Point-Counterpoint: Why I’m Going Back to the NHL

No matter how childish and absurd the NHL lockout became, I remained confident throughout that somehow, eventually, a deal would get done. They couldn’t be that stupid, right? The owners can’t possibly wash a second season in eight years after posting record profits for three straight years, could they? And the players, who must be aware of the gulf in popularity that exists between hockey and the three other major sports, couldn’t possibly let the marketable superstar-laden NBA occupy the winter spotlight all by themselves again.

It took entirely too long, but eventually that line of thinking was proven correct.

As fans, we are well within our rights to be upset about this. We likewise have a right to expect that the players and owners would do something to thank us for coming back. I want to preface the following statement by saying that I think Ted Leonsis, owner of my Washington Capitals, is as likable a sports owner as exists in the world. However, the fact that his idea of making amends for half a season down the drain is to waive the $2.00 convenience charge for being able to pick up tickets at Will Call for the first month of the season makes me want to scream. The convenience charge doesn’t affect me hardly at all. It’s a matter of principle. The Verizon Center is packed every time the Caps play, regardless of the opponent. Like most franchises that regularly sell out home games, Caps tickets aren’t cheap. I’m broke and I still go see a few games each year.

Ever since the lockout ended, I feel like I’ve been having an odd sort of internal monologue akin to two shoulder angels arguing with each other. One is telling me that I need to be using my time and energy to better myself and accelerate my transition to adulthood. The other one is saying, essentially, “Well, yeah, but … HOCKEY.” I’m going down the less productive, more frustrating path.

Guess which one is hockey

In spite of everything, I’m returning to this sport. I made that decision mostly because, after 15 some odd years, I’m too invested to back out now. I completely understand people who have gone the other direction, though. For every reason I’m returning to NHL fandom, there is a legitimate argument to be made in the other direction. 

Reason #1: “This lockout kind of worked out in my team’s favor short-term.”

The Washington Capitals’ window is closing. Upper management was accurate in their assessment that their championship window was between the 2008-2009 and the 2010-2011 seasons. During those seasons, they traded away some of their better prospects to get players who would make them immediate contenders. The downside? The Caps are kind of old and not particularly deep in a sport that requires substantial depth. I think the Capitals will squeak into the playoffs this year, but against a more formidable schedule, I think they would have a hard time. Their schedule is weak because the lockout screwed up division realignment.

The Capitals, for at least one more season, get to play in the embarrassing Southeast Division. The division is stronger than it has been in the recent past with the Panthers’ young talent blossoming a bit and the Hurricanes opening up the checkbook in free agency, but it still isn’t a strong division. There are no great teams in the Southeast. It’s got one pretty good team (Capitals), two solid ones (Panthers, Hurricanes), and two flat out bad ones (Lightning, Jets).

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division remains the best division in hockey by a wide margin. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with those teams more than a couple of times for at least one more year.

Counter-Argument: “How f*$#ing incredible would that division have been?”

The Capitals fan in me is really happy that the divisions are staying as they are for right now. The hockey fan in me is absolutely furious about it. If the owners’ proposed realignment had been enacted, the Caps and Flyers would be in the same division as the Penguins, the Devils, the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Hurricanes. Night after night after night, we would have been treated to good, nasty hockey: the best kind. More importantly, the relationship between the Capitals and Atlantic Division teams would have evolved from ones of general distaste to full-grown divisional rivalries. That much more passion would be poured into every Caps-Flyers tangle, every Caps-Rangers game, and every Caps-Penguins meeting (and I didn’t know that was even possible). The lockout delayed that process.

Click to ExpandImage source SBNation.com / RawCharge.com

Proposed NHL Division Realignment Map
Click to Expand
Image source SBNation.com / RawCharge.com

I am supremely confident that realignment will happen eventually, perhaps even next offseason. But for this year, the Capitals have a schedule full of cupcakes and the games will be less entertaining because of it. Dammit.

Reason #2: “From an outsiders’ perspective, there is no League better safeguarded against future labor disputes than the NHL under this new CBA.”

The players will not initiate a labor dispute because players who last will continue to be paid well, and those who don’t (an overwhelming majority of the league’s players) will be financially screwed in 10 years, regardless of the CBA’s terms. The only way another lockout happens in 8 years is if the Owners start it. NHL owners, under the new CBA, are taking a bigger cut of the pie than the owners of any of the four major sports leagues. They were netting record profits under the old system, and they increased their cut of the revenue by 7%. They are going to be making money hand over fist. Would they really risk that again?

Counter-argument: “From an insider’s perspective, this League has set a precedent that an expiring CBA = Lockout. They can’t be trusted.”

No, they sure can’t. For all we know, in 8 years, the owners will stage a lockout to ensure that the 10 expansion franchises Gary Bettman has established in cities that have no interest in hockey remain financially solvent. If the League has proven itself to be anything, it is untrustworthy. Furthermore, it has completely lost its right to the benefit of the doubt.

Reason #3: Condensed scheduling is kind of awesome for fans.

We’re going to be watching a lot of hockey for the next six months. There will be fewer instances of two and three days off between games. We’ll be getting our fix much more regularly. And teams that excel physically may be able to take over games.

Another somewhat related point: Hockey season is too long. I love the sport to death, but the season is just too damn long. The Los Angeles Kings just won the Stanley Cup after being one of the League’s worst teams for the first half of last season. The NHL and NBA let too many of their teams into the playoffs. More teams make the playoffs than don’t. I’m of the opinion that if you throw away half the season, you shouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to compete for a Championship. No one can coast for 40 games this year and win the Cup.

Counter-argument: Injuries.

Less time to recover between games means that more injuries are bound to occur. This is important in a year with a shortened schedule. There is a big difference between missing 10 games in an 82-game season and missing 10 games in a 48-game season. Teams are going to enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs beat to hell and postseason will be even less predictable than it typically is. If ever there is a year when a team short on talent and long on goons could make a run to the Cup, it’s this year. Goons serve an important purpose, but who wants to see a team full of them to lift the Cup?

Reason #4: “They eventually got the deal done. We didn’t lose another season.”

This lockout, like the NBA lockout of one year ago, was an exercise for both parties in waiting as long as you possibly can to see how much those on the other side of the table would cave on their demands. But, they spared us the ultimate embarrassment. We don’t have to go an entire year with no hockey. We get to watch 5-on-3s wondering how it’s humanly possible that our team hasn’t scored yet. We get a postseason where your heart skips a beat every time an opposing player winds up for a shot. If you’re a Flyers fan, you get to watch one of the League’s better young lineups gel and get excited about their future. I, God willing, will get to see Alex Ovechkin return to his old form as new coach Adam Oates turns him loose. And, of course, we’ll get to see grown men attempt, hilariously, to pummel the consciousness out of each other with absolutely no leverage from their lower bodies. Who knows? Maybe in two weeks, it will feel like hockey was never really gone.

Counter-Argument: “This lockout was a complete poke in the eye. No League has ever shown such blatant disregard for its fan base. I’d be a sucker if I went back.”

You, sir, are absolutely correct. Owners nickel-and-diming players after they provided three straight years of record profits? The owners referring to 5-year contract limits as “the hill we will die on” the same offseason that the Minnesota Wild gave Ryan Suter and Zach Parise matching 13-year deals worth $98 Million? More to the point, after a fan base that is arguably the continent’s most fiercely passionate and loyal forgave the League (yes, we forgave them #threestraightyearsofrecordprofits) for washing an entire season just 8 years ago, they have the balls to enter another labor dispute and stretch it out as long as they did?

If you’re not going back to hockey, go with God and be on your way. It is totally understandable. But, I have to say, my primary emotion toward hockey is simply relief that it is back.

I wish I knew how to quit you, hockey, but I can’t. For right now, the best thing you can do for me is to pretend the lockout didn’t happen. Don’t put “THANK YOU, FANS!” on the ice. Don’t make public apologies. Just play the games. Long-term, there is something you can do for me. You can get a new CBA done before the next one expires and regain some measure of credibility with your fans. Be careful. We’ve been hurt before.

Posted on January 15, 2013, in Contributors and Guest Articles, Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Not sure they willend up using the same realignment plan. it didn’t seem popular with some teams, especially the Lightning and Panthers who it was particularly tough on.

    • Well I hope they do actually go to it. It should make hockey season even crazier. Also, I’m not sure what type of influence the smaller market teams will have on the potential switch, but it’s certainly something to look out for

  2. Very true. I think the smaller market teams may just have to deal with what they are given. Actually did an alternative plan on my blog where the Capitals would be in the same division as the Penguins and Flyers.

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