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We're waiting
Fans sit and wait for NHL labor situation to end
10/16/04 - By Erik Kuhre

Who are the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association REALLY locking out? That is the question that should be posed to the heads of both parties as the lockout is at the one month mark wiping out what would've been the Sharks banner raising, season opener. How much more will be forced to wait before the NHL and NHLPA finally get together and complete a Collective Bargaining Agreement and salvage the season. At this rate, the fans need a miracle off the ice for a season to take place.

How are the fans the real losers here? While the owners and players say they can afford to sit out potentially up to two seasons, the fans cannot, especially in the United States. While this is Canada's game, the NHL can't function without the American teams. With the television ratings lower than the XFL's lone season in 2001, the skies look extremely ominous in non-traditional markets. Some teams like Carolina, have been on record stating that they are saving money since their team is not on the ice.

There's a comment to ponder. If you are saying that your team is more financially stable because you are not playing games, then get out of the business and sell or move your team to greener pastures. That should never happen. Of course, this whole stalemate comes down to two groups: teams like the New York Rangers and player agents.

In 1997, after a successful playoff run with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the Rangers went into the free agent market to find some of the best players available to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York. They were signing players to outrageous offer sheets in order to make sure to get the players they wanted. For example, Joe Sakic signed a rumored $7-10 million offer sheet. Colorado had a week to decide to match the offer or lose him to the Rangers. Not all teams were able to keep their stars like the Avalanche did. The end result was what Rangers management didn't want. They wanted to look like the Yankees of hockey. Instead, New York has been absent from the playoffs since 1997-98.

While the Rangers waving money around, player agents tried to use this to their advantage. They would demand that the player's team match what other big market teams offer or lose their star to another team. Players were suddenly getting huge raises causing teams payrolls to skyrocket and revenues to be lost. These two circumstances made it tough for teams to have an even field, which has led to unstable franchises in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Ottawa to name a few. Something needs to be done and soon or else the revenue from NHL fans will permanently be nonexistent.

With that said, there are no hard feelings with the San Jose Sharks or their players. There is no animosity. The organization saw this coming and while the fans complained about not spending the money, the team is in good shape if a salary cap is put into place. The ownership group did what they had to do, but so did the players. However, leaving the fans without what could be an unbelievable season in the dark is upsetting and disappointing.

Don't blame the Sharks or any other organization directly. Point fingers at the NHL and NHLPA front office, who still have yet to even come close to negotiating since the elimination round of the World Cup of Hockey. The fans need to show that being locked out of arenas will not be tolerated. Until next time, we will (eventually) CHOMP TO THE CUP!

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