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With lockout, frustration mounts but logic gives pause…

Nashville Scene columnist J.R. Lind said it perfectly on Twitter yesterday morning.

Emotion get you fired up that the National Hockey League and it’s owners think a lockout is even an option. Especially when just a few short years ago a lockout forced the loss of an entire season. Matter of fact, for the hockey fans that have loved this game since the early-1990’s, the frustration runs even deeper. The work stoppage in 1994 resulted in a truncated regular season that saw just 48 games dictate the playoffs. Hockey fans are sick and tired of losing their sport because the NHL and the NHLPA can’t work out their differences for the long term good of the game. Put simply, a third lockout in 17 years is enough for some to throw in the towel. Like an on-and-off again relationship, the emotional investment is just too much to handle.

Logic, however, gives pause.

It’s Monday, September 17. What exactly is the league missing out on? Nothing. Training camps around the league weren’t set to start until later this week. For example, the Nashville Predators weren’t scheduled to take the ice at Centennial SportsPlex until Friday, September 21. And that’s not even mentioning games. The pre-season slate wasn’t supposed to start for Nashville until next Monday.

But, now that there is a lockout, the league — and the players, for that matter — shouldn’t be in any big hurry. With all the fringe players already assigned to the American Hockey League, what purpose would a pre-season really serve? For the Predators, everyone fighting for jobs can do so in Milwaukee. So why would veteran players such as Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad be motivated to rush a deal? After all, we’re pretty sure they’ve already made the team. Training camp for them, in a sense, has already started via unofficial workouts at Centennial. A pre-season schedule would be a waste of time, effort and travel.

So now that you realize there’s still a couple weeks before you need to get nervous, when should you get nervous?┬áSince the Predators originally scheduled only four days between the start of camp and the first set of pre-season games, we’ll use that as our model.

The season opener for the league is slated for Thursday, October 11. Thus, the absolute drop-dead date for getting a new collective bargaining agreement in place before losing any games would probably be Saturday, October 6. That five-day cushion would give players playing overseas time to get back and meet with their NHL clubs.

But let’s say it’s a worst-case-scenario and the lockout does, in fact, drag into the season. The league, frankly, can’t afford to sacrifice the Winter Classic on January 1. The annual outdoor tilt has become too much of a spectacle and is watched by even casual sports fans every year. It’s an event where the league can showcase itself and generate some interest with those who wouldn’t otherwise watch our great sport. But that doesn’t mean that December 31 is the deadline in order for that game to happen. In reality, there would need to be a new CBA weeks before that.

The league has to transform The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan from a college football field into a full-fledged, any-weather, NHL hockey rink. That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight, as the video below shows.

Furthermore, the league has HBO to consider. The past two years, they’ve produced the award winning mini-series 24/7: The Road to the Winter Classic. It’s not only gripping television but it’s prime real estate on a non-hockey network that has turned into can’t-miss programming. In order to do an adequate job building the drama of the event, they would need pretty much the entire month of December to follow around both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. If the season doesn’t start until late December, they either won’t do it at all or they’ll spend two of the four episodes talking about the NHL’s third lockout in 17 years. Does the league really want that to be the focus?

And what about all of the sponsors that are already connected to the event? Can you imagine the league calling them and telling them, “Oh yeah, sorry. We’re not going to have a Winter Classic this time. Can we call you next year?” Not a very good business model.

The bottom line is, everybody hopes there’s hockey in October. But the NHL and the owners should be motivated to get a deal done by early December at the absolute latest.

Let’s just hope that’s not what the players are banking on.