If you love hockey like I do, then your heart is slowly dying at the latest NHL catastrophe. It really is amazing that once again, there’s no games to watch for hockey fans in the New York/New Jersey metro area. It’s like a cruel joke that’ll never end. One which the faulty NHL leadership is ultimately responsible for.
Even coming off an exciting playoffs that included the first Devils/Rangers Eastern Conference Final since 1994, the league let a few owners dictate another work stoppage. This isn’t about what’s right anymore. But rather the downside of a sport controlled by a minority who will do anything to drive hockey down. Even if it’s not close to the reason the cancellation of ’04-05 was out of necessity to get the players to agree on a proposed salary cap that leveled the playing field. Last time, the league and owners got their wish, With new rules and an exciting game that featured superstar Sidney Crosby, the NHL regained popularity with record revenues and a network contract with NBC. Sid The Kid brought in a new wave of talent featuring Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist and Steven Stamkos.
The rebirth of the Hudson rivalry between the Devils and Rangers supplied us with three playoff series since the lockout that injected plenty of emotion on the ice and in the stands. It’s one of the best rivalries. The old standard such as hockey legend Martin Brodeur is still around at 40 proving he still has it by getting the better of Ranger counterpart Lundqvist, who has been nicknamed King Henrik. In a year where the popular Swede won his first Vezina leading the Blueshirts to a division title (first since ’93-94) and the East’s top seed, Brodeur found a way to come up with bigger saves in a tight six-game series that nearly had another comeback from two down in New Jersey. Only this time Adam Henrique played the overtime hero, sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003. They didn’t win their fourth Cup falling to Conn Smythe winner Jon Quick and the LA Kings. But it was a great season, exacting revenge on their blood rival for ’94.
For the Rangers, it was their first deep run since ’97 when legends Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky teamed up with Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Garden favorite Adam Graves. That year, they went through you guessed it. The higher seeded Devils, advancing to the Conference Final on Graves’ wraparound in Game Five that invoked images of Stephane Matteau.
The names have changed. Aside from championship mainstays Brodeur and franchise leading scorer Patrik Elias, the names for the Devils included departed captain Zach Parise, Zajac, Henrique, Clarkson, Zubrus, Gionta, Carter, Salvador, Greene, Zidlicky. On the Ranger side, you had Lundqvist, Callahan, Gaborik, Richards, Hagelin, Kreider, Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Boyle, Stepan, Del Zotto. Gone are Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov who were traded to Columbus for Rick Nash. Brandon Prust also left for Montreal.
All this is on hold because the league led by Bettman and NHLPA led by Don Fehr continue to take turns ruining any chance for an agreement. So, the news came today that games have been canceled through the end of December, meaning there will be no first part of a potential ’12-13 season. Marking the second time it’s happened under Bettman’s watch. He also locked out the players following the emotional ’94 playoffs when hockey was at its peak with even an SI cover story wondering if the NHL was about to pass the NBA. We know how that turned out. You can’t make this stuff up. At every turn, this commissioner has been front and center during three lockouts. Two of which still don’t make much sense. In theory, gaining a split of revenues is fine. But it’s not just that with greedy owners like Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs not wanting to honor contracts they sign off on. Sign free agents to mega deals and then don’t take responsibility. Brilliant.
So, will we see actual NHL hockey in 2013? Logic if there is such a thing left, says eventually the two sides will get it done and play an abbreviated 48-game schedule like they did in ’95. They can’t actually risk another season. Hockey isn’t in the same stratosphere as the other three major sports. Throw in golf and horse racing and they’re sixth. Even NASCAR is more ratings driven. How dumb can they be? We’re not answering that one.
If they don’t return, then the NHL really must stand for No Hockey League.