When the NHL returned after the lockout that resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, fans responded by setting a new league attendance record. Which was pretty impressive.
There was a concern the league was pressing its luck with fans this season by putting them through yet another lockout, one that cost us half of the 2012-13 season and added to the NHL's impressive resume of games missed due to labor strife.
Would fans be as forgiving this time around? Would they still flock back to arenas? Or would all of those boycotts that were threatened actually take place?
Based on opening night attendance around the NHL the answers to the questions are yes, most definitely yes, and absolutely not.
Here's a quick look at the attendance figures (and what percentage of capacity each home team played to) from opening night:
|Opening Night Attendance|
|New York Islanders||16,170||99.2|
Yup. Fans were really ticked off about that lockout.
It's just one night, and it's a long way to go, but I don't expect fans to stay away. And these numbers shouldn't be a surprise based on what we saw over the past couple of weeks in terms of season ticket sales across the league, not to mention the crazy crowds that showed up in places like Pittsburgh, Boston, Montreal, Winnipeg, Philadelphia and elsewhere for scrimmages and glorified practices.
Heck, the Penguins not only packed the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night for an intrasquad scrimmage (they had to turn fans away because too many people showed up) it was televised on local TV and drew better ratings than the average Pittsburgh Pirates regular season game.
Hockey fans will be back because they want hockey at its highest level. And with all due respect to the American Hockey League, the ECHL and the various other pro leagues around North America, the NHL is what fans want. And all the lockouts in the world aren't going to keep them away.
Somewhere, Gary Bettman is smiling, rubbing his hands together, and softly whispering "Excellent."