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Loyally screwed: NHL fans deserve better than this

A raucous crowd showed up Friday for ‘‘Champs for Charity’’ game cheer Jonathan Toews (left) other stars. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

A raucous crowd showed up Friday for the ‘‘Champs for Charity’’ game to cheer on Jonathan Toews (left) and other stars. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:57AM

It was an impressive crowd for a charity game.

The lower bowl of Allstate Arena was full and most of the second level. Fans even occupied some of the suites.

They roared during the national anthem sung by a young girl just like they would have at the United Center. There were loud “Detroit sucks” chants.

The fans cheered for former Blackhawks and current ones and danced to ‘‘Chelsea Dagger.’’

The atmosphere Friday night at the “Champs for Charity” game was better than at the last two NHL All-Star Games. It served as proof that fans ultimately will come back after the NHL’s lockout no matter how infuriated they are and no matter how many times you hear that the league is destroying itself with another lockout.

They came back in 1995. They came back in 2005. And they’ll come back after this one.

But the fans — especially the die-hards — deserve better. The NHL’s lockout of its players insults them. It insults their loyalty and their financial sacrifices.

They deserve to root for a league not plagued by work stoppages. Fan-driven events such as the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips.

The only reason to stay away from hockey games should be bad teams, not a lack of teams.

“It’s not fair to them,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “A lot of people out there love the game and love coming to watch their favorite players and their favorite team play no matter what city they’re in.

“You can have two sides arguing until they’re blue in the face. Even though as players we’re righteous and we have a lot of reason on our side, to [the owners] the facts don’t really matter. It’s frustrating. You’ve got to feel for the fans, certainly.”

Both sides are to blame for this mess.

But if you had to assign fault, 85 percent belongs to the owners. Maybe it’s because the players are allowed to explain their side while the owners have been silenced by commissioner Gary Bettman and his bylaws, but it’s tough to see where the owners are coming from.

The salary cap going from $39 million to $70.2 million in seven years is unbearable for some owners. We get it. A lower cap and lower floor would be beneficial. Also, not all owners fully support what’s going on, and, yes, players have done well in the salary-cap world. But it’s also a world the owners wanted and sacrificed a season to secure.

When the NHL incessantly announces record profits and growth, siding with their pursuit of salary rollbacks and major contract changes is like joining forces with Darth Vader. The “Dark Side” is intriguing but wrong. They’re the ones who declared the war against the players with a bogus, one-sided first proposal.

The players say they’ve taken steps toward the owners in all of their most recent proposals while stressing that the too-good-to-be-true 50/50 proposal from the owners really offered them nothing.

Without question, though, it’s going to be on the players to do something — maybe accept things they don’t want — to salvage part of the 2012-13 season.

After the “Champs for Charity” game, players said the atmosphere made them miss the real thing.

“It shows you the passion that the fans have for our sport and for our team,” Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. “It makes it that much more frustrating when we can’t go out there and play.”

The players think the revenue-sharing portions of their proposals will ensure that labor disputes won’t occur in the future. If true, fans deserve to hear more about those ideas and what the owners don’t like about them, not more contentious posturing from both sides.


Because the fans deserve a better league.

Get it done.

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