Can you believe it? Three lockouts since 1994. What other organization is so dysfunctional that they can't even continue operations for more than 10 consecutive years at a time? And the timing of these lockouts have definitely hurt the NHL, their efforts to "grow the game", and of course, hockey itself.
Flash back to 1994. The Rangers had just won the cup for the first time since World War 2. Mark Messier had solidifed his legendary status. Hockey was big in New York, media capital of the USA. Eric Lindros was a natural foil for Messier, being in the same division, playing for the storied Flyers organizations, and being a gigantic 6'4" and 225 lbs. On the west coast you still had Wayne Gretzky holding onto what was left of his prime - which still happened to be better than 95% of the rest of the league. In short... all things were looking good for a National TV contract. Something big. Something almost worthy of a top 4 sport in America.Well guess what... you lost half a season, you lose half of America. Hockey? What's that again? Oh yea, didn't the Rangers win? Good times... and there you have it... not quite forgotten but getting close. After that came the much ballyhooed "dead puck" era where hooking, holding and defensive positioning took over and shooting, passing, and scoring chances became increasingly rare.
Then leap forward to 2004. Tampa Bay had just won the Cup. Yes you heard right. A team from Florida. Could they finally sell out the arena being Stanley Cup champs and all? They were actually a top 5 team in goals scored that season playing a system where players actually tried to forecheck, a little. The dead puck era was at its peak (the leading goal scorer had 41 that year) but the stars all came from franchises in non traditional markets - Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Kovalchuk, Heatley, Nash, Modano all played way south of the border.
Can it be? Is it possible that winning teams in the deep south could help win fans? We'll never know. After a year off it was as if they were starting from scratch. Tampa lost in the first round. Carolina won, sparking a short lived surge in interest - but elsewhere, the ice may as well have melted during the lock out.
Now what? 2011/12: the return of the Jets. Interest in Hockey at an all time high. Even NBC is willing to pay some money to get the game on TV on a semi regular basis. Well guess what Bob Costas? Looks like you'll be doing a lot more shows about arena football this winter...