Remember last Thursday when we were all excited at the prospect of the NHL and NHLPA meeting? Remember when they weren’t talking to the media? That was cool. Welcome to seven days later and the mood is anything but optimistic. It’s like the entirety of the hockey world has taken up residence inside of my brain. It’s awfully crowded in here. No, Matt Stajan, you can’t have another Hot Pocket. Anyway, we’re all feeling the doldrums of this lockout and, with doldrums, comes theorizing.
Pierre LeBrun had a column today titled “The damage this time will be permanent” in which he said the following:
Know this: It’s too late to declare anybody a winner no matter how this plays out. The buzzer has sounded. Both sides will be declared losers. The long-term damage incurred by this league and industry can’t be undone at this point. There are corporate partners who might never want to reinvest in a sport that doesn’t play every time a CBA is up. There are fans who promise that they were fooled once, but it won’t happen twice. And there are markets that won’t rebound easily, not for a while, even with a shortened season.
First of all, it’s pretty unfortunate that, when discussing lockouts, the NHL is in a situation that necessitates the qualifier “this time.” Second of all, while there is no doubt that everyone is coming out of these negotiations as a loser (in more ways than one. Believe me, we can smell our own), the notion that there will be true, lasting damage to the league due to the lockout is, unfortunately, not true. And that is entirely the fault of us, the fans. I’m reluctant to blame anything on the fans as we so thoroughly get shit on by wealthy children but, as much as we’d like to deny it, we are at the NHL and NHLPA’s mercy.
This shouldn’t be the case. We should have more self-respect than this. I would love to sit here and tell you that I have “convictions” or whatever and that I’ll be looking elsewhere once hockey returns (I’ve missed you, Toronto Rock). Honestly though, the Argos are currently one win away from the Grey Cup and, even with the lockout currently happening, I can’t even begin to care. I want to. I honestly and truly want to. But I’m just not that strong. And it sucks.
In the early days of the lockout (God, I miss August) we were treated to this lovely soundbite from the smarm factory known as Gary Bettman:
We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.
I mean, just…argh, look at this. It oozes just…oh my God, I fucking hate you so much, Gary Bettman. Sorry. Deep breaths.
My hatred for Gary Bettman aside, the problem is that he’s 100% correct. Hey, what’s this red stuff coming out of my ear?
But seriously, though, LeBrun’s assertion is only true in some sort of fictional utopia where common sense prevails and people like Gary Bettman and Nickelback don’t exist (though, I suppose in this world the lockout wouldn’t exist in the first place rendering this whole conversation moot. PARADOX). Hockey fans enjoy having their little niche sport and the notion that there are some fans that have promised they won’t come back this time, while potentially true on the rare, individual level, just isn’t the reality anymore because the idea of the “fringe hockey fan” is no longer a thing.
I asked our esteemed editor, an ex-pat of supposed-fringe-hockey-town Phoenix himself, what the make-up of the soon-to-be Nordiques’ fan base is like. He described it as a homemade hockey ball with a core made up of tin foil, wrapped in Kleenex and surrounded with duct tape (fun fact: Justin Bourne actually doesn’t know any non-hockey metaphors). He then described the Phoenix hockey fans as just that core with nothing else surrounding them. That’s in Phoenix. The kind of “fringe hockey fans” that the NHL would lose are the fans they don’t care about because they only exist in cities like New York or Los Angeles which can sustain their markets without those fans because they’re New York and Los Angeles. Small markets will only fail in the post-lockout world because they are already small markets that couldn’t give two shits about hockey in the first place. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not a failing franchise because of the division of hockey related revenue.
This is not just relegated to small market towns, either. For all but one of my 24 years on planet Earth, I have been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The one year I was not was that year where my head was too heavy for me to hold upright (9 was a weird year). Aside from the years and years of therapy this has cost me, the most common argument I hear in my city is the old chestnut of “if we just stop going to the games, maybe this will motivate MLSE to make some drastic changes and get us a winning team.” I have been hearing this for my entire life and it has never happened. It didn’t even kind of happen for a game or two here and there. It has never, ever, doubleplusever happened. We fill the ACC every goddamn game and absorb our punishment. Because we care. Even the average hockey fan that can’t get a ticket to a game (read: everybody) isn’t turned off and wears their jersey with
When it comes to the consequences of the NHL lockout, we are all Leaf fans. We are all coming back. And it sucks.
I am certainly in no way arguing that this lockout is the fault of the fans. Our dedication is not causing the bickering and the bullshit to continue. However, our dedication to the game has rendered us powerless (or even more powerless than fans usually are in these situations). There is no risk for the NHL owners here. The knowledge that fan revenue isn’t going anywhere allows the NHL to cancel the Winter Classic a month too early because they know that they can. We have no leverage. All we can do is wait for this thing to end and be ready to give them all of our money when they finally return.
Now where did I put the number for my therapist?