NHL season can still be saved

When the NHL canceled the Winter Classic on Friday, which had been scheduled for New Year’s Day at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I automatically responded that there wouldn’t be a season. However, after giving it some thought, I’m going to reel back that idea. The league and the players actually still have plenty of time to get an agreement done and have a legitimate season.

When the players were locked out in 1994-’95, the year the Blues opened the Scottrade Center (then the Kiel Center), the first game wasn’t played until January 20. An agreement wasn’t reached until January 11, and the 48 game season ended on May 3.

Last year, the NBA played a 66 game schedule that started on Christmas Day, and it was great. The NBA traditionally starts almost exactly a month after the NHL, so perhaps an agreement this week or next could lead to a late-November start and a 60-70 game season.

There’s nothing wrong with a truncated season. Last year, for example, the only team that would have made the playoffs after 50 games that didn’t after 82 was Minnesota, who was displaced by Phoenix. Two years ago, the same eight teams that would have made the playoffs after 50 games made them after 82, with dramatic changes in the standings.

So, realistically, the NHL and the NHLPA have tons of time. If they can reach an agreement by the second week in January, more than two months away, they can still have a 50 game season that will be exciting and authentic. Nobody questions New Jersey’s Stanley Cup Championship from ’95, nor do they look down upon Eric Lindros’ only Hart Trophy. Lindros scored 29 goals and 70 points in 46 games that season, and relative to the rest of the league he was terrific.

The worst thing the NHL could do is cancel another season. While we remember New Jersey’s title as authentic, we also remember that there WASN’T a season, playoffs, or a Stanley Cup winner in 2004-2005. That’s a legacy that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will never live down. It’s part of what makes him the worst commissioner in the history of sports. While there have been other bumbling idiots that have run leagues, nobody has ever been stupid enough to lose a whole season. Bud Selig is in second place on this list because of the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, but at least baseball has statistics from 1994, and came back to have a season and a winner in 1995.

There’s plenty of time to get a deal done. Let’s hope someone can convince the greedy owners of franchises like Boston, Toronto, the Rangers, Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver and Philadelphia that they NEED teams to play to have a league, and that pronounced revenue sharing, or “league think” as they call it in the NFL, is good for them. Bettman and his employers have proven that they’re foolish enough to endanger the future of the sport by cancelling a season, which is alarming for fans and players.

The ownership landscape has changed in the league. I hope those new owners can talk some sense into the hard liners, and get even a 50 game season in rather than no season at all.