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There’s been a lot of specualtion as to what exactly the NHL is going to do to "win back" all the fans it has apparently-not-so-hopelessly disenfranchised with this latest lockout.
Certainly, most agree that painting "Thank You Fans!" on the ice again isn't gonna cut it this time around. So there are ideas. Free Center Ice. Rule changes. A little looser leash for international play. That sort of thing. And it all makes some amount of sense.
I'll take whatever the NHL cares to give me, and if that means free Center Ice, then awesome. I can't wait to not pay for it.
But the thing is, I don't want there to be all that much to be different when I sit down and watch a hockey game. The problem with painting messages of “thanks” on the ice, or showing them in arenas and on TV, is that it's a reminder of the crap the league through which the league just put each and every one of its fans. We know hockey is back. We know you're glad to be getting money by the barrelful from us. Please stop rubbing it in our faces.
I don't need rule changes making the game in any way different fundamentally. The thing the last lockout got right, mostly by backing into it, was tweaking the rules only slightly so that the speed of the game, which has always been evident at lower levels, could shine through.
I'm not talking about the kind of pandering garbage like the shootout, but rather getting rid of the two-line pass, and no longer letting guys water ski behind puck carriers. This was stuff that never should have been in the game in the first place, so getting rid of it was no great favor. Scoring went up, but artificially so, thanks to referees whistling anything that even remotely resembled a stick infraction.
True hockey fans don't care what the final score of a game is; and I'm sitting here dreading whatever attempts the NHL will make to ingratiate itself to "the casual fan" once again as a consequence.
The Winter Classic is fine, don't get me wrong, but some of that other stuff really sucked.
The model here for the way the NHL should handle the season comes from Gary Bettman's favorite league in the whole wide world: The National Basketball Association. I don't remember the NBA doing anything big in its comeback. No one spraypainted any messages on the court. It didn't need to make League Pass free for fans. Granted, that was the first NBA lockout in 12 years, rather than just eight for the NHL. And sure, that's because in most cases you can watch way more NBA basketball than you can NHL hockey on any given night because it's a league people actually care about, but you see my point.
When the NBA came back after its five-month lockout, the league wisely let the game do the talking. It apologized for the ghastly way with which its largest stewards handled it, all by itself. Every thunderous dunk and pretty pick-and-roll, every hard foul and game-winning three. Instead of being reminded that they'd been robbed of the sport, its best players and teams reminded fans what they had been missing, and that's a very important distinction.
By the time the NBA Finals rolled around, very few people were saying, "Well even if the Heat win it doesn't really count because it was a shortened season." Those who did are the types of idiots who hate Lebron James blindly, as they do with Sidney Crosby in our sport. By the time summer rolled around, it barely even seemed like there was a shorter-than-normal NBA season at all. Come to think of it, no one makes a similar argument about the 1995 Devils either, probably because once hockey is back, no one made any attempt to apologize for the fact that it went away.
I just don't want the league's executives to feel it's incumbent upon them to come up with a way for us to forgive it. As is often pointed out, we're in it for the long haul on this sport regardless of whether we are happy about that fact. We don't need the encouragement to come back, but we might need the encouragement to care as much as we once did. And we shouldn't have to trust Gary Bettman and Bill Daly to help us get there.
Let the interplay between the Sedins draw us in. Let a Steven Stamkos bomb from the top of the circle woo us. Let a bone-rattling open-ice Brooks Orpki hit attract us. Let a last-second glove save by Jonathan Quick court us. Let Pavel Datsyuk's brilliance seduce us. Let hating Steve Ott get us back into it. Let Shawn Thornton pummeling someone draw us in. We really don't need anything else.
So let us fall in love with the NHL again of our own accord by staying the hell out of it.
Saw the post Greg wrote yesterday about why people haven't canceled their season seats, and I agree there's a lot of reasons not to do it if you're a season-ticket holder.
All of those reasons, however, are crap.
If you haven't called your NHL team's ticket rep and told them to take their season tickets and cram'em with walnuts, you're funding the lockout, you're part of the problem, and you deserve nothing but scorn. The problem with people like this is that while they may be mad as hell that the NHL canceled however-many home games for their team this year, they're letting one of the 30 teams behind this keep their thousands of dollars.
When I voiced this opinion on Twitter, a bunch of dumb babies gave me a whole list of reasons why they didn't want to cancel their season tickets that, in their minds, are perfectly legitimate. In reality, they are not.
Rationalization No. 1: "Well there's a waiting list for season tickets anyway, so someone would take my place."
Garbage reason. Yes, if you personally cancel your seats, you're one person and that doesn't hurt much. But if thousands do it, hey, that sends a message. Something about a single snowflake causing an avalanche. No pun intended.
Rationalization No. 2: "The team is paying me interest for the money I have with them."
This is stupid as hell for two reasons. First, that's money that can only be spent with the team, such as for future tickets, concessions and merchandise. How very nice of them to give you money you can spend with them. Wow what a deal. Second, if you're getting, say, 3 percent of that money every month or whatever, are you really dumb enough to think the team is giving you that money out of its own pocket, because they really like you and value your loyalty? Or is there maybe an account that's paying them significantly more than that in interest and they're giving you a portion of those payouts? No I'm sure this million-dollar enterprise is just giving away free money to thousands of people.
Rationalization No. 3: "I don't want to lose out on going to hockey games when the NHL does come back."
Dumb. Lots of people get out to games all the time with little issue. Hell, I don't even have much interest in going to Bruins games that don't involve Teemu Selanne and I went to three games last year. Imagine if I sought them out. And it's not like the Bruins aren't a hot ticket in this town. I have more fun watching at home anyway.
Rationalization No. 4: "Having season tickets gets me priority to get seats to other events at the arena."
I have to imagine that if you have season tickets to the Penguins or whatever and follow me on Twitter, you like hockey a lot better than you like, say, Disney on Ice or a Rihanna concert. Buy 'em on TicketMaster like everyone else. Who cares?
If you have season tickets and haven't canceled them, your team might say, "Thanks for your support!" But what hockey fans should say to you is, "Thanks for nothing."
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on mulling things over: "My last tweet has been in my draft box for 6 months."
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