Danger! Thin Ice. (And even thinner logic…)

It should be hockey season. It really should. And to be honest, though I know that the game doesn’t exactly get the press coverage (or public interest) of any of the other three major sports (or golf, or NASCAR, or friggin’ poker, for God’s sake) in this country, I expected a bit more of a public outcry against the NHL lockout here in Minny. As of today, the work stoppage is 35 days old, and has resulted in the cancellation of 234 games.

Of course, part of the reason that no one’s talking about the lockout is that nothing’s actually happened for weeks. In fact, the players and owners haven’t even met since September 9, which is a great way to be sure that your sound bites do not get aired on SportsCenter. Basically, the owners won’t budge on their demand for a salary cap, and the players are laying low, terrified that if they show even the slightest willingness to compromise on what the owners call “cost certainty”, they’ll immediately be body-slammed to the ice by whatever it was that ripped the heart out of the NBA Players’ Association back in ’98.

The problem here is that the NHL owners don’t seem to realize how little the U.S. cares about their sport, or whether it ever takes the ice again. This wouldn’t be as big a deal if the NHL were still the league it was designed to be – a cross-border collection of teams spread across Canada and the northern climes of the U.S., limited by necessity to cities capable of generating frozen surfaces a few times a year. But it isn’t that league anymore, and the owners have no one to blame but themselves. Three separate rounds of expansion to America’s Deep South, combined with the relocation of teams from natural hockey markets like Hartford and Winnipeg to incomprehensible wastelands like Raleigh and Phoenix have crippled the NHL’s ability to draw fans. And it’s those of us in true hockey towns who wind up suffering from the totally predictable failure of an ice-based sport in near-tropical cities.

I’ve lived in the southern half of the country, and it’s a nice enough place, but anyone down there could have told you that Atlanta, Nashville, Miami, Tampa, Raleigh, Dallas, Phoenix,and Anaheim were doing just fine, sports-wise, without hockey, and furthermore, that there’s nothing Southerners hate more than a bunch of Yankee twits telling them what sports they should enjoy. But Gary Bettman and the owners just couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go at all that big media money down south, and now that the money’s dried up and the fans are indifferent and their league has become a joke to sports fans around the country, they’re pulling a big ol’ George W., denying that they made any mistakes and using classic misdirection to insist that it’s player salaries that are killing the league.

They’re saying that this lockout could not only kill the whole ’04-’05 season, but most of the next one as well. And by that time, it won’t matter anymore, because even most of us in the State of Hockey will have forgotten that there ever was an NHL, as we happily root for the Gophers, the Lady Gophers, and whatever high school team we’re rooting on this year. (Go Orono High!)

1 Comment so far

  1. Nate (unregistered) on October 21st, 2004 @ 10:51 pm

    I have to say I’m not really upset about this either. I have never really been a very big fan of pro hockey. The Gophers are definately where it’s at. The pros fight too much. If I am going to a hockey game I want to see hockey. I’ll go to a boxing match if I want to see fighting…

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