Imagine an entire year without the NHL.
It’s not too difficult to do since it happened just seven years ago, and although the league took a substantial hit in attendance and revenue because of the 2004-05 lockout, two “saviors” – Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby – quickly provided enthusiasm once again. But this time around there's no saviors, so a work stoppage could prove much more devastating. With the way the labor talks have gone up to this point, it looks like commissioner Gary Bettman is content with yet another lockout.
So, what exactly could happen to the least popular of the four major sports if it misses another season?
Well it would be somewhat of a trickle-down effect.
The biggest concern would be revenue, because if there is no NHL season, it would theoretically drive fans away for several years. Lack of attendance means no money coming in, no money coming in means teams folding. There are a number of franchises that are on the fence when it comes to staying afloat in the NHL – the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are three teams that first come to mind. Both Phoenix and New Jersey have had ownership – as well as bankruptcy – issues in the last two years and much like Florida, have been plagued by attendance issues.
We didn’t even mention the New York Islanders, who not only were second to last in attendance last season with 13,191 fans per game but also inhabit the league’s oldest arena, thanks to the locals causing a stink over a much-needed new stadium.
So we might lose some teams – as long as it’s not your team then it’s no big deal, right?
Sure, your team might be safe but every team will be affected whenever the league and the NHL Players Association do get everything figured out. Because the players want a more equal piece of the pie, it could lead to a drop in the salary cap. The salary cap has flourished in recent years, going up more than $10 million since the last lockout – it was even expected to jump from $64.3 million to $70.2 million for the start of the new season, but you can kiss that goodbye.
The cap could go back to about what it was after the last lockout – but what’s the big deal, you ask?
Well, star-studded teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers won’t typically exist because teams won’t be able to spend the money to keep players. Instead, teams will have to look to trade players away, or just not re-sign them at all. It happened to Chicago once already, back in 2010 when the Blackhawks basically had a fire sale after winning the Stanley Cup. We all like parity, but what fun is that if your favorite team doesn’t have the money in the summer to try and lure in the league’s biggest free agent. Minnesota likely would have needed to make a decision on either Zach Parise of Ryan Suter if all that happened next summer, as it wouldn't have been able to sign both since they put the Wild’s cap at a hefty $68 million.
Let’s not forget, with some players potentially heading to the KHL league in Russia, what happens if they get comfortable and decide not to come back in the future? Superstars wouldn’t be lost but rather the above-average journeymen that come on the cheap. Those type of guys seem to be harder-and-harder to find nowadays.
These of course, are worst-case scenarios. No one really knows what’s going to happen in the NHL's immediate future, or what exactly Bettman is hoping to accomplish. With both sides giving different information, we’re not quite ready to put on our tinfoil hats – instead we’ll simply keep our fingers crossed and hope that basketball isn't the only sport come February.