MONTREAL – Hockey fans were holding onto the possibility over the weekend the NHL lockout could come to a quick end, despite little sign of progress in the negotiations.
The NHL closed its doors at midnight Saturday and there were no formal talks between the league and its players in the final three days before the previous agreement expired.
It’s the second lockout in seven years and the fourth work stoppage in two decades.
“It’s a shame, because in the end it’s the fans that are the biggest losers,” said 54-year-old Jean-Pierre Lacombe outside the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
William Gainsbury, who works at the parking lot across from the Montreal Canadiens’ arena, the Bell Centre, remains optimistic both sides will step up and work out an agreement before games get cancelled.
“Hopefully the players and the owners, with all their lawyers and personnel, can work it out,” he said.
Gainsbury said his job is safe, but other staff will see their shifts trimmed back if the lot ends up empty during the normally bustling hockey season.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
An extended lockout would hurt the bottom line in businesses across the country, from hotels to merchandise stores.
Cleophad Lobnson, a Montreal taxi driver, said he depends on Habs games for much of his business during the winter months.
“On game nights it brings in a lot of people from the city, and from outside the city,” he said.
Katharine Galaher, a fan in Toronto, said the league should remember people who work in bars and restaurants that make their money off hockey games.
“They need to think of the well-being of everyone else that’s losing their jobs for the season,” she said.
The prospect of having the regular season start as scheduled on Oct. 11 is less and less likely with each passing day.
The first exhibition games could be scrapped next week.
Brandon Bryant, a 41-year-old in Toronto, said he usually hosts special gatherings to watch hockey games. That’s in jeopardy now.
“It hurts a lot,” he said.
“We live for hockey season and look forward to it during the off-season and the owners are putting that at risk now.”
Gainsbury said his appreciation for the NHL has gone sour in recent years as salaries and ticket prices have continued to climb.
“It’s become too corporate,” he said.
“I don’t think that people these days really feel that their team appreciates them as much as they appreciate their team.”
Rhys Finnick, who works at the Sports Junkies sporting goods store in Vancouver, blamed the owners for the unrest and called them greedy.
But regardless of how the dispute plays out, he said his passion for the game will stick.
“I’m becoming less and less of a fan of the NHL concerning the business side of it,” he said.
“But I’ll always watch it no matter what. They could lock out for 10 years and as soon as they start playing again, I’m going to watch the first game.”
A lockout in 1994-95 forced the cancellation of 468 games, delaying the season’s start until Jan. 20.
The 2004 lockout began Sept. 16 and wasn’t settled until July 13—making the NHL the first North American sports league to ever cancel an entire season over a labour dispute.
An 11-day strike in April 1992 also caused 30 games to be postponed.
– with files from William Campbell in Toronto