Saturday, December 04, 2004

THE NHL LOCKOUT WEEK IN REVIEW

Well, it's Saturday, so time for another NHL rant in the CAIRNS BLOG. Although, I have to say that I got a lot of ranting out of my system earlier this week with that post earlier this week, talking about the talks to be held next week. The other thing I didn't mention was that commissioner Gary Bettman had a meeting with the general managers.

You know, I could be the lone optimist out there right now. I have to believe a deal will get done to save the season- because scrapping the schedule is a completely nutty idea. Both sides want to play hockey, so they claim, and cancelling the entire freaking season is bound to be a big big risk for the entire sport. I'm almost banking these bozos won't go ahead and blow off an entire year for the NHL. I know everyone says they're both far apart and all that, but you know, positions change in a labor negotiation. And I remember all the doomsayers from a couple of years ago who said baseball was going to go on strike again, yet they somehow managed to get a deal done. So I just don't see how these guys can go ahead and blow off an entire season. I'm inclined to think these talks next week might lead to some progress. Clearly people know they are up against deadlines now re: whether or not there's a season, so people are now getting serious about holding negotiations.

But there are definitely big hawks in ownership who want a salary cap no matter what. So the question remains: do they feel any pressure at all from the fans? We keep on hearing from people "the fans will come back".

The other day on the morning show on the FAN 590 Toronto, former NHL president John Ziegler talked about the lockout and mentioned that he thought that throughout this mess, the fans would remain loyal and they would all come back once hockey resumed. He said something to the effect that maybe you'd lose some casual fans, but the vast majority of the fans who went to games are diehards who'll be back no matter what. That's certainly going to be the case in Chicago, where Ziegler is the alternate governor for the Blackhawks. And you know, he's right. A lot of the hockey fans out there ARE diehards who'll be there no matter what. But this is scary thinking. These owners are almost taking their fans for granted. They think they can absolutely rake the fans over the coals without any danger of retribution, because they think the fans will be there--- and besides, hockey is the greatest game in the world, so they'll come back because none of the other sports measure up anyway.

That's the thinking among ownership, and they do have the fans supporting them 1000% right now. I think they think they can get away with absolute murder.

The other thing they've talked about on the radio here is "apathy". A lot of people here, even a lot of big sports fans, are finding that they are able to live without their beloved NHL. People are living their lives. I know from talking to people that a lot of folks are surprised how little they miss the NHL. Maybe it's because of the weather- we haven't been hit by a blizzard yet in Toronto. Or maybe it's because there's a major junior or AHL team playing in town- in basically all the NHL cities in Canada, really. I know that in London, Ontario, where the London Knights have a record Canadian junior hockey winning streak going, nobody is missing the NHL at all. And there's plenty of entertainment options in the big cities like Vancouver and Toronto. So that's contributing to the sense of apathy. Maybe it's simply too soon after the end of the CFL season. Maybe it's because people are watching NFL games. Maybe people are still hoping the season will start--- soon. Lots of possible reasons.

And apparently it's even worse in the United States. I tuned into these radio sports-talk stations in the States and they don't care about the lockout at all, everyone's moved on. This week, they were talking about baseball players on steroids. You know, it doesn't seem to matter what the heck the sport is, the fans are getting raked over the coals by these bums. There's no purity or honesty left to big-time team sports, it seems. So you know what, I think there's apathy, but also weariness and complete cynicism from the masses. I think there's a segment of dedicated sports fans out there who are so fed up they're willing to say: go to hell, NHL! Go ahead and cancel the season! That's less money I'll waste on going to hockey games! I'd say the apathy out there is a cynical see-if-I-care kind of reaction, a sort of defiance. That's definitely MY attitude.

AHL LAST NIGHT IN TORONTO

Well, it looked like an NHL game. It felt like an NHL game. It smelled like an NHL game. But something was amiss. While it was Maple Leafs versus Senators at the ACC, the names on the jerseys were Colaiacovo, Harrison, Tellqvist... and the teams were from St. John's and Binghamton.

And what the heck was Jason Spezza doing in the AHL anyway?

I was there at the game last night and let me tell you, it was great. A fabulous hockey game. The game was held in Toronto for a couple of reasons. One reason: the AHL has had a lot of success by bringing their farm teams to NHL cities to provide "replacement hockey" for the miserable fans. The other reason had to do with the fact that the St. John's Maple Leafs were moving to Toronto next season and they wanted to show the fans what they would be in for. Why they want to move the baby Leafs here, I don't know. The AHL came to Toronto and was a total flop a year ago. Besides, if we really wanted to go see an AHL game we could go to Hamilton. But they're moving the baby Leafs to Ricoh Coliseum next season anyway, whether we want 'em or not.

There was a big crowd- about 17,000 was the report, not quite a sellout- and it was a heck of a game. In the first period there were a couple of really good fights. And there were lots of hits throughout the game. Finally, in the final period, something snapped. Maybe it was the knowledge that they were going to be stuck in the AHL for quite possibly the entire freaking season. Maybe it was the unusually rowdy, young crowd of drunk hockey fans at the ACC. Who knows.

In any event, both teams dropped their gloves and all ten players on the ice got into a huge, stinking fight. And the crowd, most of them inebriated, just totally went nuts. Totally went ape.

After the refs finally got around to clearing the debris and gloves off the ice after that melee, the Leafs scored and they won the game 3-2. So the fans went home very happy and very pleased with the entertainment they saw from the AHL.

I'll tell you, this lockout has been great for the AHL. That league is making a killing putting games in NHL cities. And in fact Edmonton has an AHL team for the entire season up there, not just one or two games. The AHL will be in business there, regardless of whether the NHL comes back or not. But the AHL really belongs in lunch-bucket cities and places that aren't major-league. This league belongs in places like Rochester, Hershey, Syracuse and Providence, not Toronto or Edmonton or Chicago or Philly or any of these other big cities. They need to get the NHL back in there. Will the NHL be back soon? Tune in next week at this same time and we'll have much more of a clue as to what the answer to that question may be.

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