As writers, we try to be objective, unbiased and fair. As fans, we try to be passionate, loyal and loud. As people, we are all fans.
When our objectivity isnâ€™t stopping us from smiling, when our team passion doesnâ€™t exclude us from admiring the opponent, we are all fans. That is what weâ€™re trying to get back, itâ€™s the thing that binds us all to hockey and, at the same time, it is hockey.
The lockout isnâ€™t only threatening to our great game but also to the very core of our being. As fans, writers, spokespeople, staff, coaches, kids, moms, dads, equipment managers, billet families, GMs, ice crews, color commentators, analysts, team physicians, photographers – we are NHL hockey as much as the owners or the players. Together, all of us make it a reality. Unfortunately, CBA negotiations are threatening to distort that reality.
This is done by purposely or accidentally marginalizing the effect of other invested groups and people. Ultimately, that ends up being the case.
We are fans of this great game because itâ€™s a game thatâ€™s easy to love. Itâ€™s simple, itâ€™s hard, most of the time – itâ€™s fair. You get back what you put in. The fans continued to invest, even after the last lockout. Yes, lockout. Calling it â€œwork stoppageâ€ as Gary Bettman usually tends to, marginalizes the fans. It implies it impacts only the people actually working in the industry or getting paid by the industry. That simply isnâ€™t true.
Donâ€™t try making the game harder to love, a futile effort if there ever was one. Sure enough, for the time being, the league will endure. It will endure because of hockeyâ€™s identity as a game. It will always have fans. Yes, even after those fans are figuratively beaten to a bloody pulp, true fans will come back. Itâ€™s in their DNA.
However, to exploit that, to simply assume that fans should come back, is an insult. The owners crying poor after dishing out lucrative long term contracts is an insult. Even if the NHLPA is as much to blame (the notion with which I personally disagree with) it isnâ€™t shelling fans with messages indirectly stating that they arenâ€™t important. At least, thatâ€™s something.
Regardless of who is to blame, highlighted above are some steps taken in the wrong direction. Further up that road there is a time when even the die-hard fans will refuse to pay sky high ticket prices, where the NHL loses some its core fan base because of its collective actions. Even if such a grim future comes to be, there is one thing we should all remember.
As much as it pains me to say this, NHL isnâ€™t hockey. It never was. Hockey is a kid playing with friends, itâ€™s in the atmosphere of your local rink and in the eyes of a person playing it. More than anything, itâ€™s a feeling; itâ€™s an analogy for life, our beautiful game, an ideal. As such, it cannot be taken away by a process motivated squarely by greed â€“ no matter how much they want you to believe it. If our fear is based on that premise, our fear is wrong.
That is the core thing all of the CBA negotiating parties are forgetting. Hockey is, and will always be, bigger.