This past weekend, the National Hockey League should have been entering its ninth week of the season. While ESPN's front page for the NHL touts their collaboration with EA Sports on an innovative video game, no simulation highlights package is going to cover up the fact that the NHL, having canceled their season through mid-December's All Star Break, is in a precipitous position.
When the NHL announced that it was scrubbing the All-Star Game, the season should have already been under way. In truth, this has been a long time coming. Some hockey fans might even claim that it's a remnant from the previous lockout.
The poll results on ESPN's article, although far from scientific, speak strongly to people's beliefs that there will not be a hockey season this year. The commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, has taken his fair share of the blame for this lockout. But there will always be those who look at the situation from the outside and think any players refusing to play a game for thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of dollars are the greedy ones. With the NHL Players’ Association union chief, Donald Fehr claiming that the sides are close to working out a deal and Bettman claiming the opposite, it's hard to know what exactly is going to happen with this season.
Stars such as Sidney Crosby are reportedly looking into playing overseas. This is a fine option if you're one of the most marketable names in the entire league, but doesn't help many more than the top ten percent of the NHL. Having gone witnessed one recently, NBA fans are familiar with situations such as JR Smith's delayed return from China and the troubles that might be associated with playing outside the U.S.
The back-and-forth of professional hockey has been more of a rule than an exception in comparison to other leagues, but that doesn't excuse the lack of progress by now. Bettman's palpable anger at a recent press conference is merely the latest salvo in a war that's been waged since he took over as commissioner of the league. It's also a sharp reminder that the NHL is the only major sports league in America to ever miss an entire season. Seven years ago, the entirety of the 2004-2005 season was lost to labor disputes.
With rumors circulating this morning that that more games had been canceled, the NHL is teetering on the brink of furthering its own irrelevance and setting back most, if not all, of the gains that had been made since that lost season.