A tentative end to the hockey lockout — you surely noticed the entire hockey season just sort of disappeared, didn't you? — was reached last week.
Rather ominously for the National Hockey League, few people seemed to be paying attention to the end of the longest-ever pro sports work stoppage. But in fairness, it happened in the dog days of hockey when even people who love the sport aren't thinking about it.
The owners and the players are to vote this week on ratifying the six-year contract that appears to be a decided victory for the owners — a hard salary cap linked to league revenues and a 24 percent pay cut for the players. But then, the owners plausibly claimed to have lost $500 million over the last two seasons the sport was played and the TV audiences were shrinking.
When bargainers reached a deal Wednesday, it was the 301st day of the stoppage, eclipsing even Major League Baseball's record for self-inflicted wounds in 1994 when the World Series had to be cancelled. But baseball has a fan base that hockey can only envy and even the seam heads took their time coming back.
Hockey is barely clinging to its status as the fourth of the Big Four of American sports. It has never broken through like NFL football, for example, as must-see TV. In fact, the sport seems to be going backward. ESPN bowed out of a $60 million cable deal this spring and hockey has only a modest, pay-as-you-go network deal with NBC.
If players and owners agree, the training camps will open in September and the regular season in October. But the big question is: Are the fans anxious to get back in their seats?