Both the league and its players just sat on their butts like a 4th line goon benched for picking one too many fights. In fact, it was well into the fall before any negotiations worth mentioning took place. Hell, half the season, the All Star Game, and the Winter Classic had to be cancelled before any real talking happened at all - and even then only the threat of billions of dollars in anti-trust lawsuits and the cancellation of an entire season got a deal done. In January. Almost 7 months AFTER both sides should have done something about it.
I know that hockey is big business and there are several hundred elite athletes and 30 ownership groups that invest a lot of time, energy, and money into the fastest team sport on ice. I get it. It's not simple, and when that many people are involved and that much is at stake, you can't just snap your fingers and make something happen. I don't expect that and neither did any other hockey fan. What we did expect is that both sides would to SOMETHING. Instead, both sides did nothing for a painstaking long time, and after that all we got was posturing and mud slinging.
So how will we the fans reward the NHL and NHLPA for their antics? Probably with sellout crowds for the shortened season and record sales in merchandise. That seems to be how these things go. Now the "experts" are saying that this time around things will be different but I'm not so sure. I for one don't plan on giving the NHL or NHLPA a dime for many years if I can help it and I have a few friends who are of the same opinion. But the problem is that for every one of us there is another ten people with more money than brains and another hundred corporations with deep pockets scooping up the tickets and filling the rinks simply because they can. So, the corporate machine that is professional hockey in North America will continue to spin, albeit with a little less enthusiasm than a year ago. All it will take is an exciting Cup Final and an active off season with respect to trades and momentum will build back up - you just watch.
Mark my words. Bookmark this post and revisit it 18 months from now.
I predict that the NHL will be back into record revenues and crowds before the end of the 2013-2014 season. A few of us will have no part of it, but it's of little consolation. At least I'll have a few more dollars in my pocket at the end of the year.
A wise person once said, "As soon as money leaves your hand it stops being yours" and that's a great quote. The best thing I can think of to do is find a few more ways to ensure that it stays in my hand a bit longer.
After the last lockout I was so frustrated with the Toronto Maple Leafs that I declared myself a "free agent fan" and the Ottawa Senators won that free agent battle and along with it my fan support for as long as I gave it to the Leafs - 31 years. Well, unfortunately once the CBA expired and we lost games in the season that "contract" is now null and void. I'm a "free agent fan" once again, only this time I'm not looking for a team... I'm looking for an entire league.
The early leader is the Ontario Hockey League. There are several teams within an hour's drive of my house and you can get two tickets for $35 plus free parking. It's great to take the kids, and we get to see some pretty damn good hockey (the Kitchener Rangers goalie just won a gold medal for the USA in the most recent World Junior Championships).
If you want to see the original "free agent fan" story and letter I wrote to all 30 NHL teams you can click the links below to expand the sections (please ignore the fact that my writing back then was terrible).
Original Free Agent Fan Story
Then I moved to Ottawa. The first winter there was The Year There Was No Hockey, and it was cold. REALLY cold. And boring. But the next year I discovered I could just get hockey tickets to any Sens game I wanted. They were even cheaper than Leaf tickets (even when the Leafs were in town and they imposed a lousy "30% ticket premium").
After one season of going to games and cheering on the Leafs from the comfort of Kanata I got a thing from the senators asking if I wanted a ticket package. I signed up for a 6 game pack, which included one Leaf game and one Montreal game and 4 others of varying interest.
Along with this package I got 4 free tickets to pre-season games, 2 free tickets to a regular season game (San Jose), playoff priority purchasing (1st in line for all playoff seats) AND a free signed Sens jersey (Christoff Schubert, but whatever).
Toward the middle of next season suffice it to say I was becoming quite fond of this situation. I made a declaration right there: If the Leafs missed the playoffs - I was done. I would declare myself a "Fan Free Agent".
I wrote a letter and sent it to all 30 NHL club General Managers declaring my free agency, and that I would begin accepting all offers for consideration. No team was out of the running - even the Leafs, but come playoff time I would have my decision made and I would maintain my allegiance to that team for the next 31 years, no questions asked. I then sent copies of the letter to 1 major radio station in each NHL city, along with 1 major newspaper in each NHL city, and waited for the responses to come flooding in.
The first response I received happened to be from the Leafs. It was a kind form letter asking that I direct my query to the Leafs President. It provided me no email or mailing address to do so, and also indicated that they were happy I contacted them and that they looked forward to my continued support. Jerks. Leafs officially out of the running. Now down to 29 teams.
The next response I received was from Columbus. They thought what I was doing was great, but were really looking for someone more local to cheer them on. They did say that if I ever moved into the area that they would be happy to show me what being a Blue Jackets fan was all about. Don't know exactly what that means, but it was nice none the less. Jackets were on my list of backup teams.
The next response I received was a real shocker. I got a phone call from the Sens offices. The man on the phone told me he read my letter in the Ottawa Citizen (apparently it was the letter of the day) and the Sens wanted to bring me on as a fan. In addition to all the usual goodies I had been receiving for the last 2 years they wanted to bring me to a game - on Fan Appreciation Night.
Of course I accepted the invitation and when I inquired about with whom I was speaking the man said, "I'm Cyrill Leader, the Chief Operating Officer of the Sens. You'll be staying in the Sens private box for the game as my guest." My jaw hit the floor.
So I went to the game, and was wined and dined by a lovely server who knew my drink order and name by the halfway mark of the 1st period, and I got to rub elbows with some higher ups from big Ottawa companies and members of Hockey Canada who had also received invites as guests of various Sens folks - and it was freaking AWESOME!
So now I'm back in Southern Ontario surrounded by Leaf Religion and the congregation of those who have forgotten how real hockey teams are supposed to be run and how real fans are supposed to be treated. Come playoff time though I'll be flying my Sens flag above my garage with pride, and between now and then I'll have the pleasure of watching 8 Leafs/Sens games on TV. How's that working out for the Leafs so far?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
The Original Letter
March 8, 2006
To: Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club, c/o John Ferguson Jr.
Cc: All other NHL teams & media outlets in their respective cities
An open letter to the Toronto Maple Leafs,
I have been a hockey fan since birth. I will be 32 on Monday, March 13th and have spent the last 31 years as a Leafs fan and 1 year (“the dark year”) as a Habs fan. So it is with a heavy heart, but without regret, that I am here to announce that should the Toronto Maple Leafs fail to make the playoffs this season I will officially declare myself a free-agent fan.
Three seasons ago I vowed that MLSE would not get a penny from me until the Leafs made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and since then I’ve given MLSE exactly zero dollars, directly or indirectly, but now I have had enough. I’ve seen what other organizations are able to offer their fans: A winning team, affordable tickets, tickets to all games and playoffs, free tickets, free stuff and most importantly, a team not limited by the earning potential of a teachers pension plan.
My office moved me to Ottawa during the lock-out and was starved for some good ole fashioned Maple Leafs hockey and when the CBA was done I was the first in line for Sens tickets to see them play my beloved Leafs. I got a simple 6-game package of tickets at a very reasonable price and with this came the following: Discounted preferred parking within 100 meters of the front gate, free pre-season tickets against Montreal, free regular season tickets against San Jose, discounted pricing on all available tickets for the season, including 4 seats versus against the Leafs (which normally carry a 30% premium), preferred playoff ticket purchasing, next season’s tickets at this year’s prices AND a free AUTOGRAPHED Ottawa Senators Jersey.
Wanting to take full advantage of my pending fan free-agency I have copied all other NHL organizations so they can have time to prepare their offers to have me as a fan for the next 31 years – the exact amount of time I’ve given to the Leafs. The Sens already have a head start and I have got to be honest, they’re the front runners, but it’s still wide open.
How much is 31 years of dedicated fan support worth to you? If history is any indication I can imagine that to MLSE and the Toronto Maple Leafs it is worth very little, if anything.
With one foot out the door,
Andrew F. Butters
Ottawa Senators Partial Season Ticket Holder
Life-Long Toronto Maple Leafs Supporter and Fan