Some pundits and bloggers speculate the NHL could lose some fan support whenever the current lockout ends.

 Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer recently ran a piece on some Carolina Hurricanes fans either seeking a refund on their season tickets, or planning not to renew when their current tickets expire.

Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski referenced DeCock story, and suggested the deeper the lockout goes, the more fans will leave:

 It’s not going to be through some petition or pledge drive or Twitter hash-tagged boycott. It’s going to be dedicated fans who evaluate their finances, think about how this League had punched them in the stomach and spit in their hair twice in seven years, and then reallocate their entertainment expenditures to cover life’s more pertinent costs. 

Jason Brough of NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk cited the economy as one of three reasons NHL fans – and some sponsors – might not return in the same numbers they did following the last lockout. Two lost seasons in eight years and lack of a compelling entertainment angle (like the rule changes following the previous lockout) could also hamper the NHL’s attempts to woo back disgruntled fans.

Joe Pelletier of GreatestHockeyLegends.com suggests the longer the lockout goes, the greater the risk the league runs of fans losing their emotional attachment to the product.

These are, of course, legitimate concerns. If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, his lieutenants, and cabal of influential hawkish owners share those concerns, however, they’ve shown no sign, probably betting the fans will return as they did last time.

The growing grumbling from the fan base via social media might be reaching their ears, and could compel them toward getting a resolution with the NHLPA implemented in time to still play a meaningful season.

It appears, however, the league – and the PA as well – aren’t paying much attention to that grumbling. If they were, this lockout never would’ve happened in the first place.

If both sides were as concerned about the adverse effect another lockout would have upon the fans as they profess to be, we wouldn’t have already lost two months of the 2012-13 NHL schedule.

Both sides – but especially the team owners, since they’re the ones who locked out the players – appear to believe what Bettman said several months ago: the league survived and thrived following the last lockout because it has the greatest fans in the world.

They came back before, they’ll come back again. It’s a natural assumption, though one which could come with more risk this time.

Even a modest decline in future league revenue would have a significant impact, not only for the teams, but also the players. After all, their salaries are tied to revenues, and if the latter either stagnates or declines, so too will salaries.

If the grumbling from NHL fans on social media is to be believed, the league could see a reduction in fan support whenever the lockout ends, which would send shock waves resonating throughout the league.

It remains to be seen, however, if the NHL and NHLPA truly believe it, let alone if it actually happens.

Sure, it’s possible NHL attendance could decline following this lockout, especially if it goes on to kill another season, but threats from fans to quit the league will prove empty unless they’re backed up with substantiation.

The NHL remains a gate-driven league, and while it takes it over a billion dollars from sponsors, broadcasting contracts, merchandise, and walk-up ticket sales, season ticket holders remain its lifeblood.

Should thousands of season ticket holders in every NHL city cancel or refuse to renew/purchase season tickets, it would be a significant blow to league revenue, sending the clearest message of fan discontent over the recent lockout.

Problem is, there’s no reports of mass cancellations of season tickets. What reports there have been on the subject indicate no significant threat to season ticket sales/renewals.

Granted, that number could increase if another season is lost, but that’s not a certainty at this point. If a season-saving deal were implemented before the end of 2012, there won’t be an adverse effect upon the NHL fan base.

Little wonder, then, the NHL doesn’t appear concerned about losing fans to this lockout.