Do you have Twitter? Of course you do! If not, surely you have Facebook. I mean, this is the 21st century after all. What better way to determine your personal worth than counting Twitter followers or how tolerable you are to the population at-large by counting Facebook friends.

It’s the way the world works, folks. Hop on board or stand behind the yellow line. Instagram the view while you’re there.

The interesting byproduct of our reality is the amount of sway in public opinion an individual with prominence can generate. With NHL players incredibly visible online and an overzealous fanbase ready to consume any NHL action they can get, you can expect some fireworks coming from the internet so long as players don’t have games to keep them occupied.

Let’s be realistic for a moment. If we were to make a venn diagram of active NHLers and Rhodes Scholars, there would be zero crossover. While some professional hockey players are wholly thoughtful, reasonably intelligent folks, the fact of the matter is that many high speed collisions and time in rinks rather than school has diminished the development of a fairly important mental faculty we call ‘common sense’.

With an ever increasing amount of time on their hands and the 21st century curse of a decreasing filter between brain and thumb – not to mention no team appointed handlers with password access – many players will soon let us in to their most intimate thoughts on life, the lockout and Gary Bettman very soon.

Viewer discretion is advised.

The saga of Tim Thomas already gave us some insight into the cringe potential when you mix talented hockey players and the internet. It’s not all cat videos and memes for these guys, some of them drop truth bombs at a shocking enough rate to make a B-2 Spirit’s head spin.

We shouldn’t be concerned about unlocking the NHL. We should be concerned about NHLers unlocking their phones.

The casual sniping has already begun on the tweeters (I know how it’s spelled) with players questioning things such as Gary Bettman, Gary Bettman and Gary Bettman. Those of us who like cautionary tales, however, are anxiously awaiting the moment the dialogue switches from “We don’t like this,” to “BURN IT DOWN.”

The burner has been switched on. The Jiffy Pop is out of the cupboard. We just need to know when the show starts.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that there is literally no precedent for what happens. In 2004, Twitter didn’t exist, we were still a year away from YouTube’s invention and Facebook looked like this and only existed at 10 American universities. It wasn’t a global sensation, let alone a hangout for athletes.

With two of the other big four North American leagues locked out this past year, we saw social media quietly pervade the lockout landscape. The NFLPA tried, and failed, to sway public opinion with a “Let Us Play” campaign. The NBA also saw a spike in social media efforts, from players interacting with fans, union reps getting into trouble and others told to shut their damn mouths. In either case, both have set an interesting context for the forthcoming break in the NHL.

On one hand, the platforms provide a unique way for fans to stay connected to players they won’t see in action for the foreseeable future. On the other, it provides a way for plenty of individuals – be they tied to the NHLPA or NHL, though the PA is more likely – to open up their jaw nice and wide and firmly insert a large, sweaty foot into it.

Labour negotiations are tricky business, not only because they are of the utmost importance to any relevant work environment, but because in a setting such as the NHL, you are dealing with a wide variety of people who have no legitimate comprehension of the gravity of the situation or pertinent details that ought not be on the internet. What’s seen as a harmless tweet or post by a user is really a privileged piece of insider information which, in turn, paints their respective party into a corner.

Was it worth the Gary Bettman bald joke? Probably, but there is a problem at-large here.

With such a small amount of sense in the room regarding how to properly approach the digital media side of a personal brand for a player – or any person for that matter – there is an inherent risk that they will screw up, and screw up royal. The NHLPA has no doubt sent out a guidebook of how to go about interneting (actually, if you have a copy let me know) but there is no amount of literature that a spark in the human brain can’t trump in a flash, no matter how ill-advised it may be.

As we near the lockout, it’s just a matter of time before someone does their best Brett Favre or asks for naughty photos (oh, wait) or drops two tons of rage on someone’s skull. Then, and only then, will the NHL lockout narrative be in full swing.

Shall we set the line of “my account was hacked” rebuttals at 10 and go from there?

Wonderful. I’ll take the over. Let the games begin.