The Buffalo Sabres locker room at the First Niagara Center remains empty. If labor negotiations arrive at an agreement and players return to the ice, will fans return to the stands in full capacity for a truncated season? (David Duprey/AP)

The Buffalo Sabres locker room at the First Niagara Center remains empty. If labor negotiations produce a deal and players return to the ice, will fans return to the stands for a truncated season? (David Duprey/AP)

They’re talking as I’m writing, so perhaps they’ll find some reason
To come to an agreement that comes up with half a season.
Perhaps when you are hearing this, the dealing will be done,
And each side will shout loudly that the fans, at last, have won.

If that’s the way it happens, as a gesture of good will,
Perhaps the league will then decide it doesn’t have to kill
The fabled Winter Classic, which got ditched a while ago
While those negotiations rocked from stuck to merely slow.

But what if it’s irrelevant, whatever they’ve concluded?
And what if Gary Bettman is entirely deluded
When he assumes the populace will welcome back his game
No matter that the season is truncated, late, and lame?

The past has seen the fans come back to every sport that’s stopped.
They swore they’d bail on baseball, but the numbers later topped
The ones before the year in which the Series disappeared.
They all came back and more as well, and that was pretty weird.
When basketball has stopped or failed to start when it was due,
Some fans have been disgruntled and dismayed, I’ll grant that’s true,
But they’ve come back as well, and now the NBA is fine,
And millions ’round the world watch when the ball goes through the twine.
But hockey? Might there be a line its fans are loath to cross?
Has this occurred to Gary Bettman, hockey’s erstwhile boss?
Or is he so concerned with bending players to his will
That he has not considered how the lockout’s length could kill –
Or badly wound the winter game already not so flush
That folks with other things to do drop everything and rush
To watch the Nashville Predators, or that Columbus team,
Or Florida, where those who run the Panthers only dream
Of making any money – can those hockey teams survive
A league where lockouts shut the door on those who’d like to strive
To put the sport upon a slightly higher sort of shelf?
Or is the NHL condemned to finally kill itself?