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Hefferon: NHL lockout may be a blessing (Jan. 16)

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Santa was a little late for hockey fans in America, but the gift of sanity finally arrived in the form of a new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement about two weeks after Christmas and after several months of missed games – 510 in all.

The lockout, which was the league’s second such labor dispute in eight years, caused all sorts of changes in the way the league is run, mostly at the expense of those actually playing hockey. Team owners were able to wrangle a further seven percent of league revenue away from the players, put new caps on contract lengths and institute one-time “amnesty buyouts” on expensive deals.

In return, the players got some improvements to their pension fund. Fans got less. And in eight years, the owners have the option to opt out of the CBA again, which means we’re staring down another season of lost games in 2022.

But in the meantime, the players will lace up and play a shortened 48-game season, one missing the Winter Classic, the NHL Premiere series in Europe and more than 500 other nights worth of national anthems, one-timers and final buzzers.
But while the entirety of this drawn-out lockout has been an absolute travesty, the shortened season may be a blessing in disguise for both players and fans.

For the players, who often are ground into pieces by the September-to-June marathon of a schedule, a shortened season should cut down on wear-and-tear injuries and extend careers. The short schedule has also forced the league to cut inter-conference play entirely, which means no more exhausting cross-country road trips (I don’t think the Vancouver Canucks will miss their midseason trips to Florida).

Fans will benefit as well from fewer games, as each takes on further significance in the sprint to the playoffs. Winning or losing streaks will double in importance, as a team that comes out of the gates slowly or loses five straight might fall out of the running entirely. And matchups against divisional rivals, which make up 18 of the 48 games, will be more crucial and more heated than ever.

Shortening up the season is a concept that can help other sports too, as we saw in the wildly exciting 66-game NBA season eventually won – as The Observer’s associate sports editor Matt DeFranks has probably already told you – by the star-studded Miami Heat.

It will never happen because another night of games is another night to fill stadiums and make money, but play would benefit from trimming back overlong seasons.

Baseball was never meant to be played in November, and back when Lord Stanley handed out his first Cup, you can bet it wasn’t in June. Cut the MLB schedule to 120 games and the NHL and NBA to 60 apiece. You can add in more midseason off days, and still cut down on some of the most brutal road trips, as well as the whole last month of the season.

And if you think fewer games are less fun, just look up to the king of American sports, the NFL. It runs circles around the other leagues, thanks to 16 do-or-die matchups that define our weekends.

So enjoy this frantic NHL season, and hopefully it can spur our sports to embrace the saying, as old as Lord Stanley himself, “Less is more.”

I just hope it doesn’t take more mindless lockouts to do it.

 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu
   

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.