Back in August, before the current NHL lockout had officially begun, commissioner Gary Bettman famously (or maybe it was infamously) said that the league recovered from the loss of the 2004-05 season because it has the “world’s greatest fans.”
But if the 2012-13 season is canceled, will the fans return in droves again? Here are three big reasons they might not:
Fool me twice, shame on me. One lost season was bad enough. Add another less than a decade later and fans can’t be expected to be so forgiving. On top of that, this lockout is different. In 2004, most fans believed the NHL’s claim that the business model was unsustainable and that a hard salary cap was required to ensure the league’s stability for years to come. Now they see an NHL, having got what it wanted eight years ago, coming back for more.
It’s the economy, stupid. In 2005, things were a lot better than they are today. Whether the global economy is still technically in recession or not, the situation remains undeniably tenuous. There’s a reason the U.S. presidential election is largely about creating jobs and managing the debt. A lost NHL season would give individuals and corporations a great excuse to cut expenses by walking away from their season-ticket commitments and/or sponsorships.
What do they do for an encore? The NHL emerged from the last lockout having approved a series of rule changes that sped up the game and increased its entertainment value. It wasn’t quite the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homerun record chase that helped baseball recover from the cancelation of the 1994 World Series (thanks, steroids!), but it still helped hockey fans put the lost season behind them.
On the bright side, there’s still time to save the season. Get back to playing hockey soon and the damage should be manageable.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.