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Drop the Puck

One fan's thoughts on how the league can keep its fans after this ridiculous lockout.

The NHL and the NHLPA took 113 during the lockout (plus the summer of 2012) to basically end up where everyone thought they would back in June.

Great work, guys, and fantastic timing coming back in the middle of the NFL playoffs. Solid business plan, all around.

Hockey fans love hockey, and we’ll come back. We can’t help ourselves. We’re like Gollum and the Ring; we’re drawn to it. Maybe some will do so reluctantly or take a year off, but one great playoff series or a game full of fighting and shenanigans, and they’ll be back, too. Count on it.

Other fans can take the sport or leave it, and, if the NHL wants to continue the growth path it was on since the last lockout, those are the fans it needs to win back.

Here are a few things one lifelong hockey fan thinks the league and players can do to get the bus moving again.

Hey, NHL, you have your own network. Use it.

Many nights, hoping to catch a game, I flip to the NHL Network and find a replay of a Canucks game from 2002, a retrospective on the 1975 Flyers, or a documentary on some guy who’s been the long-time PA announcer at a Junior rink in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, or something like that. Seriously? Show games, you fools.

Show at least one game every single night, if not two. Show an east coast game and a west coast game during the week. On Saturdays, show an east coast matinee, then a west coast matinee, then both games of Hockey Night in Canada. Four games on a Saturday in February when it’s 12 degrees out? I’m in. Showcase your players coast-to-coast.

Show more games on NBC Sports or Vs. or whatever it’s called now, too. Let me choose between watching the Bruins on NESN, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on NHL, and Evander Kane playing in the frozen tundra of Winnipeg on NBC Sports.

Players: play.

After the expected end-of-lockout questions at the first practice, drop the lockout talk, drop the puck, drop the gloves, and play. Your average salary is over $2 million. Even if you make the league minimum over 4-5 years, you’re still making more than most of your fans make in decades, if not a lifetime.

Especially this season, play every game like it’s a playoff game. I don’t care if it’s against the Columbus Blue Jackets on a Sunday afternoon  – play every game as if it’s your last.

The less we see of Commissioner Gary Bettman, the better.

Outside his immediate family and Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs, everyone hates this guy. He should never be seen again. Fans hate him. Players hate him. The guys who sell the beer hate him. The African guys who work the parking garage at the Garden and have never seen a hockey game in their lives hate him.

I’ve had one up-close encounter with Gary Bettman (sort of). After a Bruins game, my dad and I were walking through a lobby. Suddenly, a flying-V of security guys came storming through, yelling at people to get out of the way. I figured the Pope or the Dalai Lama had been at the game and wanted to meet Shawn Thornton afterwards, or something.

Not quite – Bettman was in the middle of the V, not risking personal contact with the riff-raff attending the game.

On a related note, have someone else present the Stanley Cup.

If Bettman still presents the Stanley Cup to its winner in June, he is the most obtuse and/ or egotistical person in the history of organized sports. And that’s saying something. His presenting the Cup and being booed wherever it happens has become a distraction, taking away from the moment for the fans.

How about, instead of him or a league official, potential winners have someone in the building to present the Cup at each deciding game - someone who meant something to the franchise and fans. Don’t even announce who it is until it’s time to skate the Cup around the ice.

Imagine fan reaction if Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, or Mark Messier were to walk onto the ice to present the Cup to the Bruins, Oilers, Red Wings, or Rangers? Rather than the distracting boos that greet Bettman (and TV announcers try to ignore), there would be bedlam with that team’s fans.

Take a seat, Gary; you’ve earned it.

Price freeze.

Lock in ticket prices for 2-3 years. With the salary cap, each team knows for the next 8 years (at least) the most it will be spending on player salaries. Don’t raise ticket prices until 2016 at the very earliest. Knock a buck or two off a beer and hot dog (you’ll still be making a mint).

Owners and players say the fans are important.

Show us. On the ice and off.

Jon McGrath grew up and lives in Westborough. You can follow him @JonMcGrath01581.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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