2012 NHL Lockout: Things won't be the same when NHL returns

Many fans are hoping to see hockey come back sometime soon, but how much will the quality of the game suffer from the lockout?

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It goes without saying that the biggest loser in any lockout is the fans. Be it season ticket holders or a casual fan who plopped down $150 for a replica jersey in July, the public masses are left holding the bag when the league shuts its doors.

But the biggest problem for Joe and Kate Rangers fan is the lockout continues to impact you, the fan, far after the players have been paid and the owners' massive egos have been stroked. Because you still have to pay the same price for a ticket that's suddenly worth less.

You want to know the dirty not-so-secret about lockouts? The product sucks. Seriously. It's terrible.Talk to any NFL and NBA fan about their post-lockout experiences. The NFL didn't miss any games, but the quality clearly suffered -- with players out of shape and offenses struggling to find rhythm as manyof the first- and second-year players either regressed or had their development halted. While football eventually found its footing, the NBA (with its lockout-shortened season) was a joke of all jokes. As teams trudged from city to city to play their third game in four nights, the fans for those games were stuck with $100 tickets and a $10 product.

That is the NHL fan's fate -- at least for this season. Sure, right now, all you want is your hockey back- to sit down on a fall or winter night and watch Chris Kreider streak through the neutral zone, hit onthe tape in mid-stride by Brad Richards or Derek Stepan and seemingly float past any and all defenders on his way to a picturesque goal. But when this lockout - this third lockout of Gary Bettman's tenure -finally and mercifully ends, the frequency of those quality plays will be few and far between.

Whenever the lockout ends, the NHL will seek to stuff as many games as possible into whatever time is left on the calendar, and who can blame them? As long as there's a season sometime before January the fans, and their bank accounts, will come back. They'll plunk down anywhere from $50 to $200 to watch hockey again. They'll buy the $12 beers and the $10 chicken fingers and sit down in their seat expecting to pick up where the Kings and Devils left off. But what they'll get is out-of-sync offenses and an experience that looks more like an early-September exhibition than a playoff test in the middle of January.

It's easy to say, "Who cares?! We just want our hockey back!" And I'm with you, the entire hockey world is with you. I'll celebrate the end of the lockout as fiercely as any hockey fan, but just remember that the true losers of these lockouts are not Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, the players or the owners. They'll all get their paychecks -- one way or the other -- because eventually some form of hockey will return and fans will line up to pay to watch.

But it won't look like it should and that's what really stings.