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NHL Lockout Is New Source of Political Frustration

Now that professional football players have their regular referees back, New Jersey’s Senators are weighing in on the National Hockey League lockout, warning of economic fallout in Newark.

Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez sent a joint letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Players’ Association head Donald Fehr on Monday warning that the labor dispute between players and owners has wide-ranging consequences.

“The cancellation of the preseason will negatively affect workers, businesses, and families in our state, and a failure to resolve this dispute in time for the regular season would impose an even greater hardship. Dozens of businesses and hundreds of workers in Newark depend on the hockey season for their livelihood,” Lautenberg and Menendez wrote.

The game cancellations may be more significant in Newark than some other NHL cities in the United States. The New Jersey Devils are the star attraction at Newark’s Prudential Center, with the NBA’s Nets departing for Brooklyn come Nov. 1.

“In addition to being a positive economic force, the Devils are an important point of pride for Newark and New Jersey,” the Senators wrote. “Over the last two decades, the Devils have posted one of the most impressive records in all of professional sports and the NHL has developed a devoted fan base in Newark and across our state.”

The hockey owners and players finished a round of negotiating on Sunday, reported.

The idea of lawmakers intervening in labor disputes in professional sports is nothing new – President Barack Obama and GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) both blasted the replacement referees that officiated NFL games at the start of this season.

Committees in both chambers have held hearings in the past on myriad topics related to professional sports, with lawmakers unafraid to wield their gavels in front of power players in the athletic arena.

Fehr himself is no stranger to the klieg lights on Capitol Hill. As the chief of the Major League Baseball Players Association during Congressional probes of steroid use in that sport, he made a series of high profile appearances at hearings. Lautenberg, who is a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, could conceivably push for hearings if the labor standoff is not resolved.

“The Senate has jurisdiction over interstate commercial activities, including professional sports, and will keep a close eye on your negotiations with hope that you will work diligently and quickly to resolve this matter,” Lautenberg and Menendez concluded.