The NHL Lockout and Hockey Equipment

For a while this summer, there remained a shred of hope that a new NHL labor agreement would be signed and big league hockey would continue on-schedule. Preliminary scheduling of travel plans and booking of hotels was made. And in preparation for the opening of training camps, vast quantities of sticks, skates and other hockey gear was ordered from the many licensed NHL equipment manufacturers. This gear currently sits idle in the equipment storage rooms at teams’ training facilities, quietly hoping beyond hope that this 2012-13 NHL season is salvaged. Because if it isn’t, the vast majority of it will never be used.

It seems illogical to order hundreds of $200 sticks, $600 skates and $1200+ goalie pads and not use them. But much of this gear is year-specific. Equipment manufacturers are always making improvements to their gear in hopes of one-upping the competition. While traditional advertising accounts for a certain share of equipment sales, the mere use by an NHLer (especially a popular one) is the best advertising of all. If a player chooses to roll with a previous model of stick or skate, many manufacturers will re-label that gear to LOOK like the current model. Why let an NHL player showcase last year’s outdated technology when newer, better stuff is available?

Hockey gear has one true sales demographic: the amateur player. Whether it’s a youth player playing their way through their adolescence or the beer-league adult, the major hockey equipment manufacturers are trying to win over the commoner by convincing them that advances in equipment technology will translate to improvements in their game. What better way than showing Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Quick excelling while using your gear?

Sure, NHLers playing overseas will still receive their sponsors’ gear to use in their European leagues. But the vast majority of NHL players will buy their own gear this winter. Their team-provided equipment will acquire dust and be outdated by the time next season arrives. New, state of the art sticks, skates and helmets will be released by Bauer, Warrior, Reebok, CCM and other equipment manufacturers. They can’t afford to let the lack of NHL games affect their bottom lines.

We, the commoner could benefit from this stockpile of stuff, as most of it will show up at a team’s public equipment sale like the one the Capitals hold every summer during Development Camp (there were fist-fulls of Alexander Semin sticks available after the last lockout, as it was ordered assuming he would report to Portland). The recently-expired CBA has a stipulation that the NHLPA receives a percentage of all equipment sold in such a way. In the event of a prolonged lockout, any such sales would likely go into the coffers of the owners.

So I say a donation is in order. Either sell off this season’s gear and give the proceeds to local youth hockey or other grassroots hockey organizations or donate the gear its self to those who will use it, like Defending the Blueline or other worthy groups.

Sticks and skates need ice to be of use. Helmets need heads and gloves need hands. Let the tools of the trade do their job, even if their users aren’t NHLers.