CHICAGO - MAY 03: Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks at a press conference before the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Vancouver Canucks in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 3, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Another NHL lockout could destroy casual fans' interest in the league -- again.
Unless the NHL and NHLPA miraculously come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement before Saturday, the NHL will be headed to its second lockout in just over seven years.
The effects of a lockout in 2012-13 could be catastrophic for the league.
I'm not going to pretend to be a huge hockey fan. Growing up in the 90s, I followed the St. Louis Blues, especially after the departure of the Hartford Whalers. I never played ice hockey, but I'd play street hockey with other kids in my neighborhood, and by all means, had an interest in the sport.
Through my first few years of high school, that interest remained. I wasn't a hockey nut, but I'd check to see how the Blues did daily, and of course, was a bit bitter when the former Hartford Whalers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002.
Even though hockey wasn't my main interest in sports, (baseball and football will always be one and two), it was certainly on the radar, well ahead of the NBA.
Two years later, the lockout happened -- and my interest in hockey dropped. A lot. So much so, that I didn't even bother to follow the Blues whatsoever. I didn't care about roster moves, I didn't even care what players were good, or who was playing in the Stanley Cup. The lockout absolutely destroyed any interest I had in the sport, entirely.
It took awhile for my casual interest to come back. It has, thanks in large part to the 2010 winter Olympics, and the thrilling run by the United States of America, culminating with a highly competitive and entertaining gold medal game against Canada.
After that, the NHL was in prime position to thrive. And to an extent, it did. The 2010 Stanley Cup featured the Blackhawks and Flyers -- two of the bigger U.S. markets. Though I didn't have a horse in the fight, I absolutely followed that series, and enjoyed watching it.
Living in Connecticut, it was impossible to avoid the Bruins when they were on their run to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. Once again, that was a thrilling series, and it helped further my interest back into the NHL.
This past year, the NHL once again struck gold, as the New York Rangers were one of the top teams in the league, and the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. I followed the Blues closer than I had in years, and it seemed like overall, the interest in the NHL, from casual fans, had increased. Some of my friends who I had never seen care about hockey in my life suddenly were decked out in Rangers or Bruins gear.
So here we are. The NHL has seen its teams in some of the biggest media markets thrive in the past few years, right after the USA and Canada helped galvanize interest in the once-dying sport at the 2010 Olympics.
And now, the league is just days away from its second lockout in seven years. Think about that. League officials are incredibly naive if they believe the league can afford a long lockout, let alone a cancelled season. If, someway, somehow, the season is cancelled, the NHL might not recover.
Is it possible to say definitively what the effects of a lockout will be? No, it's not. I don't know, I don't have a a crystal ball. What I do know, however, is that casual fans' interest will wane, once again. Another lockout would almost certainly kill my interest -- and I'm somebody who follows sports much more than the average casual fan.
Here's hoping that the NHL and NHLPA come to their senses this week. I want to care about hockey, but I might not be given that choice.