Lockout dampens year where Kings reign supreme

Thu Dec 20, 2012 9:41pm EST
 

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman kicked off 2012 toasting the New Year at the lucrative outdoor Winter Classic game, painting a glowing picture of a league whose stock was on the rise.

But as the year draws to a close, a dour Bettman is painting a much gloomier portrait of a league bleeding cash in the midst of a labor dispute with locked-out players that could wipe out the entire 2012-13 season.

At a lavish New Year's Eve party in Philadelphia, the good times rolled as the NHL celebrated a $2 billion television deal, record revenues, attendance and TV ratings along with a feeling that the league had finally arrived on the U.S. sporting scene.

There were still a few nagging trouble spots to consider, like trying to unload the league-owned team in Phoenix, but the problems appeared small as the NHL prepared to open the second half of the season with its signature Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Even as 50,000 chilled fans exited Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park after a 3-2 Rangers win, Bettman was meeting with the media, singing the praises of the outdoor game that has scooped more sports marketing and business awards than Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky in his prime.

More good news followed in March when Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL, returned to the ice after missing most of two seasons recovering from concussion like symptoms.

Concussions and a lockout have robbed fans of watching one of hockey's best players in his prime, the 25-year-old Canadian playing in 28 games since absorbing two hits to the head in successive games in early 2011.

The NHL would cap the season in glorious fashion, watching the seeds of the southern expansion planted decades ago finally bear fruit with the Los Angeles Kings beating the New Jersey Devils 4-2 in a best-of-seven series for their first Stanley Cup championship since entering the league in 1967.   Continued...

 
National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman gestures as he describes negotiations between the NHL and the NHL Players Association regarding the difficulties of their current labor negotiations in New York, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson