Puck finally dropping for NHL

Thank goodness we’ll have NHL hockey to watch this winter, finally.

The outlook was pretty bleak for some local sports fans, with the Steelers out of the playoff picture and no Penn State bowl game, all on top of the NHL lockout.

The 2013 season will only be about 50 games long, but for many hockey fans, it’s better than nothing.

For others, however, it may be too little, too late. For hockey faithful, particularly in a city like Pittsburgh, with its blue collar sentimentalities, another collective bargaining battle among millionaires may be the final straw.

The NHL took a huge hit in popularity and attendance after the 2004 lockout, which lasted more than 300 days.

How fans will react to this latest dispute remain to be seen.

The Penguins posted a statement of apology on the team website, promising to work to regain the trust.

Comments posted by fans in response reveal mixed feelings among Pittsburgh faithful.

Some express excitement over the season finally on the horizon; others show support for the players; others expose frustration and disappointment over a seemingly broken system.

It’s hard to imagine that eight years from now, when the new proposed agreement expires that a similar deadlock won’t happen again.

Some suggest a boycott of the NHL; others point out those employed in arenas who aren’t millionaires who would be hurt by such actions.

At the same time, dozens of die-hards express loyalty and understanding toward the Penguins, particularly Mario Lemieux, and seem ready and willing to let bygones be bygones.

Labor issues are not unique to professional hockey. Certainly, we’ve seen these same arguments many times before in baseball, basketball, and even the nation’s most popular sport.

The NFL lockout of 2011 ended in time to save the season, but the impact of the labor dispute between the league and the referees this year led to some embarrassing issues.

Three weeks of replacement refs created plenty of lowlights; botched calls created a distraction from the game itself.

As unfortunate as it is, this NHL lockout will not be the last of its kind in professional sports. There is too much money and power at stake, and no end to the debate over who deserves which pieces of the pie.

As angry as some fans may be at this moment, it is doubtful that we’ll see empty arenas when the puck finally drops on the hockey season.

The full impact, if any that this latest labor impasse will have on the Penguins and the NHL remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: winning heals many wounds. A shortened season may provide the perfect storm for another Pittsburgh championship quest, and if the Pens are in the hunt, even the most cynical of supporters may jump back on the bandwagon.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.