But please come back soon...
If history is any indicator, the current NHL lockout will last a minimum of 312 days. Beginning with the nearly non-existent work stoppage of 1992, which lasted just 10 days and resulted in no lost games, every labor disagreement between the National Hockey League and its players has resulted in a longer stoppage than its predecessor.
In 2004, it took 311 days for cooler heads to prevail…leading to the loss of an entire season for the first time in professional hockey’s century-long existence.
This time around, though, the experts can’t seem to reach any kind of consensus as to how long it will be before the Zambonis are running again. Of the two talking heads I rely upon most for insider information from around the league, Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie, one is certain there will be hockey by mid-November and the other is convinced that we are doomed to lose yet another full year.
So when the powers that be here at BackSportsPage asked me to construct a piece examining how the lockout is affecting Canadians, I am certain there was an expectation of a scale ranging from grief-stricken disappointment to uncontainable rage. After all, we take our hockey quite seriously here on the northern side of the 49th parallel. Vancouver has been known to get a little violent following significant losses, and Montreal…well, the city of Montreal could very well riot because I mentioned them in this article.
But if had to put my finger on just one general feeling amongst hockey fans here in the great white north, it could only be described in one way:
A distinctly Canadian version of polite indignation.
Don’t get the wrong idea, there are certainly some fans here who would like nothing more than to break out the pitchforks and torches with the aim of taking a little pilgrimage to the NHL’s head office in New York City…but the general demeanor among the fans I know is actually much closer to that of a teenage girlfriend pretending to be scorned after an argument.
Sure, we’re a little hurt, and a little angry…but we’re mostly just putting on a show to make sure the other side feels guilty when we finally get around to reconciling. Yes, we are willing to stomp our feet, write angry notes on message boards, and in locker rooms and coffee shops across this nation people are thumping their chests and angrily murmuring about teaching the league a lesson by not tuning in.
But we don’t really mean it.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs were to play the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow morning at 7:15, it would be the most-watched sporting event of the year in Canada. I know it, the National Hockey League knows it and every hockey fan in this country knows it. We might tune in with the bitter aftertaste of spite still fresh in our mouths, but make no mistake: we would tune in.
Many of the people I know have been talking tough about exploring other sports-viewing options in place of NHL hockey, even in the event of a return. Some say they will just become better NFL fans this year, others have been setting the PVR to record Russian KHL games in order to get their puck fix.
While I certainly don’t mean to insult either of these leagues (in fact, I am a HUGE fan of the NFL), I’m calling shenanigans on this one, too.
You see, the National Hockey League is the blue-collar sports league of North America. It has lower salaries, the most consistently physical game play and is in many ways the inefficient little underdog of the big four sports. Think of it as an old pick-up truck on the highway of sports entertainment. It’s a little clunky, slightly more dangerous than necessary and sometimes breaks down on the side of the road.
But for those who love it, we are simply not interested in trading it in for the shiny red sports car that is NFL football; with all its breakdancing robots, multi-billion dollar TV deals and seven hour pre-game shows. And there is definitely no way we can maintain long-term interest in the KHL; essentially a Russian-import Yugo with unregulated travel, unpaid player salaries and 2:00 am EST game starts.
There is certainly room to be a fan of more than one sports league, but to suggest that any real hockey fan can simply replace the NHL with whatever other sport happens to be on television is little more than wishful thinking born deep inside the disgruntled psyche of an insulted fan.
So how does hockey’s homeland really feel about the current lockout situation?
We are more hurt than angry, although we are certainly doing our best to maintain an angry face. It is an emotional cocktail that is one part torment, one part withdrawal and two parts heartbreak. For the time being, it is a bitter concoction…but as with so many of life’s sweetest drinks:
It will get an awful lot better as soon as we add the ice.