A look past the NHL playoffs towards the collective bargaining agreement and possible lockout. Because let’s face it, the Leafs aren’t making it.
Jesse Borg, Contributor
The Leafs face “mathematical elimination” tonight, a phrase that has become far too familiar for Toronto sports fans. As The Leafs make their slow march into the dark, leaving behind them another fruitless endeavor, they do so with a foreboding sense of the unknown. Not only is their team seemingly in shambles, but there might not even be a season to play next year.
Talk of the expiring collective bargaining agreement was eerily absent from the most recent GM meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, as Commissioner Gary Bettman instructed the teams to “conduct business as usual,” adding, “as far as an update, there is no update. There’s nothing going on.”
Fans do not want to hear that there is “nothing going on,” because it is frightfully close to the mantra that preceded the last lockout eight years ago. What fans do want to hear is that they are negotiating, because another lockout would be disastrous for the perception of the NHL as a business, and painfully annoying to its fans. What the NHL has to worry about particularly are the fringe fans, the new fans. You know, the Americans.
The NHL can be pretty certain it will enjoy considerable success in Canada for the foreseeable future. Mock Leaf Fans all you want; when it comes to blind support of a product, we’ve all done it forever. Regardless of the fact that they provide cheesy events like the All-Star Game, have failed to successfully address head injuries and injuries to star players in a significant way (see: the NFL), and have failed to get a national TV contract in the United States, Canadians, it seems, will always watch.
However, Americans have never been so kind to the sport of hockey. Unlike Canadians, Americans have more comparables. Looking at the NHL beside the NBA and the NFL does not cast it in such a favorable light. Both of the latter leagues managed to avoid missing full seasons with their labour disputes. Both have managed to market the crap out of their stars. And both have had a very big say in how their products are marketed and presented on television.
The viewing experience of the NHL does not come anywhere near the other big leagues’. They’ve made stars out of their television personalities and have added significant formers athletes to supplement their broadcasts. As for former pros on NHL broadcasts? We get a healthy dose of Darren Pang, Mike Johnson, and PJ Stock. To compare the most watched hockey broadcaster, CBC, with the most watched NFL broadcaster, NBC, leaves much to be desired on the CBC side. *Cough* Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson *cough*.
In short, this is not a time for Bettman and the owners to make a power move.
This is not business as usual. The NHL does not look so great to its fans right now. After the NHL’s biggest star Sidney Crosby sat out for almost an entire season, and after making such a public mess of the Phoenix Coyotes situation, the NHL needs to save face. A good place for them to start would be avoiding another lockout.
As for The Leafs? I have no answers for them. They’re fucked.