What Exactly Is Killing the NHL?


Hockey's problem is bad management. Or the sport itself. Or weather. Or none of the above.

nhl lockout ap 615.jpg
Florida Panthers hockey player Stephen Weiss talks to the media after an informal skate as the lockout looms. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) discuss National Hockey League's player lockout, for which there's little end in sight.


In my time on this earth, no league has appeared as hell-bent on self-destruction as the National Hockey League. Hockey became the first of the four so-called major American sports leagues (along with the NFL, NBA, and MLB) to lose an entire season to labor strife when the posturing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 campaign. In the aftermath of that first catastrophic lockout, the league and its players worked to craft a long-term labor agreement, so that no future seasons would be lost.

Eight years later, the NHL is in the exact same spot it was in the fall of 2004: acrimonious labor negotiations, incompetent leadership on both sides, and no end in sight. Bettman has said that the season must start by mid-January or the NHL will lose another year of action and whatever shred of relevancy it has left. But this week, the players are voting on whether to disclaim their union, a move that would allow individual players to file antitrust suits against the NHL and team owners. Hockey diehards have long since given up hope of an end to the impasse—my brother, one of the biggest New York Rangers fans on the planet, has been forced to travel to Hartford, Connecticut, to get his fix.

At this point, I believe I speak for the non-hockey diehards among us when I say: Who cares? In the digital age, there are countless sports leagues get involved in, from the EPL to the Australian Football League. There's no reason to keep worrying—or thinking at all—about a dysfunctional league with too many teams by half and a commissioner who is as impotent as he is incompetent. Other than Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and maybe Jonathan Quick, the league simply doesn't have enough star power to withstand a second lost season in the last decade. And that may be for the best. A 16-team hockey league that focuses on the northern U.S. and Canada would be far superior to the NHL, and far more operationally functional.

What do you think, fellas? Is the NHL officially irrelevant? Should we care? And what would you do to fix North American pro hockey?


Jump to comments
Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Entertainment

Just In