Hockey: The Ultimate Misconduct Penalty

As if the National Hockey League needed another reminder of the stupidity of its labor-management ways.

Witness the sell-out crowd that recently packed the Forum for that pre-season, National Basketball Association game between the Miami Heat and The Orlando Magic. That’s right, more than 20,000 turned out for a lounge act EXHIBITION. Some tickets cost as much as $250, and, no, that’s not a typo.

But hippity hopping hoops along with baseball and — especially — pro football, are three big, entrenched reasons why hockey must keep scrambling for a fan base in the American marketplace. Hockey, which is religion in Canada, is relegated to soccer status in the States.

Which means that hockey, with TV deals worth chump change and most franchises needing to win the Stanley Cup to turn a profit, can ill afford to do anything that would turn its formidable financial challenge into a Sisyphean task. But that’s what it has done — and continues to do.

The three major athletic leagues can survive strikes, lockouts, drug scandals, police blotter publicity and even replacement players because they are the big three — and they are woven into the fabric of American sports entertainment. When hockey in America shuts down, it can fully expect fewer fans to return. Tampa isn’t Toronto; nor is Miami Montreal.

The timing, of course, couldn’t be more unfortunate for the Tampa Bay Lightning. This would have been the season of fortuity — maxing out on Stanley Cup momentum. Moreover, it would have filled a feel-good, vicarious vacuum created by the Bucs’ free fall from fan favor. The Lightning could have been the winner of their discontent. Instead they capped their own growth.

Everybody loves a winner — even, apparently, of exhibition games. But you can’t win without playing. But you can lose. Big.

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