With an entire season wiped out in 2004-05, outsiders are wondering whether the two sides — rich owners and well-paid players — are indifferent to the effects their labor disputes create.
"People are disgusted," said Tom Woolsey, owner of Andrews On the Corner in Detroit. He estimates his business is down 75 percent on nights the Red Wings are playing.
"It's incomprehensible to me that after four or five prosperous years in the NHL, that they can't figure out how to split $3.2 billion (in revenue)," Woolsey said.
It's mind-boggling to John Heidinger, chairman of the Service Employees International Local 200 in Buffalo, who represents about 225 ushers at First Niagara Center.
"When you're making 12 bucks an hour working at an arena, and these guys are haggling over hundreds of millions of dollars, I think for a lot of people it's a hard reality to understand," Heidinger said. "It really frustrates you."
Sabres president Ted Black can understand the frustration.
"We are disappointed the NHL and NHLPA have not been able to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement," Black said. "Our fans are extremely disappointed, and we know the lack of NHL hockey is having a negative impact on many local businesses. At the same time, we want to play hockey under the right circumstances that the NHL will negotiate on our behalf. ... The league has our full confidence."
The impact of another lost season would be high.
In Buffalo alone, the city's tourism bureau, Visit Buffalo Niagara, estimates local hotels that host visiting NHL teams will lose between $850,000 and $1 million if there's no season.
City transit is affected. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportations Authority, says up to 1,700 riders use Metro Rail to attend each Sabres home game.
There's even a psychological cost, especially in a place like Buffalo, where the winters are already long, and the Sabres provide an entertaining outlet, particularly when the Buffalo Bills are struggling, as they are once again are this year.
"Especially with Pegula, you had some hope," said Joe Allman, bartender at the Swannie House, referring to Sabres owner Terry Pegula, who's raised expectations since purchasing the team two years ago. "They probably are our best chance to win."
With no hockey, and the Bills out of playoff contention for a 13th straight season, there's little for Buffalonians to fall back on.
"You want to have something," Allman said. "And right now, we don't have anything."
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.