It’s official: the NHL owners have locked out the players. On Saturday night, at 11:59 EST, the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement expired, after the NHL owners and the Players’ Association failed to agree on the terms of a new contract.
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most fans, even for those of us who were ignorantly hopeful that the season would proceed without any interruption. However, this doesn’t take away from the frustration of a second NHL lockout in as many CBAs. First of all, many people feel no sympathy for either side in this childish dispute over revenue. On one side are the billionaire owners, who claim that they cannot operate a profitable business under the (now expired) CBA, and are demanding a higher percentage of revenues. On the other side are the players, who get paid millions of dollars to play a sport (a game) for a living, and are being asked to take a 24% pay cut. Secondly, this bickering shows a blatant disregard for the fans—the reason why those billionaires are turning a profit off of hockey, and those millionaires can live a comfortable life by playing puck.
It’s easy to be upset with both sides about the lack of NHL hockey this fall, but instead of being a Negative Nancy about all of this, I think we should step back, and look at the silver lining of this dark cloud that is currently looming over hockey: the Canadian Hockey League. With the suspension of NHL hockey, amateur hockey, especially major junior hockey, will get a spike in exposure. CHL hockey is already hugely popular in Canada’s smaller cities, but in those cities that also have an NHL team, major junior hockey takes a backseat. However, now that nobody will be going to those NHL games, and watching them on television or at bars, CHL hockey has a chance to boost viewership, just as the AHL did during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
There is no doubt that the Edmonton Oil Kings attendance will skyrocket this year. They are coming off of the most successful year in their short history as a franchise, having finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season, and winning the WHL championship, giving them a spot in the CHL’s exclusive Memorial Cup. They will undoubtedly need our city’s support this year, as they are looking to repeat as WHL champions, and to redeem themselves for a disappointing Memorial Cup performance.
The CHL provides a great chance to watch some really high level hockey, and to see some kids that will no doubt be playing in the big leagues some day, like Mark Pysyk and Keegan Lowe. Perhaps more enticing is the fact that an Oil Kings’ game will cost you no more than $33.50, whereas an Oilers’ ticket can cost as much as $300 for the same seat.