. New rules made the game faster than ever before.
This “out with the old, in with the new” mentality separated hockey traditionalists from the game, and thus opened the doors to this new generation.
In the seven years since the lockout, three Original Six teams have won the Stanley Cup. Three teams have won their first Stanley Cup in their franchise’s history. There have been seven different champions in that time.
Hockey is reaching all parts of the country and beyond; from New York to Los Angeles and from Vancouver to Phoenix.
Some of these markets are still not successful. Let’s face it, the small-market teams are victimized by the business aspect of the NHL and the owners.
But this is about the hockey fan that has bought into hockey in those small markets or learned the game as it developed in this new era. For them, the lockout could send them away.
Commissioner Gary Bettman’s quote about how the NHL’s fans would allow them to survive another lockout should not be taken lightly. In fact, he will likely be proven wrong if the NHL loses any games this season.
The NHL is not like the NFL, MLB or NBA. A labor dispute and threat to those sports is a nightmare, but it doesn’t send fans away. Those sports have far too much popularity to crumble under a lockout.
The NHL doesn’t have that luxury, and after rebuilding the fan base once, it’s doubtful they will be able to do it again.
Despite the owners disputes and the players’ fight in the labor talks, the players want to play and the fans want to see the upcoming hockey season start on time. For the welfare of the NHL both now and in future seasons, it’s best that they find a way to make that happen.