The locks come off the NHL season

January 7, 2013 

For four months National Hockey League fans watched the league’s owners and the NHL players’ union face off without anyone dropping a puck until the union agreed to a drop in bucks.

On Sunday, the league and union worked out the terms of a deal. There’s going to be a hockey season after all, although it appears it will be only 48 regular season games, well short of the usual 82. Pending approval of the deal, training camps are expected to start this weekend, and games will start Jan. 19.

After all the waiting, “Let’s go ’Canes” never seemed more appropriate.

But before the Carolina Hurricanes and the league’s 29 other teams take the ice, it’s worth reflecting on what the 113-day lockout was about and why the impasse was allowed to swallow nearly half of the NHL season.

The first thing to stress is that it was a lockout. The owners closed the season, padlocked the doors, cut off the players, put arena workers out of work, eliminated a fundraising source for charities and, by the way, deprived the fans whose purchase of tickets and high-priced hot dogs, sodas and beers keeps the league alive.

The owners will argue their hard line was necessary for the long-term viability of the NHL. They succeeded in getting the players to reduce their share of league revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent. That means the owners will get that much more – and it could be a lot. Last season, league revenues hit a record $3.3 billion.

Now that the doors are open, the question is whether fans will come back. The past suggests they will. After the 2004-05 season was eliminated by a lockout, attendance increased during the 2005-2006 season (especially in Raleigh when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup).

Fans who came back after the last lockout were greeted by “Thank you, fans” painted on the ice of every NHL arena. This time, the owners might try another message: “We’re sorry.” Cutting concession prices for the delayed and shortened season might be a way of saying they mean it

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