NHL is beating itself up

October 16, 2012|By Matt Lindner | For RedEye

One of the country's major sports leagues locked out its players a month ago.

Have you, the casual sports fan reading this on a bus or a train, noticed? Chances are you've gone on with your life, engaging in pursuits far more rewarding than wondering whether the billionaires will ever make peace with the millionaires.

If local chatter on Twitter or in bars across the city is any indication, the answer appears to be a resounding no. That's because there have been other things to keep us distracted. The Bears' surprising hot start, the White Sox's even more surprising flirtation with a playoff berth and subsequent collapse, the Cubs' free fall to 100 losses, the start of the Bulls season without Derrick Rose, and even Northwestern becoming bowl-eligible before Halloween have provided more than their fair share of entertaining storylines.

It's the second time in the past decade and fourth time in the past 20 years the NHL and the players have found themselves at an impasse. While the Blackhawks' attendance was able to bounce back stronger than ever from the most recent labor mess, buoyed in large part by a Stanley Cup win, other teams haven't fared so well.

There's a simple reason: When teams pack up their balls—or pucks—and go home, fans move on and, in many cases, don't bother coming back.

Even without the Blackhawks, hard-core hockey fans are getting their fix. The AHL's Chicago Wolves drew more than 14,000 to their home opener despite playing way out in Rosemont.

You feel for the league's support staff, whose jobs become less certain with each day the lockout endures, and you feel for the players, who likely want nothing more than to hit the ice. It's hard to feel any sympathy for league owners and bigwigs, however, because if there's anything we've learned in the past month, it's that the NHL needs us a whole lot more than we need it.

If the powers that be are as smart as they think they are, they'll put aside their differences and end the stalemate before they lose yet another generation of potential die-hard fans.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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