So here we find ourselves, mere hours from the 11:59 p.m. (or so) expiration of a six year-old collective bargaining agreement between the league and players association.
No need to revisit the issues both sides hold dear (though if you must…), so we’ll simply call it what it is and strip more than a half-dozen years off our lives while reliving the Good Old Days of Valeri Bure (45 points), Mike Van Ryn (37), and Kristian Huselius (31) finishing the NHL’s final non-salary-capped season 2-3-4 in scoring for the Panthers over a madcap 28-win effort. Missed the postseason by a scant 16 points, which given the evolving organizational delamination at the time probably bothered no one beyond a few fans of the diehard variety and a sales office whose population increasingly resembled the paid attendance at Coney Island on a Wednesday in January. But enough with the positive stuff; this is serious.
A lockout – the third in league commissioner Gary Bettman’s near 20-year tenure (can it REALLY have been two decades?) - is much more than just a possibility when midnight hits this evening, and most of us long ago relegated ourselves to the harsh reality of yet another work stoppage.
Remember ice surfaces painted up all pretty in salute to you and I in October of 2005, "thanking" us for our patience and loyalty following a period so stained by labor/management warfare that the loss of a season was the only path to sustained labor peace? As always, history will repeat on a date to be determined.
Being a generation removed from the 1996 Stanley Cup Final run, many of LBC's community members are relatively new to NHL hockey in general, which is entirely understandable in this region. Folks who had grown up with the Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins suddenly found another option - no, complement - worthy of their time and voice. They - along with many others in the area whom had written the franchise off for dead a decade ago - jumped aboard when South Florida's professional hockey team began to make waves as the 2011-12 season progressed. A division championship. A ridiculously thrilling - and pundits-be-damned - seventh-game double-OT playoff finish only whetted appetites for more.
To the NHL and NHLPA: we're here. And in greater numbers than might be imagined for a "non-traditional market". Please don't make those of us who expend the energy/time/money on a sporting event rethink continuing our love and further support of arguably the best game on Earth. We "get" that a number of important issues relevant to each side of this dispute must be addressed and resolved, but for the good of the sport...get it done quickly.
Yes, I'll always be a fan. As will most of those that spend a few moments each day posting their thoughts on the team they love not only here but at (the always superb) established sites Sunshine State Hockey, The Rat Trick, Panther Parkway and an expanding number of fan pages across the interwebs. That's progress, kids.
The breaking point for a fan of any stripe is always objective, and remains an individual experience; just when you think the loss of an entire season - even six years behind us - should be a redline of sorts, we're served up a portly helping of today's yummy strife. Was the loss of 2004-05 worth it?
The floor is yours, Panthers – and hockey – fans, as the deadline creeps our way. Indifferent? Angry? Supportive of either side? It's a Caterwaul, so make use of it.
Oh, and Go Rampage :)