The NHL season is dead, at long last.
Hang on for the drum roll, followed by a cartwheel.
This is exciting, eh?
No hockey in Hockeytown. No hockey in any NHL town.
Well, almost nobody.
As we eat our Wheaties and drink our coffee this morning, we know what the letters NHL really stand for - No Hockey League.
Something smells a little fishy about the league's long-anticipated decision to wait until yesterday to call off the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow should have made the announcement on Sept. 16, the day the lockout began.
They didn't need 154 days to figure out that their product was too flawed to start up again without undergoing a major overhaul, especially when it was obvious to fans and hockey purists everywhere, from Toledo to Detroit to Calgary.
With that thought in mind, this would be the perfect time for disgruntled fans to toss an octopus at both Bettman and Goodenow.
Those two men signed the death warrants on their careers long before yesterday's funeral.
They had been gearing up for the lockout since 1998, yet failed to get a deal done in the nearly seven years since because of the salary-cap flap.
There is absolutely no room for sympathy for Bettman or Goodenow, especially in the United States, where bass fishing and bowling are more popular choices than hockey when it comes to television ratings.
The two greedy leaders should be bounced from their respective positions as soon as a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, assuming it is in this century.
Although the NHL is the first major professional sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute, not many Americans will miss it.
The NHL is already at the low end of the popularity scale here. If there is any fan interest left at all, it's safe to say it is plummeting faster than Calista Flockhart's weight.
In Canada, however, it's a totally different story.
Because the Stanley Cup won't be awarded this spring for the first time in 86 years, and with no NHL games to show on Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC may have to turn to showing re-reruns of sled-dog racing or curling.
Or the network could run past clips of aging NHL stars Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Ron Francis and Dominik Hasek, whose pending retirements have been all but rubber-stamped now that the rest of the season has been called off.
If, and when, the NHL ever does return to the ice, you'll see a much different game. There will be plenty of new faces and perhaps fewer teams. And there almost certainly will be a salary cap in place.
Few fans will remember that the owners made about $2 billion in revenue last year, or that the average NHL player salary was $1.8 million.
Few will remember that the Detroit Red Wings had the highest payroll at $82.9 million last season, and the Pittsburgh Penguins had the lowest at $21.65 million.
And only a handful of die-hards will recall that the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 last June to capture the 2004 Stanley Cup.
The only vivid memory most will have is of the irreparable damage Bettman and Goodenow did to the NHL's already fragile image, along with the stubborn billionaire owners and childish millionaire players.
During the NHL's last work stoppage in 1994, the league and its owners carried on for 103 days before a new agreement was reached.
The regular season started in late January of 1995 and was limited to 48 games, still more than half the regular season, with a full slate of playoffs.
There was no such miracle this time around.
More than 1,200 NHL regular-season games have been wiped out, along with the playoffs. More than 350 players are toiling in Europe.
The only fighting that took place in the NHL was between Bettman and Goodenow.
Unfortunately, that battle turned personal early on and escalated into an ugly blood bath that produced no winner.
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