This coming Saturday, the Sabres were supposed to play their first home game of the 2012-13 season, hosting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a fired-up crowd at First Niagara Center.
Instead, the arena's doors will be locked and the building will sit dark and empty. No ticket scalpers or hot dog vendors will sell their wares on the sidewalks in front of the arena. No cars and SUVs will fill the nearby parking lots.
The visiting team won't fill dozens of rooms at a downtown hotel and fans won't flock to restaurants and taverns to grab a bite to eat or a drink before, during and after the game.
That's because eight years after its last lockout, the NHL once again is canceling games because of a contract dispute with the league's players.
The most recent lockout cost the entire 2004-05 season. This one started Sept. 16, and on Thursday, the league announced the cancellation of all regular-season games through Oct. 24 amid little optimism that the sides will reach a deal any time soon.
"We're fans, too. We're hoping these guys get it together," said Bryan Drew, general manager of the Embassy Suites hotel in the Avant Building, where nearly all of the Sabres' opponents stay during their trips to Buffalo.
The loss of Sabres games is a psychological blow to a sports-mad town, but the effect ripples through the local economy, too.
Hundreds of people work on game nights at the arena, from ticket takers to concession workers, and a good number are seasonal, part-time employees who will lose those this income if the games aren't played.
Fewer people will buy Sabres memorabilia, see the ads for the team's sponsors or drive in from Southern Ontario and Rochester to watch the games.
"Nobody wins if they stay in a lockout situation," said Mark D. Croce, owner of downtown taverns and restaurants including the Buffalo Chophouse.
Some economists say much of the Sabres-related money spent by local fans will just be spent on something else during the lockout.
But the lost games still will hurt many area businesses, and their employees, and they feel like the collateral damage in a fight between wealthy players and wealthier owners.
"Of course, we're in the middle. We have a direct hit based on their decision," said Richard A. Serra, president and CEO of Allpro Parking, which operates nine lots and garages near First Niagara Center.
It's all but impossible to pin down the precise economic impact of the Sabres on the region, but it's fair to say canceled games -- or a canceled season -- have wide-ranging effects in Buffalo Niagara.
The Sabres front office in 2004 calculated that the 600,000 or so fan visits over 41 home games of a season generates $35 million to $40 million in hockey-related spending.
The Sabres under owner Terry Pegula don't release financial or employment data, but the team under previous owner Tom Golisano was more forthcoming about its business operations.
The team generated $50.9 million in revenue but still lost $8.2 million in the season before the 2004-05 lockout, Sabres officials said at the time.
The team's revenue certainly is much higher today, but so are its expenses, with $75 million in payroll committed to the players on its roster for the upcoming season, CapGeek reported.
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