Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL lockout brings more apathy than anger

Anders Lindback did not pitch a shutout in the Lightning's home opener Tuesday night. He did not stop 27 shots, including a stand-on-his-head game-saver in the final minute. He did not make you think the shortcoming at goalie has been solved by his arrival.

Pity.

Marty St. Louis did not defy the calendar one more time. He did not pick an opponent's pocket and speed down the ice before sliding another winning goal into another net. After looking as young as ever, St. Louis did not crack a joke about how much older he is getting.

Shame.

Steven Stamkos did not get a hat trick, and Vinny Lecavalier did not have four assists, and Matt Carle did not look like a linebacker on skates. The fans did not leave the building celebrating a win over the Islanders or debating whether this might be a playoff team again. The boys were not back in town. There was no power to the play. There was no killing of the penalty.

Sad.

Instead, the dumbest lockout in the history of sports continued to keep hockey outside of arenas across North America. Instead of highlights, Gary Bettman talked about revenue percentages. Instead of hockey, the union delivered another dose of rhetoric.

Outside, fans yawned.

Frankly, that's what ought to scare Bettman to death.

Where is the outrage? Where are the protests? Where are fans so angry they are ready to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks?

Instead, there seems to be widespread apathy. A month ago, there was a photo on the Internet of fans picketing the NHL offices in New York. There were 20 people, and five of those seemed to just be walking past. None of the people milling about seemed particularly passionate about their cause.

For a sports league, indignation is easier to deal with than indifference. Angry fans are driven by how much they care. Apathetic ones are driven by how little.

Commissioner Lockout has struck again? What's new? Hockey has shut down? So what? The owners want relief from the stupid contracts they eagerly offered? And don't they always?

After all, this is what hockey does. This is the fourth work stoppage in the past 20 years, and most of us gave up getting lathered up about them long ago. Every so often, this sport simply shuts itself down, then it comes back and tells its fans how much it loves them.

Remember eight years ago, when the sport canceled an entire season to fix itself? Eight years later, it's broken again. How can a league explain that? And how many shutdowns does a commissioner get before labor peace is turned over to someone else?

Maybe that's why it was so hard to get energized by the NHL's new offer Tuesday. The league is offering a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues which, pretty much, is where everyone figured they would end up from the start. After all, what sounds more fair than 50-50?

From here, you and I could work out a settlement over lunch, and we could work out the details— maximum contract lengths and free-agent eligibility— over coffee. The whole negotiation should take an hour, tops. Everything else would be posturing for the cameras.

From the start, this lockout was a horrible decision. Bettman and his owners wanted another financial mulligan from their financial mistakes. Just asking here, but wasn't that the reason for the last lockout?

That one hurt the Lightning as much as any team in the league. That year, Tampa Bay was the defending Stanley Cup champion; it hasn't been close since then.

This year, the Lightning has a lot at stake, too. Tuesday night's game (Tampa Bay didn't play the Islanders) would have been the perfect time to discuss an interesting offseason by general manager Steve Yzerman. It would have been a fine time to wonder if this season would extend into the postseason.

By now, that's what we should be talking about. About Guy Boucher and Stamkos and St. Louis and Lecavalier and Hedman and Lindback. About a solid win, or a close loss or a promising performance. Isn't that the purpose of a home opener?

Maybe we will hear such talk yet. The best thing about Bettman's latest proposal was that it was designed for an 82-game season (and as such, it was going to be popular with fans). If a full season is still possible, maybe fans can be lured into the arenas once again.

After all, common sense has to prevail sometime, doesn't it? Millionaires have to sell more tickets, don't they? A league has to declare peace, don't you think?

Who knows? Maybe this time, there won't be a lockout for another six whole seasons.

Well, maybe five.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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