Early Sunday morning at about 4:30 a.m. I received a “Bat Signal” on my phone from a friend — the NHL and NHLPA was very close to announcing a tentative agreement between the two parties. NHL hockey was returning! I was excited and anxious at the same time. Excited that the hockey world would once again return to normal, but also anxious that minor league teams I follow could still finish their seasons well. For AHL teams playing Sunday afternoon, their rosters were stripped almost immediately — first lines gone in a flash. For NHL teams, their vast mechanisms started to churn, preparing arena ice surfaces, re-staffing if necessary and trying to come to terms with their angry fans. It was like Christmas morning and a trip to the dentist at the same time. Joy and dread.
During the last lockout in 2004-05 I found myself buried so deeply in my own career that the months flew by without realizing the lockout had lasted an entire season. It also helped that I was an entire length of the United States away from my favorite team. Distance and the lockout drove me away for a time. I wasn’t angry — I was merely apathetic once it was removed from my daily life.
This lockout is completely different. There is anger, but most of all there is an enormous sense of regret. Regrets for a lost partial season, regrets for those who encountered hardships due to the lockout, and regrets for those players whose careers have been affected. Timing is everything, and in a relatively short career of hockey, months count. Peak performance counts. The longer the lockout continued, the more I feared that this season would change how I felt about the game — about this game that I have so enjoyed for many years.
I have certainly changed how I feel about the NHL during the past three months. I have far less respect for the basic business principals and management behind the entire league. Oh, I still love the game of hockey, but I despise the underlying principals that allows for such mismanagement upon repeated occasions. I understand business negotiations, but this was doomed from the beginning when the first NHL proposal to the NHLPA was laughable, not to mention insulting. This is the third NHL lockout under Bettman’s reign — that is a horrible record. After the first partial lockout there should never have been another under his command. Sadly, there was no mention of this. No mention of how they would repair such a broken system which allows for such bullish behavior. And so, it will continue I fear.
As they say, time heals — and it will. But for now, sadly, I find I have very little desire to buy a ticket to an NHL game. In years past I spent all summer planning and charting trips and once the tickets were released I snapped them up, attending regular season games, as well as playoff games. Drawing up a list of teams and cities I wanted to visit was on par with my childhood memories of drafting a Christmas wish list for Santa. However, I feel none of that this season. I’ve lost that joie de vivre, that sense of excitement of years past, and that is regretfully sad.