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Lockout Diary
The wait begins
9/16/04 - By Paul Krill

September 15, 12 noon - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has just put the whole NHL season on hold. I'm sitting in the McDonald's in downtown San Jose, home of the Sharks. There's a TV on in here - maybe it's showing the ESPN press conference about the NHL lockout, I hope?

Nope. It's news about the hurricane 3,000 miles away.

I look around to see if somebody, anybody, is visibly upset about our beloved Sharks being left in limbo. I see no visible signs of any emotional outpouring. It's more likely that I'm the only one in the restaurant who even knows about the lockout.

September 15, 10 p.m. - I turn on ESPN for news about the lockout. Surely, it will be the lead story, no?

Uh, no. There's news about the Giants game, the A's game, another baseball game, and another baseball game. Finally, after waiting through five to 10 minutes of the broadcast, there is a 45-second spot on the NHL.

September 16, 7:40 a.m. - I'm at the CalTrain station across the street from the sports palace formerly known as San Jose Arena, where the Sharks play. Once again, I look for signs of weeping and gnashing of the teeth over the Sharks' plight. After all, the Sharks were just a few injuries away from winning it all a few months ago - San Joseans ought to be concerned about their hometown Sharks being stopped from pursuing that Stanley Cup in 2004.

Once again, all is silent and I suspect I'm the only one in the vicinity who even knows what's going on.

So, it seems obvious to me that most people will do fine without NHL hockey. Most won't even notice it's missing. So maybe the lockout, with the players' vow to stay out for eternity rather than accept a salary cap, presents a unique opportunity.

Since interest in NHL hockey is minimal except among the relatively few diehards, the NHL ought to just give players a year to accept a salary cap and then impose one anyway. Then bring in replacement players earning a fraction of the current players and cut ticket prices by two-thirds to lure in new fans.

Most people in San Jose probably would not pay the going rate of $20 to more than $100 to see a hockey game. But they might come in if a game costs not much more than a bad movie that will be out on video in a few months. Since the masses do not even recognize the names of the big-money players, perhaps this bargain-basement approach might just be the solution to growing the game beyond the few fanatics.

The whole thing reminds me of Star Trek III, where Captain Kirk blew up the Enterprise, only to get a better Enterprise at the end of Star Trek IV. A new beginning, with new players, new prices and the same old franchises, could be the solution for the NHL to get out of the shadows of baseball, football, NASCAR, pro wrestling, golf, etc. After all, we do have the world's greatest game here with hockey. Quality of play will be built up gradually over a few seasons. (Many don't think much of the brand of hockey the NHL has been playing lately, anyhow.)

As for the players refusing the salary cap, they might just find out the hard way that the game and the NHL can go on just fine without them.

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