/> a mother's heart » Blog Archive » Time Out for Hockey Season Thoughts

So I’m taking time off from my normal chores today (laundry & other miscellaneous things around the house) to write about hockey. Or rather, the conspicuous LACK thereof this season. If Mike Straka (ala Fox News) can “grrr” about people who cut him off on the highway, then I’m going to take a few minutes to gripe about some adults who are acting more like our 3 year old son.

We (and by “we,” I mean all hockey fans) knew at the end of last season that there was probably going to be a strike this year–or rather a “labour dispute,” as the Owners phrase it, and “lockout,” as the Players’ Association calls it. Whatever the word, it has meant an absence of a wintertime sport that overshadows everything in our home once college football ends. Seriously–for a woman, I know this is probably unheard of–I track the standings, the points, the goals averaged, and everything else that affects my precious Red Wings’ standing in the Central Division. I love the sport. And don’t start thinking that I love violence, because any *true* hockey fan will tell you that it’s not the fighting they long to see–that simply slows the game down and becomes a distraction. It’s the speed, the finesse of puck-handling, and the genuine Slinky the goalies have for spines that interest those of us who are true fans.

Many people aren’t aware of what brought this about–the strike, that is. The players association didn’t want a salary cap, but the owners did. That’s the short version. On the whole, the NHL players are NOT overpaid like the NBA or any number of baseball players. As an example, Brendan Shanahan, LW for the Detroit Red Wings and co-captain of the team, signed a contract 2 years back for 8 million dollars. I believe the length of the contract was 3 yrs. That’s a heck of a lot more money than I could imagine, but in my opinion, the man earns it. And it’s not like A-Rod’s contract that left him with nearly more money than God for a few years’ work–far from it.

Ordinarily, a salary-cap isn’t a bad idea for professional sports, or so goes the argument. “Look what it did for the NFL,” critics claim. But there’s more to this story than just a salary cap–at the heart of the salary cap is one immensely irresponsible man who has an ego the size of the Jolly Green Giant. Yep, you guessed it–Gary Bettman. Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, who came to the sport from the NBA. The man who professed to know *nothing* about hockey, but promised to make it as big as professional basketball. He placed expansion teams all over the US, in areas that don’t know the meaning of snow or ice, unless it’s something they chip out of their freezers when they defrost them. Regions of the country that are more enamoured with NASCAR than hockey–and who have never laced up a pair of ice skates. I’ve got nothing against Tampa Bay, but COME ON! Like Tampa Bay knows what a *winter sport* is? What about the Carolina Hurricanes? Fine–pick a natural disaster this coastal region is familiar with, but they still don’t know winter! I firmly believe that while these are fine southern cities, the expansion teams they host have been the downfall of this season and are at the heart of the dispute this year.

Think about it this way: hockey is a “northern sport.” It’s played on *ice* and during the *winter*. The fans are typically people who either played hockey as kids, grew up rooting for pee-wee teams, or who have been born & bred in to the sport. What about Canada–like there’s anything else to do during the winter? (And don’t suggest that curling is a reasonable replacement!) Detroit, Boston, Minnesota, New York–these are cities that have had and continue to have successful franchises. Arizona? Dallas? Nashville? These franchises, while hosting good players, are “Exhibit A” of why Gary Bettman’s expansion philosophy is a dismal failure. Bettman encourages these expansion teams, and the cities he approaches think, “Hey–don’t know much about the sport, but think about the tax revenue we could have from food & trinket sales, not to mention the added parking tickets on game nights!” So they sign on. The league grows–but at what cost? The expansion teams in southern cities simply don’t have fan-base for support. Now the franchises that aren’t as successful as the Red Wings or the Rangers, for example, are costing the owners millions of dollars, and the only way out is to shout “salary cap”!

And the last word at the end of the official season (or what should have been the start of the post-season playoffs) was that the two sides were “very close”–only $7 million apart. $7M keeping us from enjoying the sport that should never have had a labour dispute. That sort of money is chump change to the owners! And yet they still can’t seem to find a way to pull this together and get on with it so we can at least have hockey next year.

One final word before I go back to folding laundry today: Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Red Wings, is a stand-up guy. He’s always been one to open the checkbook and pay a good player what he was worth. Now, Ilitch has taken the lead and purchased a full-page ad in both the Detroit Free Press & Detroit News, *apologizing* for the lack of hockey this year and thanking the fans for their loyalty. A situation that was beyond his control, but yet he seems to understand how much we Red Wings fans have missed our team and have wanted this dumb strike to be over. So kudos to you, Mike. You seem to really understand what lies in the beating heart of this Wings fan–a passion for the sport.

Okay, the buzzing I hear isn’t the end of the first period, it’s the washer & dryer. Over & out!.

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