Here's a deep philosophical question for you, sports fans:
If a major professional sports league finally settles a contentious dispute with its players' union, but nobody really notices (or cares), did anything really get resolved?
Mind-blowing stuff, right? Go ahead, sit down and scratch your chin while you ponder that one.
OK, time's up.
Coincidentally, time's up for the National Hockey League, too.
In case you missed it -- in case you were watching the Jazz beat the Mavericks or perhaps you were sleeping through that dog of a BCS national title game -- the NHL on Monday tentatively settled its
116-day lockout. Finally, after slogging through the intellectual equivalent of a benches-clearing brawl, the NHL's owners finally settled up with the players' union and came to terms on a collective bargaining agreement.
Amazingly, they finally agreed to split roughly $3 billion in revenue right down the middle, 50-50. And now the season, which was supposed to start back on Oct. 11, is set to get underway Jan. 19. They'll play 48 regular-season games, then move ahead with a full postseason, which is good because that's the best part of hockey anyway.
If you're still reading these words, chances are you're either, No. 1 a diehard hockey fan; or No. 2, related to me in some way. I hate to break it to you, but everybody else left four paragraphs ago.
And that, folks, is my point. Hockey is a wonderful sport, full of toughness, excitement and suspense, especially when the Stanley Cup playoffs get going. Unfortunately, the NHL barely registers in our sporting consciousness and this latest lockout -- the third under the watch of commissioner Gary Bettman -- chased away even more fans.
When news of the labor agreement broke Monday, it wasn't even the lead story. Heck, it hardly got mentioned, at least not around here.
And why would it?
The NHL used to be a proud league; now it's a punchline. Following it is like watching one of those nature shows on TV. We know that poor little antelope isn't going to outrun the hungry lion -- and the lion knows it too -- but all we can do is sit back and watch the drama unfold.
Those of us who do appreciate the NHL are a dying breed and after this latest labor dispute, our numbers are dwindling. It used to be considered one of the four "major" sports leagues along with the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. Nobody really believes that any more. Not even NHL fans believe their league belongs in the same sentence with the other guys.
Sure, it's a $3 billion business, but that hardly compares to the other leagues. Last season the NFL made $9 billion in revenue, followed by the MLB ($7.5 billion) and the NBA
Clearly, hockey has become a regionalized fringe sport, appreciated far more in Canada and the northern United States than anywhere else on the continent. What few casual fans the NHL had were driven away when a lockout cost the league its entire 2004-05 season.
The 2012 postseason was remarkably entertaining and when the big-market L.A. Kings came away with the Stanley Cup it seemed the NHL was taking a giant step forward. Then came this latest lockout -- four months long and at least 480 games lost -- and it was two steps backward.
It appears the NHL is trying to kill itself with greed.
Here's non-philosophical question for you, sports fans: How many times can a professional sports league insult its most ardent supporters before they simply stop caring?