Monday, December 24, 2012

Backtime Dateline: Hockeytown

Detroit is a great sports town but one of its beloved sports teams is MIA. It hasn't been on my radar much, I haven't followed hockey with any regularity since I was in my early 20s. But I know the Red Wings are a big thing around here, and for the second time in less than ten years their fans may be deprived of even a single game this season.

I know that the absence of hockey hasn't made much of a dent in the national sports landscape (which is part of the owners' point in hard-lining player salary structures), but it does affect a lot of people. That includes the mostly-local TV crew I am working with here in Detroit, who count on the home NHL team to provide 40 events they can put on their calendar - not including playoffs.

But what else is lost, is the identity of a city, and a fan base that may not return even after the sport does.

As a baseball guy first, I remember the MLB labor dispute in 1994 and what it cost my team. The Yankees were 70-43 and dominating the AL East. Paul O'Neill was hitting .359 and Jimmy Key was 17-4 when the season was interrupted and then ultimately disbanded.

What if the season had been completed? How would life have been different for Buck Showalter? Don Mattingly? Joe Girardi?

Only the Montreal Expos had a better record in 1994. But what if they went on to win it all? Could they have kept Pedro Martinez or Larry Walker a little longer? Could the franchise have been saved?

But today in the NHL, in Hockeytown, there aren't even "what ifs," only ifs.

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