My Two Cents: The NHL, A League Without A Game

My Two Cents For January 1, 2013:

What The NHL Has Become- Driving home from a trip to Costco this weekend I turned on the radio to a local station in my area, 91X. On the radio was an old classic tune from Peter Gabriel, “Games Without Frontiers”. I for whatever random reason started to think about whats going on the with all of the NHL Lockout nonsense. I wasn’t thinking so much of the lockout being 15 weeks old as much as what has become of the NHL as the result of the lockout. The game of hockey itself is and will be fine as play in the North American minor leagues, Europe, the KHL and even the Spangler Cup and World Junior Championships have shown. The game of hockey will survive no matter what the NHL, Commissioner Gary Bettman, or NHLPA Head Donald Fehr do from this point forward. The NHL however could be another story altogether. The state of the NHL (even if the lockout does get resolved this week) is in a state of absolute crap. There is truly no other way to put it, and I apologize in advance to anyone who is offended by that terminology. I prefer that world to the one I don’t wish to right in it’s place. The NHL, not the game of hockey, is now a damaged product. Gary Bettman has destroyed much of the joy for the average hockey fan in the United States and Canada. He is not respected as a Commissioner, and the league will only continue to flounder as long as he or even his hand picked successor Bill Daly are in any way involved in the league’s day to day operations. Bettman will never apologize to the fans. Bettman honestly believes that he is well within his rights as Commissioner to deny the fans the sport they love from a league that once showcased the game of hockey in a classic fashion, and was rich in its traditions. Today, like after the fall of Rome, the NHL is a city laid in ruins.

This does not mean that myself or most fans will steer away from the league, nor should we. However, just wait until the next time Bettman is on the ice to award the Stanley Cup to which ever team wins it next. If the chorus of boos cascading down rafters from every fan in the building (regardless if their team won the Cup or not) is very telling of what all hockey fans think of this Commissioner. Bettman however is seemingly fine with it and for the most part he couldn’t care less. He knows he ruined what these fans enjoyed, and his very appearance in any NHL building is about welcome at the same level as a dead rat in a swimming pool. This is because Bettman knows he ultimately holds the hammer and is in complete, absolute and undisputed control of the NHL. This absolute rule that is Bettman’s goes right down to whether or not there will even be a season. If there is a season, it’s because he allowed for it. However, every seven or eight years he will remind everyone of the brutal reality. As far as Bettman is concerned the NHL is his and belongs to him, and there is not a thing anyone of us can do about it.

 

Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Bettman’s Game- Because of Bettman’s control (even if influenced by eight owners who could not shut down the league fast enough this past September), the league has lost revenue, advertising dollars, TV Network Contracts, and now has teams that could even be in danger of being contracted or folding because of prohibitive operating costs in markets which are not real hockey markets per see. Commissioner Bettman’s goal may not be to ruin the NHL, however his actions since he became the Commissioner almost 20 years ago have done more harm than good to this once proud league. Two years before Gary Bettman became Commissioner, I was living in Phoenix Arizona (about five years before the Coyotes came there from Winnipeg) and working at a local radio station. The NHL Playoffs were shown at hockey bars around town and if you didn’t get there early, good luck finding any seats whatsoever. These places were packed. One of the bar owners was from the Minneapolis area and was wearing a green North Stars jersey (the franchise had not moved to Dallas yet). The North Stars that year upset the top seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The North Stars would go on to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. This bar owner was proud of this “hole in the wall” establishment and boasted more people came for hockey then all the other three major sports combined.

Though I have not been back to Phoenix in years, I’m willing to bet that this place along with many others like it around the US and Canada are not doing too well. Looking at the local focus here, one of my brothers-in-law who works closely with the city of San Jose told me this weekend that many restaurants and bars around HP Pavilion (aka The Shark Tank) are hurting badly because of the lockout. I get the impression that outside of Friday and Saturday Nights, Downtown San Jose is a ghost town virtually the rest of the week. It’s not because these business aren’t trying or are not offering incentives for potential customers to come by. It’s because of someone who today would probably not be welcomed at any of these establishments. Gary Bettman, with a healthy assist from Donald Fehr and eight egotistical owners have damaged the economy of all 30 NHL cities. Bettman is not guilty of a criminal offense here, however he is more or less guilty of just doing something that has damaged local economies of any local business who depends on income which it draws during the NHL season. It does not matter if that city houses a perennial Cup Contender or an also-ran franchise. Even in cities with poor teams, the bars and restaurants there still do a reasonable level of business and would much rather have a poor team where fans still draw as opposed to a lockout situation where fans have no reason to go downtown to these establishments.

Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

A League Without A Game- For a league where some seats costs as much as $300 or more per game, there is no product to showcase. There are no games to enjoy. There are no players to cheer for. There are no players or even arch rivals to boo. There are no goals going into the back of the net. There are no goalies making saves on slap shots with pucks launched at speeds over 100 miles per hour, often times only giving the goalie a split second to react. There are no Zamboni’s smoothing out the ice. There are no skates to sharpen. There are no sticks to tape up. There are concessions to serve hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and of course beer. There are no pregame skates. There are no National Anthems being sung minutes before faceoff. There are no faceoffs either. It’s a true shame that it ever came down to this in the first place. A year ago, none of this seemed possible or probably even crossed our minds as fans. We were enjoying a season, and even getting ready to enjoy the Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sharks were struggling through what would turn out to be a fairly tough season. However, at least there was a season then. Not so much of one now.

Gary Bettman and his band of Merry Owners with a good deal of help from NHLPA leader Donald Fehr have made all of this not only possible, but a sad reality too. They could settle this lockout tomorrow. We also all know that even if they do we will be here again anytime within the next five to seven years. The same thing will happen again, no matter what is said. The good news, Bettman just maybe retires in 2016. The bad news, even if he does retire, his hand picked successor Bill Daly will pick up right where Bettman left off. The more things change, the more they’ll remain the same. This is why the future of the NHL thanks to this lockout is not good. What really hurts here though is the absolute arrogance that Commissioner Bettman along with those eight owners have shown in having the audacity to pull the same stunt again. This happens no sooner than some of the fans were coming back from the last time this happened. They don’t just take the hockey fan for granted, they can basically care less about the hockey fan as a whole. If they settle this lockout in time to salvage maybe 42 to 48 games, they will conduct themselves in such a way that they are doing the fan a huge favor by bringing the league back even with a truncated season that will end with an asterisk when it would conclude in June.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Possible Lockout Fall Out- This year much like the lost season of 2004-05 will not draw so much as an apology from Commissioner Bettman or Donald Fehr. They truly feel they somehow conducted themselves in the best interest of the league and in good faith. While nothing could be further from the truth, their egos would never allow them to believe or admit otherwise. You can say the players have been greedy too and you are probably right. Nobody is going to come out of this being unscathed. Those who will be left to do the apologizing did not want this lockout to happen anymore than the fans did. There is nothing else they can do about it either. As a matter of fact, any players who are playing overseas in either Europe or the KHL would at this point and time be best served to just stay overseas for the remainder of those league’s schedules and just return to the NHL in 2013-14. This would only be fair to those teams at this point. I have an idea a number of these players will fulfill their obligations with these teams. It is the right thing to do and the professional thing to do too. If this means that Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Antti Niemi don’t return until next season, that’s just the way it goes. It’s not the Sharks fault or the fault of the fans, it’s just something we Sharks fans would have to be understanding of and learn to deal with. So will the fans of other teams who’s stars decide to just finish what they started across the Atlantic Ocean.

This hurts the NHL as it may have to rely on teams to do unplanned call ups to fill roster spots from their minor league affiliates. A number of these players would come from teams whom are vying for post season spots in their respective leagues. This will only hurt those fans of the teams in these league, all the while giving players the unusual opportunity of competing for a Stanley Cup Title. The only drawback here is that how many of these developing players would even be ready for this. Some will respond well while others will not. How this would effect player development depends on the players themselves and the organizations. Again, this may not be what the NHL fan is wanting to pay to see. You can only hope that if this does happen that the players brought in to fill any voids will handle it. It will be an opportunity for these players to show what they can do to if you prefer to look at the glass being half full.

The one thing the NHL will not escape is that attendance and merchandising will drop off. The merchandising now is not moving well and probably did not find its way under many Christmas trees this year. Nobody is motivated to give the gift of a team who hasn’t played a game since last April. Though the LA Kings probably have not been effected as much in the merchandising department, a number of other teams were listening to crickets this past Christmas season, not holiday shoppers. Gifts for season tickets? I’ll bet many of those weren’t given out either. Give your boss game tickets for an NHL team that’s not playing, you’ll probably be either demoted or fired. The gift of a night in an empty arena won’t be appreciated by too many.

Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Christmas May Be Over, but Coal Giving Season Isn’t- As I mentioned in last weeks’ column, both Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Head Donald Fehr have worked very hard to deny the fans an NHL season. Without their hard work and dedication to wipe out what credibility the NHL has left, we likely would be enjoying a season right now and with it being January probably talking about how the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is starting to shape up. Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr deserve much credit for accomplishing something that not even two World Wars could do, shut down the league for all of or a significant part of a season. Hard work and dedication as displayed by the team of Bettman and Fehr is rarely seen in any other endeavor where the minimum requirement is just the mere usage of common sense. I feel this kind of dedication deserves the response from hockey fans that only the gift of coal can bring. Even though Christmas passed through last week, if you still feel like sending coal to two people who really deserve it and have earned it, then feel free to send some to both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr.

If you want to send some coal to Commissioner Bettman, send it to the NHL Headquarters located at 1251 Avenue of the Americas, 47th Floor, New York, NY 10020. As warm and fuzzy as Commissioner Bettman has been to us fans, I feel it’s the least we can do for him in return. Also, let’s not forget about Donald Fehr who has done much to earn his lumps of coal. He not only deserves a ton of coal from hockey fans, but also fans of major league baseball too. It takes true dedication to take down two professional sports and one up Bettman. If any man on the planet has that power, it’s Donald Fehr. Send Fehr’s coal to the NHLPA Headquarters at 20 Bay Street, Suite 1700 Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5J 2N8. Toronto is very cold this time of year and we know how Mr Fehr can be without his heat, probably retaliating by planning to shut down the NFL too before their playoffs start this next weekend. Be generous and feel good about yourself this new year. Even if the NHL shuts down for another year, at least you know where you can send coal too and who to thank.

December 27, 2012; Washington, DC USA; San Jose State Spartans quarterback David Fales (10) celebrates with the MVP trophy after the Spartans

Non-Hockey Items: Congrats to the San Jose State Spartans- Congratulations go out to the San Jose State Spartans football team who this past Thursday (12/27) competed against Bowling Green University in the Military Bowl in Washington DC. The game was carried before a national ESPN audience, and it was the Spartans who would come away with a hard fought 29-20 win. David Fales had a strong day in the air with 375 yards passing. He needed every yard of it too as the Spartans were held to minus 23 yards rushing. The win assures the Spartans a final top 25 BCS ranking (likely between 21-25). A Strong Season, and the best Spartans team since the 10-2 team of 1987. This years Spartans team finished 11-2 become the first even San Jose State football team to collect 11 wins in a single season. Hail Spartans Hail as they move to the Mountain West Conference in 2013.

 

Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

SF 49ers Clinch #2 Seed in NFC- The San Francisco 49ers completed a tough but successful regular season campaign and clinched the NFC West Division Title along with the NFC’s Postseason #2 seeding. The 49ers struggled early but came on strong in the second half Sunday (12/30) and handled the fading Arizona Cardinals 27-13 at Candlestick Park. The 49ers also got some help from the Minnesota Vikings who beat the Green Bay Packers 37-34 to help the 49ers secure the #2 seeding. The 49ers have a number of injuries and probably were the one team that needed the bye week in the worst possible way. This will give players such as Vernon Davis and hopefully Justin Smith time to heal from injuries and be ready to go on Saturday, January 12th. Meanwhile Coach Jim Harbaugh has turned in a strong performance as a no-nonsense coach who gets things done. Despite some of the dings and a couple of bad regular season games, the 49ers can now put that all behind them and get rested and ready for whomever will be coming to Candlestick Park the second Saturday in January (Green Bay, Washington or Seattle). Good Luck to the 49ers and their quest for the sixth ring in franchise history.

For More on the 49ers, please visit our Fansided Affliate “Niner Noise” at http://ninernoise.com/

 

…Just My Two Cents…And A Happy New Year to You and Yours!!!…

The Kingshark

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