NHL On Path For Major Collapse
Hockey's owners think they can freeze the sport for a year to save money, then thaw it out in a wonderful new world with a hard salary cap, a docile union and a fan base that will gradually forgive everybody. Hockey players apparently think it's smart to call this bluff. Perhaps only those in an insular culture like hockey could believe this.
The awful TV ratings for the Stanley Cup may, in a bizarre way, serve as a wake-up call. Before the finals, the NHL's ratings were one-fourth that of the NBA. Now, the Lightning and Flames, two small-market teams, are further shrinking those figures. Games 1 and 2 tied for the lowest Cup ratings on cable since 1990. Games 3 and 4 were two of the lowest for hockey since broadcast network numbers began.
Aside from dedicated hockey fans, how many know the Flames' best player, and perhaps the best player in the whole sport, is Jarome Iginla?
And how many realize he's the first black captain of an NHL club? The NHL has many nice stories like this that are worth sharing with a wider world.
But, after a lockout, how many will still care?
Pro hockey better realize what many of us understand intuitively.
Most people can do without the NHL. The sport survives off the adoration of a relatively small hard core. After a lost season, plenty of fans might express a preference for a less cluttered sports scene in which the NHL came back as a much less visible game.
Sometimes a slap in the face is useful. The NHL needs to understand that, if it goes away for a year, the sports public -- which has so many games, seasons and athletes -- may discover it prefers a world with far fewer pro hockey highlights on TV or NHL stories in newspapers and magazines.
With a year to think about it, we might ask whether we really needed to know so much more about the NHL than we do about women's golf or college lacrosse or pro soccer or NASCAR or who knows what?
Why, we might ask, is the NHL covered like a major sport? What's so important about it? If few missed it when it was gone, why treat it as a major sport when it comes back?
So, NHL, do you feel lucky? Go on, take a season off.
Make our day.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company