The NHL Lockout in 2004-05 was the only time in history a professional sports league was forced to cancel an entire season. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman threatened that another lockout would occur if a new CBA between the owners and players was not reached by September 15. (Photo courtesy of PuckPress.com)
The Flyers made a memorable run at the Stanley Cup in 2004 that came one game short of the Eastern Conference crown. And from May 22, 2004 until October 5, 2005, the Flyers and the rest of the NHL, with the exception of a seven-game Stanley Cup Final in 2004, didn't play another game.
The NHL lockout of 2004-05 started with the disagreement between the owners and NHL Players Association, just like any lockout does. We just had two extensive lockouts in the NFL and NBA in one calendar year. Now, the NHL is being threatened again.
There have been ongoing discussions about a new collective bargaining agreement in the NHL for quite some time now. A new CBA is needed for the 2012-13 season. If a new agreement is not reached by September 15, a mere 35 days away, the NHL season will not start at its scheduled October 11 and there will be another lockout.
Lockout. The dreaded word that hockey fans hoped would never arise again.
Before we can focus on the impending lockout this season, you have to look back to the one that cancelled the entire 2004-05 season.
When hockey returned for the 2005-06, the NHL managed to survive. How? A new style of play brought on by instant-success superstars like Alex Ovechkin, the first overall pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, and Sidney Crosby, the first overall pick of the 2005 Draft. New rules like shootouts, eliminating the red line, thus creating more breakaways.
Gone were the days of bullies, even though fighting still holds a pretty dominant place in the game today. The lockout ushered in a much faster, more finesse version of hockey.
And despite losing an entire season to lockout, and thus driving fans away with the "out with the old in with the new" mentality, a new generation of hockey fans was born.
That being said, another lockout could just as easily drive those fans away.
In the seven years since the lockout, there have been seven Stanley Cup champions, and 12 different teams in the Stanley Cup Finals. And these aren't just your average teams. Three teams - the Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings - won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in that time. Three Original Six teams - the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins - won Cups as well.
There has been a pleasant balance between teams. No post-lockout team can claim to being a dynasty.
But, I find it hard to believe that a sport that made fans suffer through a lockout just eight years ago, and lost lots of them because of it, can survive another lockout.
The new generation of hockey fans is not in the same realm as bandwagon fans of a certain team. These are fans of what hockey traditionalists called the new NHL. Only the new NHL isn't that new anymore. Matter of fact, it's accustomed to the game.
The NHL is riding this wave of new fans and plenty of new possibilities. Hockey has been on a roll lately, simply put.
I thought of this when the conference semi-finals were winding down. These were the matchups. In the East, the Flyers were playing the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals were playing the New York Rangers. In the West, the Nashville Predators were playing the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings were playing the St. Louis Blues.
Of those eight teams, three had a Stanley Cup to their name. One could claim to a Stanley Cup in this millennium. And if the Flyers would have won the series against the Devils and the Capitals beat the Rangers, regardless of the West results, three teams would be first-time Stanley Cup winners and one who had been on a 37-year Cup drought.
That's not the way the story went, but look at what these playoffs did for several cities. Phoenix may have saved their hockey team by becoming believers in the Coyotes, who may have been on their last leg from being shipped to Quebec. Hockey in Atlanta didn't work out, so the NHL relocated the Thrashers and returned a team to Winnipeg with positive results. Nashville was another expansion team in desperate need. A couple of playoff runs in recent years has them turning in to a contender.
Hockey is alive and well in cities that you wouldn't expect. And the hockey towns that many are familiar with are still thriving.
That is why it is in the best interest of Gary Bettman, the NHLPA and the owners to work out a new CBA before a lockout in mid-September.
A lockout at that time would likely eliminate the preseason. If it lasted ten days, it might eliminate the first few weeks or even month of the season. Anything further than that would threaten another whole season.
And this time, the NHL will crumble under the weight of rebuilding a fan base. So if the NHL wants to really thank the fans who stuck around after the first lockout, and thank the fans who gave the new NHL a chance and made it what it is today, they would be smart to get this solved now.