Dear NHL, Calgary misses you.

About two weeks ago, I had an “I don’t care” attitude about the NHL lockout. I’d get started on lengthy tangents about how everyone was greedy and if they ever came back it would be too soon. I lied. It was just a way of masking disappointment.

It’s now early October and although the two sides are talking, there’s no end of the lockout in sight.

Calgary’s always a special place this time of year: the leaves have changed color, people are putting on their winter tires and everyone’s waiting to see what the new hockey season will bring the Flames. Sure, the team’s been frustrating to watch over the last three playoff-less years, but that doesn’t take away how much love Calgary has for its team.

A fall without Flames hockey is just weird. Think back to the previous lockout. The team had such momentum after a heartbreaker in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals versus Tampa Bay. So many things can be said about that series and while there’s no point rehashing it, the team was expected to have a special aura going into the fall. It never happened because the lockout happened. The team lost a year of players in their prime including Jarome Iginla, who was playing some of the best hockey of his career. It was like Calgary’s improbable and magical run was for not. Okay, maybe not nothing, but the team had a hard time recovering from that lost year, never advancing past the first round of the playoffs since 2004.

We are now in the fall of 2012 and the Scotiabank Saddledome feels so empty without the Flames. The team was ready to embark on a season of change thanks to new coach Bob Hartley, a number of new faces including Roman Cervenka, Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman, and perhaps a full season of Sven Baertschi. Flames fans were ready to pack the stands during training camp to see what the new additions looked like. Who would have chemistry with whom? What line combinations would Hartley try? How would Martin Gelinas adapt behind the bench? Instead, the players are dispersed around the world. Some of them are playing in Europe, while others are still training here in Calgary in hopes the lockout will end soon.

With all that said, do you want to know what frightens me most? Iginla may have played his last game wearing the Flaming C. Let’s say the lockout does go the full season, that means the captain’s final contract year is a wash out. Come July 1st 2013, also Iginla’s birthday, he’ll be able to sign wherever he wants. Scary isn’t it? Miikka Kiprusoff is reaching the end of his contract. Who’s to say he’ll want to play in North America for the final year of his deal? The next time the Calgary Flames actually suit up, the team could look very different. I’m not sure fans in this city are prepared for a lineup without those two, but it could be a reality.

The two sides meet against Wednesday. Let’s hope there’s progress because this lockout could really hurt the Calgary Flames, in more ways than one.

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