NH-Hell

Our resident sports columnist, Alan Compton, talks ice hockey. Will it become

So it’s Ice Hockey’s turn.
It seems – from a British perspective at least – that each and every year one of America’s sports take a year out because of something to do with money. Now the thing is, it hasn’t even been particularly long since Ice Hockey pulled this card. The NHL didn’t have a 2004-5 season because of the collapse of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and it’s looking all but certain now that the 2012-13 season won’t hit ice for the same reason. The details of the issues that have led to this lockout are a little confusing, so bear with me here. The terms of NHL contracts were to be changed, including a salary cap that would be determined by revenue, and the elimination of signing bonuses. Negotiations have so far been fruitless and when midnight struck on September 15th – and the previous agreement expired – the NHL locked the players out of their facilities, leading to the postponement of games, and the potential cancelling of the season.

This has huge ramifications on the future of the National Hockey League. The 2004-5 lockout saw the NHL lose their television deal with ESPN and, since then, it has been nearly impossible to find regular season hockey on live television in the US. An NHL executive has approximated that this lockout has cost the league $230m in revenue. All but the most hardcore of hockey fans may very well walk away after this, and the NHL as we know it may never exist in its current form again. This leads to one huge, huge issue: the potential end of the EA Sports NHL game franchise.

Now, whilst the sport itself may seem to myself and many others in the UK like a complete clusterfuck of human bodies with no idea where the puck ever is, when a goal has been scored (flashy red light aside), and with a remarkably low success rate for 3am gambling, the EA Sports NHL games are magnificent. They have that wonderful ‘simple to learn, impossible to master’ feeling to them, and have a much longer shelf-life than the likes of Fifa or Pro Evo. So forget the NHL fans, forget the millions of dollars being lost from the US economy. Forget the potential redundancies of below the line workers and forget the players scrambling for somewhere to play this season – with the threat of no more NHL, and no more NHL games – I’m clearly the victim here.

With the ramifications on American sport – and the much more important ramifications on my leisure time – it becomes difficult to look past the negatives and presume that there are no winners of this situation. You’d be mistaken. There have been clear winners as a result of this lockout: every hockey league that is not the NHL. European Hockey has been revitalised with the injection of NHL talent. Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovchenkin, one of the world’s finest talents, has returned home to DC Dinamo Moscow, and even Stanley Cup winner Drew Miller has signed for the almighty Braehead Clan. The improved quality and increase in star power across Europe will without doubt result in increased exposure worldwide and domestically, and that is a hugely positive step for all things hockey. The extra revenue and fan base gained from this will allow European Ice Hockey to grow, meaning that when the NHL returns (assuming of course that it does) European Hockey will have been presented with a magnificent chance to bridge the gap in quality between them. Whether or not this opportunity will be seized, and European Hockey can ever truly rival their American counterpart remains to be seen.

Whilst we may not understand the sport, and we may not understand its appeal, one thing is for sure: before ice hockey becomes the new European hipster sport, we must all grow to pretend to love it before it becomes too mainstream.

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