We begin today with an open letter to the players from Dan T., whose heart breaks for Mr. B, the Minnesota miracle sandwich man. I'm with Dan. If this lockout costs us one of Minnesota's great sandwich artists, I am out, you hear me, NHL? I AM OUT.
At the Xcel Energy Center there is a sandwich shop called Mr. B's. It is run by a very nice gentleman who makes great food, takes the time to get to know his customers, and who depends on you guys to play so that he can make a living. I'm not worried about the owners who have more money than God. I'm not worried about you players, who make anywhere from great money to extremely great money to play a game that you love. I'm worried about the thousands of people who are now hurting because, through no fault of their own, have also been locked out of their jobs. The only difference between them and you is that they don't have a million bucks in the bank that they can rely on.
Do you stop to think about all those who are affected? Ticket takers and vendors, building maintenance staff and restaurant owners. Heck, even the Vancouver PD will be forced to lay off workers. Jobs are scarce these days, and it is insulting to those who struggle to find work to hear that people who make millions of dollars every year are complaining that they might have to bring in a little less each month in order to do their share to make the business viable.
If a deal is signed tomorrow, there probably won't be a major reduction in fan support. If we lose half of a season, that will no longer be true. If the entire season is cancelled, the damage to the game will be irreparable. The game has seen great growth in the non-traditional hockey markets over the last few years, but how many of the new fans will come back if the year is lost?
How many of you will make more money playing in Europe than you would in the NHL, even if they reduce salaries? The average career length is 5-6 years; how many of you are willing to sacrifice 17% of your career just to support a pissing match between two arrogant jerks?
How many chances in your lifetime do you get to win the Stanley Cup? Was this the year your team was going to win? There's only one way to find out, and that is to play the damn game.
Everybody involved knows that in the end, the owners are going to get a deal that is a lot closer to what they want than what you want. You know it, we know it, the owners know it, and even your anointed Superman Donald Fehr knows it. The only remaining question is how much damage the game we all love will sustain?
Brian P. suggests that, an addict though he may be, another lengthy lockout might be enough to help him kick the habit:
Most of my friends and family think of me as the biggest hockey fan they know. As a result, I get multiple people asking me "how are you coping?" on a weekly basis in the same tone they might use if I'd just found out I had a kidney stone.
My answer is that I really can't be bothered to care. I've been a hockey fan for as long as I can remember after growing up in Edmonton during the glory years, and this is my third lockout. After 1994, my 14 year old self stopped collecting hockey cards in protest. Since 2005, I haven't spent a dime on NHL merchandise. I haven't been to a game in at least five years, haven't been to one where I bought the ticket in closer to ten, and haven't even considered going to one since moving to Toronto from Calgary four years ago. The weekly "column" I wrote for an old fan site has long since stopped. My wife and I cancelled our cable years ago, in part because I wasn't watching a game every other night like I used to. Previous lockouts dropped me from a die hard to barely a notch above casual fan, and I have nothing left for the NHL except my indifference. With a wife, a one year old and a dog at home I've simply got better things to do with my time and more important things to do with my money, lockout or not.
Like any recovering addict, though, I am only ever a brief temptation away from relapse. I very nearly shelled out for GameCenter last year; the hockey I saw was just so damn good, and a weekly game on HNIC and the occasional grainy illegal live stream was just not enough. Friends bought NHL team onesies and hats for our newborn; I dreamt about what it would be like to get him a pair of skates or take him to his first game. My all-time favourite player, Steve Yzerman, became the GM of a team with some exciting talent, and my hometown team, the Oilers, were finally putting some players worth watching on the ice.
And now? Will I come back when the NHL does? I honestly don't know. The fandom in me that had so recently taken an uptick after hitting its lowest ebb has once again bottomed out. There's no way I'll pay for GameCenter now, not with my kid about to enter daycare. There's certainly cheaper ways to be entertained these days than to go to an NHL game. The lockout hand-wringing, cheerleading and fear-mongering from the mainstream media seems a childish waste of time to me now; I'm starting to wonder if being a fan at all is childish too and if it might be time to grow up, despite how much I love to watch hockey played at the highest level.
Should any of this bother the NHL? Not if I'm an isolated case. But in the more likely event that I represent a generation of Canadian fans who grew up on NHL hockey, have only recently hit their full earning potential, and have been forced by lockouts to find better things to do, then yes, they should be concerned. Why should I come back to the NHL when there's nothing that says they won't keep doing this every 6 or 7 years? Why should I teach my son to love the game when there's dozens of organized activities that are cheaper to watch, safer to play, and don't require me to explain every few years that his heroes aren't on TV for reasons he can't possibly understand? The 1994 lockout was the first time I really understood just to what extent money makes the world go round, and it helped shape me into a cynical, unpleasant young adult. Its not something I'd like my boy to learn too early.
Friends and family think of me as the biggest hockey fan they know because they remember me as the guy that cried when Yzerman put the Cup in the lap of a wheelchair-bound Vlad Konstantinov, or the kid who swore off the Oilers not after Gretzky was traded, but after Fuhr was suspended for coke and Kurri went to play in Italy over a contract dispute, or the guy who so badly wanted to be like Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal that he spent hours collecting trade rumours in the days before guys just made it all up and wrote it all out in 4000 word weekly posts that hardly anyone read. That's not who I am anymore.
More importantly for the NHL, I just might represent a lost generation of fans who, thanks to multiple lockouts, can't be counted on to put down deposits just to get on season ticket waiting lists, buy $200 Jerseys, or generally spend a ridiculous amount of their waking hours thinking about hockey. I might come back, but it'll be years before I'm anything more than a casual fan who occasionally catches a game on TV again. I'm probably not alone.
Molly gives us our first limerick of The Vent. Granted, limericks aren't typically used for scathing anger, but I think she's onto something.
There once was a small man named Gary
and his rich friends who don't like to Share-y
So he locked the players out
Leaving the fans to pout
And this hatchet they'll never bury.
More limericks, please.
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