Less than a week into the lockout, we are starting to get news and see developments that make it feel very real. Yesterday, the NHL announced the cancellation of the entire September pre-season schedule, a move that makes it much more likely that the regular season won't start on time.
In news that hits closer to home for Red Wing fans, Pavel Datsyuk and Jakub Kindl both announced that they will be playing in the KHL and Czech Republic, respectively, during the lockout. They weren't the only ones, as Valtteri Filppula indicated he would be playing for Jokerit in Finland, Cory Emmerton is working on a deal that will allow him to play in Europe, and Damien Brunner is likely to play in Switzerland until a deal gets done. Other players are staying in Detroit for now, but who knows how long that will last before they go somewhere else to get some playing time.
This is the type of news that got me thinking about how much this lockout is going to affect me as a fan beyond not being able to see the 2012-13 version of the Red Wings. There's a much bigger picture at play for me, and it's something that makes me mad the more I think about it.
It's been well-documented that this will be the third lockout in the last 20 years. For younger fans, the 1994-95 work stoppage may not be as well known, but I would bet that we all remember the feeling of despair we had in 2004-05 when we were deprived of an entire season of NHL hockey. Despite being only 5 days old, the lack of any tangible discussions between the owners and players is not doing anything to inspire confidence that our favorite players will be back on the ice any time soon.
And that's the part that is making me mad. Fans in Russia, Finland and Sweden are going to get to see players like Datsyuk, Filppula, Ovechkin and Malkin up close and personal while we try to find grainy videos on Youtube or get updates on their play from the NHL Network. Perhaps there's a bit of table-turning going on here because we get to see these players every year while European fans hope for one chance to see these guys in person.
So fans in Moscow will be witness to Datsyuk and his myriad of moves while we're left to search stories about HRR and revenue sharing and negotiations. Unless you're a big labor relations geek, I'm guessing you would much rather read about what happened in a hockey game or watch highlights.
Consider this: Pavel Datsyuk is 34 years old. In the last 2 years, he has missed 38 games due to various injuries. With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, I would say he has ascended to the title of "Best Red Wing player". He may be the most exciting player in the NHL in terms of his puck handling skills. And if the unthinkable happens and we lose another NHL season, we will have been deprived of 164 games of his greatness.
Let that sink in for a second; we have already been forced to miss a full season of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and that's not even taking into account retired players like Yzerman, Lidstrom and Shanahan. We all love the logo on the front of the jersey, but it's the players that make us stand up and cheer. Having them taken away from us over amounts of money that most of us can't even comprehend is maddening.
Even worse is the fact that the top players on the Wings are not getting any younger. We've all heard the "Wings are old" line trotted out far too many times, but a scan of the roster indicates that most of the core is on the wrong side of 30. Perhaps missing games has a small benefit of allowing older players to get more rest, because playing in the NHL is far tougher on the body than playing in Europe, but the fact remains that if the next NHL hockey game is the opener to the 2013-14 season, every single Red Wing will be a year older, and with increased age beyond 30 usually comes a decrease in productivity.
It's not just the older guys that are hurt by the lockout. This year was supposed to see some new blood injected into the Wings' lineup, with players like Smith, Nyquist and Brunner getting a chance to become contributors at a young age. It's great that some of these players will get playing time in the AHL or overseas, but no one can tell me that playing in the NHL doesn't provide the greatest education for young players striving to become future leaders of the team.
I guess if there is an upside to all of this, it's that we didn't have to go through what Duck and Senator fans are experiencing with their legends. Teemu Selanne and Daniel Alfredsson were likely entering their last seasons this year, but the uncertainty of the lockout could mean that if there are no games played this year, they decide to retire rather than come back next year. Can you imagine if Nicklas Lidstrom had gone out that way?