Was there any doubt?
I mean, did anyone actually believe that fans were soooooo browned off about the 113-day lockout that they would turn their backs on the NHL brand of hockey? Or spend their hard-earned cash on items other than team jerseys, caps or any of the other trinkets available in National Hockey League merchandise stores?
Well, if you truly believed that, then you likely also believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and that Tiger Woods is a virgin.
As sure as John Tortorella will huff, puff and growl the first time a media idiot asks him a dumb question this season, the NHL flock would return like robins in spring once labour piece had been restored on Planet Puck. Why do you think Gary Bettman is unafraid to lock down the league at least once a decade? The bobbleheaded commissioner wasn't just blowing smoke when, about a month prior to putting the padlocks on NHL rinks on Sept. 15, he said, "We recovered well last time because we have the world's greatest fans."
Some people interpreted that as pompous. Arrogant. And, most of all, insulting. How dare he take the customers for granted? For fools. Well, Bettman might not care about the customer, but he certainly knows his constituents because they've been making the pilgrimages to NHL training camps in Lourdes-like numbers. Check it out:
* More than 5,000 of the faithful flocked to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for the Winnipeg Jets' initial workout.
* Elsewhere: Approximately 2,000 fans were at Compuware Arena to watch a pair of Detroit Red Wings workouts; more than 3,000 took in a Philadelphia Flyers practice in Voorhees, N.J.; an estimated head count of 3,000 took in the St. Louis Blues' first workout at Scottrade Center; FanFest at the Tampa Bay Times Forum attracted 5,500 of the faithful; a crowd of about 2,000 watched the Oilers play shinny at Hawrelak Park in Edmonton; more than 2,000 were on hand to watch Sid the Kid and the Penguins work out for the first time.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
It helps, of course, that a number of NHL outfits are offering 50 per cent discounts on merchandise, plus reduced prices for hotdogs, drinks and other concession goodies at these workouts. Perhaps that's what has drawn so many to rinks across Canada and in hockey hotposts in the U.S. But, then, perhaps they're just there for the hockey.
After all, NHL loyalists arrived in record numbers following the 1994-95 lockout and again after the lockout season of 2004-05, and I'm guessing it's going to happen this year, as well.
That, however, could be bad news for Planet Puck. How so? Well, if fans prove for a third time that billionaire owners and millionaire players can have a schoolyard squabble while the commissioner is stricken by moments of madness and, yet, they still fill buildings, what's to stop the owners/players from a reprise eight years from now? Nothing. Nothing at all.
And you know that's a very real possibility, because NHL general managers and owners will scheme and dream of ways to beat the new system. They always do. So, they'll once again have to save themselves from themselves.
But, hey, that's a discussion for 2021, by which time Jacob Trouba should captain of the Jets, Mark Scheifele should be the team's leading scorer and, hopefully, the Winnipeg media will have called off its Evander Kane witch hunt.
For now, though, it's game on!