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The Return of Hockey

As many of you know, the National Hockey League strike/lockout (it’s all the same, really) officially ended late last month. The weeks since have seen a flurry of off-ice activity with the entry draft and plenty of trades and free-agent signings, which have been made more interesting (and necessary) because of the new salary cap and the strategies and dumping of payroll that go with such a financial scheme.

From my perspective, the recent uptick in league activity has been accompanied by a proportional increase in interested chatter, both in the media and by the public. Radio sports shows seem to be discussing nothing else besides all the player movement and the outlook for the teams involved. The TV networks and their hockey personalities can barely contain their glee at the return of their prime commodity, and are advertising as though the season starts next week. Bar talk and internet banter have picked up hockey as a regular topic with a vengeance once again, and I know my friends and I have had many conversations about which player is going where, which teams are moving up, and how the Senators will fare this season.

All this from a population that generally proclaimed to be “not able to care less” all last winter and spring concerning the potential return of hockey. I thus offer this theory: they were all LYING.

Seriously…how many people did you speak with last fall and winter that did not seem to be bothered by the lockout? Seemed like plenty. How many people professed to not miss NHL hockey during the cold, dark nights of January and February, claiming something silly like “I’m going outside more” or “I like to play sports, not watch sports”. Right. I’ll keep an eye open for you on the cross-country skiing trails at 8pm on a Saturday. I suppose playing poker (which includes watching it on TV, apparently) counts as staying active as well.

General conversation, polls both informal and scientific, and anecdotal evidence all seemed to support the notion that Canadians did not miss hockey one bit and did not care if it returned or not. These responses were given as though it were the highest-paid players themselves that were asking the questions, for the alleged apathy was an obvious reaction to the greedy antics of the two primary participants in the lockout, the league and the players, with the third, and most important, participant – the fans – being blatantly ignored in the process. In reality those fans were mad, not disinterested, and were offering the silent treatment as a response, instead of something a little more constructive and mature.

Sports recap shows filled their gaping holes of airtime with basketball highlights, and people pretended to be interested – when they weren’t cross-country skiing of course. Poker dominated the sports channel airwaves, and people pretended to be interested. Even the dreaded NASCAR has a growing pretend following north of the border.

But worst of all, Canadians pretended to be interested in politics. And not in the good way. Here’s a little rule of thumb for future reference: never have a hockey lockout during a minority government. Or maybe it’s the other way around. How much political bickering occurred in the last 12 months, both in public and behind closed doors? Do we even remember what we were arguing about? I think Canadians were just testy in general because of the lack of hockey, and then filled the vacant hours with pointless, heated debate.

As many of you know, the Gomery Inquiry testimony was reportedly the most popular reality television program in Quebec this past spring. If I may put forth that televised sports was the original incarnation of reality TV, then let me theorize that had the Habs been playing hockey last year then Gomery would have fallen to number two. Since the Liberals’ moral authority to govern seemed to fluctuate daily based on how damning that day’s testimony was about events of ten years ago, I’d say that the discourse about the potential fall of the government would have been lessened had fewer people actually been paying attention. Stephen Harper must have been loving every non-hockey moment of 2004-2005, whereas Paul Martin was probably the happiest man in Canada the minute the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed. Remember, the CBC News gets pushed back by up to several hours almost every day for two months beginning in April to make room for playoff coverage. Do you think anybody would have heard of Gremant Grewal had the Canucks, Flames, Leafs, or Senators made it to the Stanley Cup finals?

I for one was always quite honest about my disappointment over the lost season, even if the result is better for the game. That the same result could very well have been achieved without the season being lost is now moot. But allow me the satisfaction of labelling Bob Goodenow as a pig-headed egomaniac as a parting shot. A good hockey game on the tube is often an important ingredient of a fun Saturday night in fall and winter, something to enjoy over beer and pizza with people over or before going out, or watching another game. With the amount of alleged hockey-haters coming out of the closet in recent weeks, it’ll be like it never left. Those two-foot blue lines are sure going to look ugly though.

4 Responses to “The Return of Hockey”

  1. NHL hockey – the opiate of the masses?

    I confess that being a full-blooded Canadian, my original Scottish roots did come out full force during last year’s walk-out. To be truthful, I certainly have NEVER been an uber hocker fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve always felt that there are much better ways to spend $120 than to go to a Sens game. I look to my group of buddies, and I can’t say any of us felt particularly sorry that the NHL didn’t happen last year – but then again, we’re not exactly sports fans…

    Perhaps it was the sight of 18 to 25 year olds whining about a “salary cap” when they’re multi-millionaires. While I agree that it takes hard work and talent to get to their level, I can’t help but think to one of my patient’s parents when they were discussing the newscast on the subject: “I can’t quite understand how it is that those who play a very important role in society (we’d saved his child’s life by dialysis/kidney transplant earlier that year) incur the wrath of the government, while the public clamours to keep paying an 18 year old who happens to play sports very well a king’s ransom”.

    Hmmmm – maybe I should have continued with hockey in medical school, instead of actually working to graduate… :D

  2. Grabber, even though you spent over a decade of post-secondary education to achieve your current status of uber-doctor, I think it would have taken much more training time to bring your hockey skills up to speed… :-)

    And salaries aren’t determined by the actual worth of a job, only what society is willing to pay for the job to be performed. Otherwise, teachers would be bringing in six- or seven-figure salaries, and corporate executives would barely be scraping by… ;-)

  3. And stay at home moms and daycare workers would be making the big bucks too!! Oh and let’s not forget artists while we’re dreaming :) :)

    Of course one could argue that the salaries we’re willing to pay people DO reflect the “worth” we as a society place on their jobs, which just goes to show how much is wrong with the world…

  4. I agree on all points, but remember that *in theory*, the cry-baby athletes are paid only by those that choose to support that industry, as opposed to society in general – it’s a closed system. Say what you will about folks willing to shell out $100+ for 3 hours of entertainment instead of putting it to a better cause.

    In practice things were getting out of hand and the associated costs were creeping outside of the system. Plus if people could pay less for tickets they might not do so much bitching about their taxes – I have another rant ready to go on a similar issue.

    Not to mention the amount of gasoline that is wasted during the 45-minute idle otherwise known as trying to leave the Corel Centre parking lot!

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