CHICAGO - MAY 03: Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks at a press conference before the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Vancouver Canucks in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 3, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
We'll make threats, Mr. Bettman. And we should be able to follow through on those threats for maybe, total, a half-hour.
Dear Mr. Bettman,
I write to you today because I'm concerned about the state of negotiations for the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. I'm one of the many fans that was hurt by the season-erasing lockout that happened just a few years ago, and I find it hard to believe that you and your ownership cronies are back posturing at the table, demanding ridiculous concessions from the players' union.
I feel I must, finally, draw a line in the sand, Mr. Bettman. So here's my pledge, one that I want the world to see and understand:
If there's another lockout, if your hardheaded negotiating strategy causes more hockey games to be cancelled, I promise you right here and now that I will ignore the NHL at least until the first TV timeout of the first game of the regular season.
Oh yes, Mr. Bettman. You won't like that, will you? That first few minutes of halting, opening-game hockey - you can kiss that goodbye. We hockey fans will be ignoring the TV. You might as well give away those ads for free, right up until 7:25 p.m., when we glance at our watches and say, "Well, maybe I'll just check the score."
You remember the last time you took us to the brink, don't you? Thanks to you, an entire season of hockey was lost, just eight short years ago. You remember the beating you took at the gates - specifically, the crushes at the turnstiles, as fans rushed back in record numbers. (We were excited! There were two-line passes, and occasionally players were allowed to skate for more than twenty feet in a row without being hacked to the ice by Chris Pronger!)
This time, though, we promise you: we'll act the exact same way we did last time. We'll cave. We always cave. Every major pro sports league has had a work stoppage in the last 30 years, and every time the fans took virtually no notice. After the 1994 baseball strike, people claimed baseball was dead, but within five years, steroid-fueled home run numbers brought fans back, and now attendance and profits in MLB are higher than ever. Most people don't even remember that the NBA missed part of last season, and that was less than ten months ago.
Oh, we're peeved, Mr. Bettman. You can count on us continuing our twice-a-year booing policy. When you step onto the ice to award the Stanley Cup, and when you step to the podium during the NHL Draft, we'll boo unmercifully, hopefully so loudly that you have to stop talking and stare at the crowd like a combination of a professional wrestling villain and a second-grade teacher.
You will be the most hated man in hockey... just like you are now, I guess. (And let's be honest - you're a lawyer. Being hated was on the cards no matter what.) What's more, we understand being loved isn't in your job description; your only real task is to make some extra dollars for the thirty franchise-owning dimwits that can't stop themselves from spending ridiculous money.
That's who we're really angry at. Those owners! Those dastardly, ham-fisted, cheapskate owners!
Not our owner, of course. Craig Leipold, you're our guy! You got Zach Parise and Ryan Suter! $196 million in total and 13-year contracts, that's totally not overpaying at all! We could just hug you, Mr. Leipold! It's those other 29 owners that are ruining things. Like those goofs in Nashville and Philadelphia. Fourteen years for Shea Weber? $110 million? How ridiculous! Everybody knows that the fourteenth year is worthless. Someone stop these owners!
Oh, we'll make threats, NHL. We don't want to lose a single hockey game... but if we do, we'll just tune in whenever hockey comes back. That's what we do. That's what we always do.
Jon Marthaler (on behalf of hockey fans everywhere, especially in Canada, because what else are they going to do? Watch the Raptors?)