This entry is about hockey — if you don’t like it, I can’t blame you. The lockout mess definitely didn’t do anything to assuage public opinion of the sport.
I grew up watching hockey, then again I’m a Canadian male, so it’s almost a given. I was an Oilers fan until they sold Gretzky in 1998 (another commercial mess), although I still followed the 1990 Messier era Stanley Cup and then jumped ship to the Maple Leafs. Remember that 92-93 conference championship? Yeah, the one with Gretzky’s “shot-on-net” that looked kind of like a high-stick in his own zone. But we’re not bitter.
The point is, there are some fond memories of the sport rattling around in my brain but I stopped following it awhile ago — sometime after the last lockout. Rapid expansion, dilution of talent and the exodus of Canadian teams probably had something to do with it. Now, you’re still reading this, so you’re probably mildly interested in hockey (that or you’re bored), so I’ll recommend reading the Idiots guide to the NHL lockout by Bill Simmons. It’s a good read, even if you’re not a hockey fan. This excerpt is the kicker:
For instance, let’s say you have a favorite diner near your house. What do we love about diners? They’re inexpensive. The food comes out fast. The coffee is always good. The chef in the kitchen has an “I hope these customers didn’t see me on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ look on his face. The gum-snapping waitress is in her 50’s, but there’s still something sexy about her, despite the smoking wrinkles and the missing left index finger. And you can kick back, read your newspaper, enjoy a decent omelet, home fries and some buttered toast, and flirt with a 53-year-old woman who was probably Patient X for Hepatitis B back in 1971. What’s better than that?
Well, imagine if they quadrupled the price at the diner, the food took three times as long, you couldn’t see the chef, all the waitresses looked like Kathy Bates, and they added so many breakfast items to the menu that you almost needed a translator to read the menu? Would you ever go there again? Of course not. And that’s what the NHL never realized until it was too late. It was the breakfast diner of professional sports leagues, nothing more. Unfortunately, it took a 301-day lockout — as well as every cable channel basically saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” — for everyone to realize this.
Simmons also does a pretty good job outlining the rule changes and blah-de-blah that have come in to effect as a result of the NHL’s new deal: salary caps, shootouts, and some trapezoid rule relating to goaltenders.
Will all of the changes improve the game and make a difference? Doubtful. The best thing they could do for the fans and the sport is dropping the ticket price. But it’s not really about the fans is it? It’s about the bottom line. That’s why I’ll probably watch a few games and why I’ll probably follow the Leafs through the playoffs (until they bow out in typical fashion) but the magic won’t be there. I’ll come back eventually, probably when I have kids and when the league decides it can operate for a few years without a lockout.