In June, I wrote an op-ed piece called “Hockey’s Worst Year” about the sport’s complicity in tragic events like the suicides of three enforcers, the abuse of young players by coaches in positions of power, the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, concussions, and the downfall of the game itself. Readers flocked to condemn the piece, celebrating the game they loved and failing to believe that the sport could be to blame for deaths, for injuries, for failures, for flaws. NHL fans, especially those in Canada, champion the game to the point of fault. And yet, as a new Cup victor was crowned, and a summer passed, nothing in the sport changed. And over the weekend, as billionaires fought millionaires over percentage points that redefine the trivial, the game, once again, came to a standstill. Eight years after the lost 2004-2005 NHL season, the league locked out its players, and for the foreseeable future there will be no NHL games played, no practices, no Hockey Night in Canada, no Don Cherry. And as fans, fans who so fiercely defend the game, we’re left to ask, why? And the answer is simple.
The NHL hates you.
Not only does the National Hockey League hate you, but it hates itself. It hates the beautiful game, of whose legacy is its caretaker. It hates its players. It cares not about their skill, their speed, their passion, and their soft skulls, their proclivity towards abuses both physical and substance. Most of all, the NHL hates its fans. It’s a disdainful hate, a righteous hate, a smug and conceited hate. The kind of venomous, vitriolic, ruthless, mercenary hate that is born of an abusive, spiteful, alcohol-soaked relationship, when each partner is seven gin and gin and gin and gin and tonics into an evening. Unnerving. Sad. Egotistical. Childish. Selfish. Petulant. Entitled. The NHL hates its fans more than any other sports league, more than any other sport, and as the CBA expired on Saturday and with no new deal soon to come, the NHL proved once again how much it hates its fans, by locking out the players.
The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball, all make concessions in order to appeal to and placate their fanbases. Not always, and not to the detriment of the games, but rather to perpetuate their financial and cultural stability. The NFL avoided a work stoppage, as both management and players knew that the obscene amount of revenues they shared were enough, and the risk of losing fans wasn’t worth missing games for a few million dollars here and there. The NBA also avoided a lengthy work stoppage, and though the sport is not without its own issues, and its own lack of loyalty to fans (see: Supersonics, Seattle) the sport understood that missing a season might be a void from which it could not return. Baseball caters to and serves its fans like no other. The MLB website is a tribute to fandom, the sport still manages to sell reasonably priced tickets to games, there is a healthy mix of parity and tradition, and when it does tweak the game such as this season’s extra Wild Card playoff teams, it is done so with the fan in mind as well as the sport. Because, at the end of the day, the other leagues realize that the fan and the sport are essentially the same animal, an animal that needs to be coddled at times, and scolded at others, but loved and nurtured throughout.
The NHL, conversely, beats its fans and the sport like a red-headed step-child.