So…will the fans come back?

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The damage the lockout has caused to the NHL is obvious, with lost revenue and games at the top of the list.

But what about collateral damage?

The NHL will likely face some blow back from its fans — you know, folks that have endured two work stoppages in the last seven years, one that wiped out an entire season and another that dragged on for 113 days.

Surely, some fans will flock back to their favorite teams as though nothing ever happened.

Almost as surely, some will stay away.

Others will have a tough time deciding how to support a league with a penchant for damaging itself.

With that in mind, here are some key points to consider…

Once bitten, twice shy

Fans returned in droves following the 2004-05 lockout and, by last season, the NHL was posting great attendance figures. An April report from the Sports Business Journal claimed teams averaged 17,445 fans per game last season, up 1.8 percent from last season and 2.8 from two seasons ago.

Those are solid numbers, which lead to a big question:

Will fans come back again?

It remains to be seen how negatively this latest work stoppage affects people’s psyches.

The first lockout was met with anger. This one was also met with anger, but also a considerable amount of apathy — and apathy usually doesn’t translate to people spending their money on your particular brand of entertainment. There’s no shortage of ways to spend disposable income, in case you haven’t noticed.

Social Media

One big difference from the ’04-05 lockout and the ’12-13 one was the impact of Facebook and Twitter — especially the latter. Twitter allowed fans to become much more dialed in to the minutiae of labor negotiations, meaning they probably got too close a look at very wealthy men fighting tooth and nail over how to divvy up $3.3 billion.

There’s also the issue of how players came off via social media. Many took to Twitter to show how life was going during the lockout — lives that included Ferraris, money phones, seamstresses at Barneys and sunny vacation spots. (Translation: life was going just fine, thanks.)

To be fair, many players are now using social media platform to express regret to their fans (see: Andrew Ference’s deeply apologetic tweet, and Ryan Miller apologizing for the role players had in the lockout.)

Halted Momentum

The Kings should’ve been building off their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. While they did sell an “unprecedented” number of season tickets following the Cup victory, it’ll be tough to re-establish a presence in a crowded Los Angeles sports market after being out of the public eye for so long.

In the last few months alone, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup and the Lakers made a series of bold, headline-making personnel decisions. Oh yeah, the Clippers currently have the second-best record in the NBA.

What about Florida? The Panthers enjoyed tremendous success last season, capturing the first Southeast Division banner in franchise history while snapping a 10 year playoff drought.

The team showed noted improvement at the turnstiles — Florida averaged 16,628 in attendance last season, its highest total in seven years — and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games (and two overtimes) in the opening round.

Think the Panthers would’ve liked to have been playing already?

Giving Back

The NHL does have a history with fan incentives out of a work stoppage. One of the key features from the last lockout was a series of rule changes designed to make the game more exciting and attractive, a plan that won over a lot of casual observers.

This time around, the incentives might be a tad different — more of the grassroots, “we’re sorry” kind of stuff.

Example: Panthers president Michael Yormark said he would announce a ticket promotion Monday that would allow fans to sit with him at all home games this season.

Giveaways and promotions like that will help but, ultimately, it’s the sport itself that will win fans back. That’s something Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey recognized shortly after the new CBA was reached.

“Our focus now,” he said, “is to give fans, whether it’s 48 games or 50, the most exciting season we can.”

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’