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Thanks for emboldening greedy owners, NHL fans (What We Learned)

Ryan Lambert
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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

We all knew that the NHL's return from the lockout was met not with the icy disinterest and empty buildings – that romantics envisioned as payback against the owners for robbing fans of the game they loved – but rather overwhelming enthusiasm.

Since coming back in mid-January, the league has enjoyed sellouts across the continent, sky-high ratings, and so on and so on and so on. What very few probably saw coming was just how eager fans would be to not only see the NHL return, but to fork over their money to its greedy, cynical owners. Larry Brooks reported yesterday that the NHLPA learned the League was projecting it would walk away with $2.4 billion in hockey-related revenues for this abbreviated season. You'll note that's down only $900 million or so from the $3.3 billion it generated in an 82-game season, complete with a Winter Classic and an All-Star Game.

As Brooks points out, that's 72.7 percent of revenues enjoyed in a full season from just 58.5 percent of the games, without the league's usual days-long cash-cow events. And it only serves to underscore the owners' belief that hockey fans are gullible money machines who will make willy-nilly purchases of tickets, merchandise, concessions and more like a teenager at the mall with mommy and daddy's credit card.

I didn't think it was so long ago that the Canadian media was running polls showing definitively that well over half of all NHL fans swore up and down that they would never give another cent to their favorite teams no matter how much it killed them. So what gives?

First of all it must be said that everyone on the planet, except maybe the people giving those answers, knew that those polls were garbage. Things said in anger shouldn't be taken as gospel, and hockey fans were certainly angry during the lockout. They had every right to be. But still, anyone who put the slightest credence in those numbers likely works as a player agent.

Maybe Brooks is right that fans just care more about there being 48 games instead of 82 because every one of them counts more. Maybe there's just been more engaging hockey drawing fans back in after that initial surge of "we're just so happy it's back" interest. Maybe it's even a function of the shortened season and intra-conference schedules keeping more teams seemingly in striking distance of a playoff spot instead of fading so quickly (to wit: the Flames and Islanders entered Sunday five points back of playoff spots despite being 14th and 13th in their respective conferences). But people keep showing up regardless of the reason, and that in turn gives the owners plenty of ammunition when they get the chance to opt out of the brand-new CBA in just seven and a half years' time.

All the big percentages of those polls with fans pledging disinterest might have been shocking, but they were nothing compared with what owners are reaping now. It seems that absence did indeed make fans' hearts grow fonder, and now owners know that all those seat-fillers will come crawling back the second there are seats to fill, truly and definitively.

One common cry during the lockout was how dumb the NHL must have been to go through it all again so soon after the last one. What about labor peace? What about rationality? Turns out that labor peace has little to no impact on the bottom line, and if anything might actually serve as something of a detriment. Rationality, as with the arduous 113-day process itself, likewise plays little to no role in the post-lockout world either.

No one expected the fans to stay away forever, or probably even for a short time, but now owners know they will never be afraid. If there was no backlash after this, why on earth would there be one in 2020?

The NHL repeatedly said throughout the lockout that the growth seen after the 2004-05 season was canceled — of between 5 and 7 percent per year — was unsustainable going forward. Just another lie fed to fans during the lockout. This latest projection shows that's probably not the case, not now and probably not for next season at the very least. Those numbers will likely continue to come as hockey grows more popular even in the face of these malevolent ownership groups having done all in their power to make you really not like them.

There's something to be said for blind love, I suppose, and NHL fans certainly have it for this sport. But it can clearly be cynically exploited, and knowing the owners as we now do, it's nearly impossible to see a situation in which they don't attempt to claw back an extra few cents of every dollar the next time they get the chance.

Fans haven’t given them any incentive not to try.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: It's a pretty tough break if you lose in a shootout despite someone on your team having a hat trick. It's an even tougher break if that hat trick scorer is Andrew Cogliano somehow. It's toughest of all when you also lose another recent hat trick scorer, Kyle Palmieri, to a Raffi Torres hit.

Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin scored Boston's first home power-play goal of the season at 3:22 of the second period. That was after 458:22 of hockey at TD Garden without one. Brad Marchand scored Boston's second home power play goal of the season. That was after another 34:22 without one. So they're trending in the right direction.

Buffalo Sabres: I thought this was an interesting article about the stuff a minor league team has to deal with when the big club takes its coach to become the interim guy after a firing.

Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff feels like he's ready to come back from that knee injury that's held him out of the lineup since early February, and hey, just in time to make Calgary appear to be in contention for the playoffs before ultimately missing them again.

Carolina Hurricanes: Raise your hand if you knew Jiri Tlusty had 10 goals this season. He had 17 all of last season. So this is pretty impressive. Okay, you can put your hand down now, Jiri.

Chicago Blackhawks: It turns out if you give the Chicago Blackhawks two power plays on puck-over-the-glass penalties with less than five minutes to go in a one-goal game, you are tempting fate. What a shot by Patrick Kane.

Colorado Avalanche: Here's an argument that the Avs should have just said "Screw it," let Ryan O'Reilly go, and taken the Flames' probably-a-lottery pick. I can see it both ways.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus' mayor would like to remind the NHL that the league owes his city an All-Star Game. And hey, they've really earned it.

Dallas Stars: If the Stars can't claw back into the playoff race with nine of their 13 March games being played at home, well, they're finished.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: After missing the first 18 games with a back injury, Darren Helm finally found out what the actual injury was: A tear in one of his discs. He could be out a few more weeks yet. How does no one spot that until almost two months later though?

Edmonton Oilers: Here's a long and very interesting interview with Nail Yakupov. His "welcome to the NHL moment" was warmups in his first game. "And when the ref dropped the puck I told myself, 'Well, this is it. This is my first minute in the NHL'. And off I went."

Florida Panthers: But if Jose Theodore is out an extended period of time for the Panthers, who's going to give up three and a quarter goals per game for them?

Los Angeles Kings: Not a strong way to end a five-game winning streak for LA, which went down meekly in Vancouver thanks to Jon Quick turning in an absolute stinker. Four goals allowed on 23 shots is a pretty rough night.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild haven't won more than two games in a row all season. Hell, even the Sabres have done that.

Montreal Canadiens: Nice hands around the net for David Desharnais in Montreal's 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. What a crazy game.

Nashville Predators: The Preds had two days off in San Jose before Saturday night's game, and it seems like they didn't practice the PK once during that time. Just 2 for 4 on the night in a 2-1 loss. Also they got outshot 39-19, which is also not very good.

New Jersey Devils: The Devs are now on a four-game losing streak with losses to Washington, Winnipeg, Winnipeg again and Buffalo. They've also lost six of their last seven. That's a really bad stretch.

New York Islanders: The Islanders and the company that runs the Coliseum owe Nassau County up to $3.8 million in rent, utilities and other costs. On the other hand, when you have the NHL's version of tenement housing you can't exactly expect the tenants to keep up with the rent all the time.

New York Rangers: Brad Richards is playing pretty poorly this season with only 13 points in 19 games but gee whiz, says John Tortorella, it's because he's carin' too hard. Golly.

Ottawa Senators: Congratulations to Daniel Alfredsson on his choice to live out every hockey fan's dream and crosscheck Zac Rinaldo in the face.

Philadelphia Flyers: And jeez I can't imagine why Alfredsson would have been so frustrated with the liberties the Flyers were taking with his teammates. "From my eyes, I thought it was beautiful," Rinaldo said of Harry Zolnierczyk's leaping headshot on Mike Lundin, which earned a four-game suspension. "I thought it was a great hit, but I only saw it for a split second." Of course if Zac Rinaldo thinks you threw a beautiful hit, it's like if a Family Guy fan thinks you said something funny.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 206 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. Please note that the Coyotes won 5-4 in a shootout against the Ducks despite putting two of their actual good forwards, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, on the IR before that game.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Look at the look on Sid Crosby's face as he dishes to Chris Kunitz for a goal. He knew that was in before he even got rid of it. Just amazing.

San Jose Sharks: Saturday's win over Nashville came in regulation. That's notable because it was just the second of the team's last eight home games not to get all the way to a shootout.

St. Louis Blues: Bean counters in the basement of the Scotrade Center are already fretting over losing three home dates with the Red Wings every year. Of course, you could say the same about the entire Western Conference, pretty much.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Speaking of ticket sales, the Lightning playing the Wings, Habs, Bruins, and Leafs in their division would likely put a lot more butts in seats, but also make it pretty difficult to squeeze into the playoffs. So, win some, lose some.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Not to get too far ahead of ourselves but Nazem Kadri is the next Doug Gilmour.

Vancouver Canucks: This freakin' pass from Alex Burrows to Dan Hamhuis. Man.

Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby made 35 saves in picking up his second shutout in three games. The other was a 33-save effort last week against Carolina. Sandwiched between them? Giving up four goals on 18 shots against Philadelphia. So who knows with this kid?

Winnipeg Jets: After the incredible display the Jets regularly put on at home last season, the loss to Washington dropped them to just 4-6-0 at MTS Centre this year.

Play of the Weekend

Here's Calgary Flames prospect and Providence College goalie Jon Gillies making a diving save against Boston College in a game his Friars needed desperately to win if they wanted any hope of staying tied for first in Hockey East. His team scored about 30 seconds later to take a lead it never surrendered en route to a 5-1 win.

Gold Star Award

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Andrew Cogliano had a hat trick against the Coyotes. His only other career hat trick? Also against the Coyotes.

Minus of the Weekend

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I don't think it's a big deal that Dan Bylsma chose not to start Marc-Andre Fleury in Montreal, because he had a Lightning game to think about on Monday. I do think it's a big deal that Tomas Vokoun got the start instead, since he shouldn't be in the NHL any more. Surely the Penguins have someone in the system that can be better than 3.61/.883.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Alberta_OReilly_Fan" is all over this.

Edmonton
Ales Hemsky {Edmonton picks up half his cap hit}
Magnus Paajarvi
Ladislav Smid

Boston
Nathan Horton {sign and trade}
Andrew Ference {sign and trade}
Boston's first round pick

Signoff

Permission to say hell yes?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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