Here's the bottom line, kids: You shall return.
Oh, yes. You will.
I realize that, at this very moment, you're as owly as a 90-year-old man with an ache in his last tooth. Actually, you're pissed. At Gary Bettman. At Donald Fehr. At all those over-priced, under-educated hockey players whose salaries you pay.
So you vent. On radio. On TV. In print. On the internet.
Some of you have vowed to never step foot in a National Hockey League rink again. That'll show 'em.
Well, here's a news bulletin: They don't care.
Oh, they'll tell you they care. The players will dutifully acknowledge the fans when it's convenient. Ditto the owners. But it's just lip service.
I mean, I doubt the owners and players spent as much as a nanosecond discussing fans during their many chin-wags this week, get-togethers that were either close to ending the Great Shinny Squabble or, depending on whose camp was doing the talking, light years removed from a settlement.
Seriously. It's laughable to imagine Jeremy Jacobs sitting across the table from Sidney Crosby and pleading, “Sid, we have to get this thing sorted out for the fans. We owe it to the fans to stop bickering about slicing up a $3 billion pie. We have to stop bickering about contract lengths, salary caps and the like. We have to get back to playing hockey for our fans.”
Yeah, good luck with that.
There's no thought given to the paying customer because, once a ceasefire is declared in the NHL-NHLPA scuffle, they know you'll still be the paying customer.
I remind you of a comment that Bettman made in August when asked if a lockout would impact negatively on ticket sales.
“We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” the bobbleheaded commissioner said.
That, of course, is an oft-issued platitude in sports. Baseball people tell you they have the best fans. Football people tell you they have the best fans. Same thing with basketball people.
In this case, though, it's an accurate assessment.
Hockey truly is blessed with the greatest fans. You proved it after the last lockout by attending games in record numbers.
And you'll prove it the moment they drop the puck again, whenever that might be. Does anyone really think there'll be anything less than 15,004 faithful in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie in Winnipeg when the Jets resurface post-lockout?
It will be the same in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and, of course, Toronto, where 20 chimpanzees could skate out in Maple Leafs linen (insert cheeky comment here) and the Air Canada Centre would be busting at the seams.
You think the owners don't know that? It is, in fact, what they're counting on. It's the best weapon they have in their arsenal. And it's why they don't care what you think, say or do.
Now, I realize that Mark Chipman is considered a deity in Winnipeg (I actually think at least one member of the local print media has a man-crush on him). He, along with David Thomson's bulging bankroll, brought the NHL back to River City to quench a 15-year thirst, and for that you shall be forever grateful to both men.
I believe Chipman cares about his players. And his fans. Any time he mentions the flock, he comes across as genuine. Sincere.
I'm convinced that losing a season would wound him deeply on a personal level because of the way the citizenry embraced his hockey club.
But he knows you will be back. They all do.
Even in a hockey wasteland like Phoenix, the Coyotes' 1,500 hard-core loyalists will once again come in out of the hot desert sun to watch a winter sport.
So, yes, Gary Bettman was spot-on when he said hockey has the greatest fans.
It's nice to know the little man is right about something. (Now, if we can only get that head of his to stop bobbling when he's spitting mad...)