Columnist: NHL has to learn from NFL’s embarrassment

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Now that the NFL has ended its humiliating stint with replacement referees, the pressure’s on the NHL to stave off an even bigger embarrassment – another lost season due to a labor dispute.

That’s the argument CSSNE.com columnist Joe Haggerty is making:

The NFL finally showed some respect for their paying customers rather than continuing to insult their intelligence while allowing their great sport to decay. It’s time for the NHL to do the exact same before they become a year-long running joke on a slap shot into oblivion.

Clearly they are different situations.

The NFL is a $10 billion plus industry that was foolishly squabbling with the refs over a few million dollars. The two sides of the NHL CBA negotiations are about a billion dollars apart over the lifetime of the contract, and nobody is denying that money is the key issue.

But the scrutiny and the microscope is now expertly trained on Bettman and the NHL, and the lighting will only get more unforgiving as time marches on.

Speculation is growing that the NHL may indeed abandon the season, but it still seems unfathomable that it would choose to do so.

Consider:

—- The NHL posted record revenues in 2011-12. Clearly the league has momentum. But in terms of popularity in the United States, the NHL is still fourth behind the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Which is to say it still has a long ways to go.

—- The NBA managed to solve last year’s lockout with losing an entire season. Ditto for the NFL. MLB quietly signed another CBA last year, too. As Haggerty writes, the NHL is now “the only major pro sports league that officially can’t get its crap together.”

But perhaps most importantly, remembering what a laughingstock the NHL became when it canceled the 2004-05 season, imagine what people will say if it loses another one less than a decade later.

Once again hockey fans will be left to stick up for their favorite sport while everyone else is busy enjoying theirs.

Well, except if hockey fans say “screw it, you’re right, the NHL is a joke” and don’t.