It's getting predictable, and it's depressing. For the second time in eight years and the fourth time in 20, a labor action has threatened the National Hockey League season. Owners locked out the players a week ago after the NHL and the Players' Association failed to agree on a new contract.
And so, once again, fans will be denied the attraction for which they may have already paid, while arenas - often built with significant contributions from taxpayers - will see no on-ice action. Worse, businesses that rely on game-day traffic will suffer. Some may not survive. Restaurants and bars, in particular, are looking down the barrel of this lockout, as they did in the previous labor actions.
Hockey is a business too, of course, and there will be labor issues. But, like other major league sports, it is a business that depends on the support of government and a fan base. Labor actions such as this accord those supporters little in the way of deference or respect.
The issue, as always, is money. In the 2004-05 lockout, the league argued that it needed to reduce salaries, which many teams couldn't afford. In the end, players agreed to a salary cap and took a 24 percent pay cut. In exchange, they accepted between 54 percent and 57 percent of revenues.
Now, the league wants to cut that payment to 47 percent of revenues in a bid to help troubled franchises. The NHL Players Association says that work should be the responsibility of owners. Both sides are locked into their positions and, as a consequence, there is no new contract, no training camps and no preseason hockey, and there may be no regular season play for a long time.
There is little for anybody to do but tolerate the NHL's inability to function as though its supporters mattered. Fans who like the bars and restaurants they patronize on game days might want to stop by once in a while for a drink or a meal. So, for that matter, might the owners and players whose off-ice fight is penalizing those merchants along with their own bottom lines.
The wealthy men who make up the Players Association and the wealthier ones who comprise the owners need to remember as they drag their fans through yet another expensive work stoppage that other people are hurting far more than they.