Last Tuesday was a beautiful day in so many ways. Outside the birds were chirping as the warm sun shined brightly. People were playing Frisbee out on the fields. And most importantly, it actually looked like the NHL was going to have a season.
Wednesday started off in the same fashion. It was another warm, sunny day and the NHL was reportedly only a few compromises short of bringing the season back to life. But just around 1 p.m., when the storm clouds suddenly started to collect over campus, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped up to the podium in New York.
“I have no choice but to cancel the 2004-05 season,” Bettman said. “This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided.”
His words were like a stake through the heart. And just when it appeared things couldn’t get any worse, it started pouring outside. Even Mother Earth was depressed.
Nobody else seemed to care. For the few diehard hockey fans left out there, Wednesday was a nightmare come true. For everyone else, it was just another day.
But the season would not be lost that easily. On Thursday, rumors swirled that the owners and players were finally willing to compromise and work out a deal. By Friday night, many hockey experts would have put money down that the season would be miraculously revived.
However, after putting hockey fans through yet another episode of false hope, the season was officially cancelled for the second time in four days on Saturday. Only in the NHL could a season be cancelled, let alone twice in less than a week.
It marked the first time that the entire season of an American major pro sports league was cancelled due to a labor dispute. It will be the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup, the best trophy in all of sports because it has every champion’s name written on it, will not be awarded. They had a much better excuse back in 1919 – there was a horrific flu epidemic.
Many of the players will be adversely affected. Young players who thought they would get their first crack at professional hockey will have to wait. Aging players may have already played their last NHL games. Star players have one less season to reach league records and career milestones.
But forget about the athletes; it’s the fans that are really suffering. Hockey fans are devastated, not to mention the owners of all the sports bars and other businesses that set up camp near arenas on game days.
Furthermore, the lack of an NHL season only makes this time of year worse for professional sports lovers. The period from February until early April is always rough because the two most widely watched sports, football and baseball, are in their offseasons. Sure there’s basketball, and usually hockey, but they don’t attract the widespread appeal of America’s two biggest sports.
Sit in front of the television on a weekday night and think about what sporting options are available. You can watch the NBA, but this area’s three major teams- Knicks, Nets and 76ers – all had more losses than wins as of the All-Star break. You can watch college basketball, but chances are you’ll be witnessing a game that is pretty much over by halftime. If you’re not into those sports then you’re pretty much out of luck, unless you happen to belong to the minority that enjoys NASCAR, golf, arena football or meaningless spring training baseball.
It is truly sad that a sport can be shut down because of greed. Owners and players look at hockey as a bunch of dollar signs. They take a simple, entertaining game and turn it into a business with salary caps, luxury taxes and salary rollbacks.
Ice hockey is an amazing sport, combining speed, strength, aggression and even grace. Despite playing on skates, players can elegantly weave around defenders while still keeping control of the puck. They can unselfishly dish out a series of perfect passes that lead to a goal. When they want to create a little excitement, they can drop their gloves and start throwing punches.
On Saturday afternoon, Continental Airlines Arena, home of the New Jersey Devils, should be filled to capacity with fans proudly wearing their red and white sweaters. Just before game time, the zambonis should be rolling over the ice surface until it is glistening under the arena lights. The day should be filled with sounds of pucks, sticks, goal horns and screaming fans.
But thanks to the selfishness of the NHL, Continental Airlines Arena, along with the other arenas used by the 30 NHL franchises, will be quite a lonely place.