Alix Kunkle: After this NHL lockout, will anyone even care?
I've been a hockey fan longer than I have a baseball fan. In fact, I went to my first hockey game — a 2-2 tie between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens — before I did my first baseball game.
So despite the lockout, I'll still watch the NHL when/if they come back. I'll probably be one of a small few, but I'll still be watching.
But I can't help but wonder if anyone even noticed that the NHL is locked out — again. Unless you're a diehard hockey fan like me, or you live in Canada, you probably didn't.
A good portion of that lies in the fact that our mainstream sports media doesn't really seem to care about hockey anymore. ESPN doesn't care about hockey. I think they're still sour that the NHL didn't accept their lowball offer for the national TV rights, so the lockout is an afterthought to them. It's more, "the NFL referees are still holding out, Peyton Manning is back...the NBA starts in two weeks...blah, blah, blah, oh by the way, the NHL's locked out again." When the NFL was locked out a few years back, you could darned well guarantee there was a daily update on how proceedings were going.
If you go on ESPN's website now? There's not even a mention of the NHL lockout. There's a tiny little blurb about Alex Ovechkin being angry about the whole lockout. A one sentence blurb, just kind of thrown in there.
And since the majority of sports fans seem to believe that ESPN is THE source for sports news, if they don't think it's important, no one is going to think it's important.
How'd this mess start? The last lockout had something to do with it. It's not that the league came out worse after the lockout — in my opinion, the new rules and adjustments made the league better. But part of it had to do with the fact that the league's referees didn't seem properly trained for the new rules, and that led to some inconsistent calls at the start. Then, because the referees still weren't properly trained, everything reverted to pre-lockout, which was a lot of "clutching and grabbing" (go dig in the archives and you'll see a column detailing more about clutching and grabbing).
Another part of it has to do with the fact that hockey on NBC and NBC Sports has been dumbed down beyond belief. Outside of Doc Emerick, there's not one commentator or broadcaster I DON'T want to use the mute button on. At least the people on ESPN knew — and still know — what they're talking about (when/if ESPN talks about hockey). NBC seems like they purposely pick the odd ones — I can't say I'm convinced that Pierre McGuire, Jeremy Roenick or Mike Milbury know what they're talking about. It's more obvious that they hold a grudge against one team, or have a crush on another team. As a national broadcaster, you can't have that. I miss the days of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement.You at least could stand watching the games, but also know that these guys knew what they were talking about.
But my point? The NHL could lose the entire season again because our players and owners, who make more in a week than some towns do in a year, want even more money, but I don't think anyone would even notice. The owners and players are leaving the people who care the most — the fans — in the cold and dark.
Alix Kunkle is the news editor of the Leesville Daily Leader in Leesville, La. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.