Can The Florida Panthers Survive Another Lockout?

June 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on stage at the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

First of all let’s hope that this question doesn’t become something that we even need to consider.  However with the talk of the week indicating that the longer the two sides don’t make a deal, the reality of survival not only in Florida, but in the NHL exists.  When you read the words of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the reality of another lockout exists:

“I re-confirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months. Namely, that the time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon. And we believe there’s ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal and that’s what we’re going to be working towards.”

If this were to happen it would be the third lockout in Bettman’s history as the NHL Czar.  For me, and I’m sure for you, that’s a pretty poor track record for the leader of a “business”, which the NHL, like other sports has become.  The crux of the current issue is mostly hung on the revenue sharing portion.  The owners want to give less, and the players want their fair share.  The current agreement is no longer acceptable, and the future of the league, according to Bettman and his cronies, requires a total restructuring.

While I can’t in just one article cover all the pros and cons of what a third lockout will do to the NHL, I can discuss what could happen to the “casual” fan here in the South Florida area.  I can sum it up in one simple and short sentence…..He/she could be lost, and difficult to reign back in.

The Florida Panthers prior to last season had a decade of futility.  Promises that were made, were either broken or not delivered on, finally gave way to a new era of promise.  A change of culture, attitude, and direction.  An actual plan was put into place and has been followed almost to the T.  Proof of that plan otherwise known as the Blueprint, has been demonstrated without wavering by general manager Dale Tallon.  He’s rebuilt the roster by adding a solid mixture of veteran players, mixed with players on the cusp of their prime, along with making some solid draft choices.  In addition, Dale has stood his ground all summer long refusing to give up some of our prized possessions for a goaltender on the downside of his career with a contract that resembles a 16 ton weight.

With the winning of the Panthers first ever division championship, the Bank Atlantic Center was attracting crowds to full capacity last season as the Cats entered the playoffs.  Finally this team was winning, and appeared to be moving in a positive direction.  Whether some of these fans were jumping on the bandwagon or were fans who had walked away, it didn’t matter much.  What mattered is that they came. I’m not so sure that these same fans who returned, or who finally discovered that hockey is the greatest and most exciting sport on the planet will return if there is a work stoppage.

To be perfectly honest I don’t why the two sides can’t just lock themselves in a room and hash this out until a deal is agreed on.  Meeting once or twice a week seems like a game of battleship, with each side using the maximum time on the clock to make a statement.  Bettman has made it clear that there will be no hockey after September 15th without a new agreement, while the players side has indicated they are willing to work while a deal is being discussed.  Like the last lockout there seems to be signifcant double talk, and what’s ultimately happening with contracts going through the roof will come down and hurt all of us in the wallet.  A family of four will have to sacrifice a week’s worth of pay to attend one game a year, let alone purchase an entire season ticket package.

Hockey in Florida can work.  It’s fickle, but it can work.  The reason it’s fickle is because the bulk of the population is from another state, and the loyalty to Florida hasn’t been cemented for everyone.  It’s one thing for our team to be losing.   At least the fans who are on the fence come out to the arena to see the team that they rooted for in the city that they once lived in.  It’s that same fan however who hasn’t quite “adopted” the Panthers as their team, that’s the one that won’t come back if there’s a stoppage.  Those are the one’s that we need to stick with us.

The NHL is expecting a counter proposal next week?  Why it’s taken so long is something none of us can answer, but hopefully there can be an agreement put in place swiftly.  The damage that a lockout sets up is counterproductive to all the good that’s been done since the last one was resolved.  Yet it’s the owners setting the rules, making the demands, and not wanting to share the wealth of a $3 billion dollar business.  The tomfoolery in all this exists as these new demands come on the heels of dishing out contracts that are big enough to fill a caravan of Brinks trucks.

The Florida Panthers, just like every other NHL city,  need the season to start on time.  There is the “next step” that the team is eagerly waiting to take.  There is the youth and development of players that we’re all waiting to see, and most importantly there is a division championship that needs to be defended.  Let’s not taint that with either a lockout shortened season, or one that never gets played.

My daughter, otherwise known as Little Miss Rat Trick starts college in less than two weeks.  One of her planned trips home is in October for opening night.  She’s been looking forward to that night ever since it was put on the calender. I leave it up to you Gary to make sure that trip comes to fruition for all the right reasons.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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