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hockey rant

Congratulations to the NHL and NHLPA

The Stanley Cup is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, a fact proudly touted in the sports world by the NHL. Now professional hockey can lay claim to another famous first in North American professional sports: it is the first to cancel an entire season.
I was raised on LSU football, and later, during the Dale Brown glory years, LSU basketball. When I was a student at LSU, the Tigers began their dominance of the College World Series in the 1990s. Growing up in Baton Rouge, we had no professional sports teams, only the New Orleans Saints, an hour’s drive away. Doesn’t sound like much, but that hour’s drive may as well have been an ocean. I didn’t pay attention to the Saints until I was a resident of the New Orleans metroplex, and while I attended a few games, most were at someone else’s expense.
I got in to hockey my last year in college, when I had my own place and cable television. ESPN’s National Hockey Night brought me at least a game a week, and I grew addicted. Maybe it was all the attention Pavel Bure received, but I found myself following the Vancouver Canucks, and thrilled to their Stanley Cup bid in 1994. Taking the Rangers to seven games, it was probably the greatest Stanley Cup series I’ve watched since I began to love the game.
My first NHL game was in 1996, when my spouse and I ventured from New Orleans to Dallas to see the Stars play the Canucks. It was a memorable weekend for several reasons: it was my first time in Dallas; Dallas saw a big snow storm the night of our arrival, leaving us “trapped” in our hotel most of the next day; we saw our some friends we hadn’t seen in three years; and the Canucks walloped the Stars.
My wife was recruited by a Dallas law firm, and in July 1998, we made the move from New Orleans. I was at the first home game of the 1998-99 season for the Stars, and I watched or listened to every game that year. I stayed up all night long to see Brett Hull score the third-overtime goal (and sorry, Buffalo, it was a goal) to deliver the Stars franchise its first-ever Stanley Cup.
I’ve been to a few games each year since then, mostly thanks to recruiting and client development efforts on the part of my wife’s now-former firm. But I’ve also paid my own way on more than one occasion to see the Stars play. I’ve rooted for Mo, and Eddie the Eagle, Turk and Nieuwey.
And now the players of the NHLPA have thrown away all of the good will they have built up over the years, not only with myself, but with millions of other hockey fans.
Yes, I lay the bulk of the blame for this cancellation at the feet of the players and their union. If they were willing to concede to a salary cap at the eleventh hour, why were they not willing to do so earlier in the lost season, when there was still a season to be salvaged? Why are they letting this season go away because of 6.5 million dollars per team. That’s right. That is the difference in the total salary-cap figures the teams want to impose, and the players are willing to accept. Six-point-five million. That’s about a couple hundred thousand per player on each team. That’s pathetic.
As I’ve noted before, these guys get paid to play a game. They get to do as their profession in life something millions of people wish they could do as well for just one afternoon. We made you. Sure, you have great talent and skill. No one denies that. But where would you be without hockey fans? Playing pick-up games on the town’s frozen pond in between gutting fish or delivering packages? Professional sports run on fans. Professional sports gain television contracts to reach more fans because advertisers are willing to spend money to reach those fans in an attempt to sell products. No fans means no professional sport.
I’m not saying the team owners and the league get a pass, please don’t misunderstand. I’m a good little capitalist, and believe both the owners and the players should try to make as much money as possible. But everyone negotiates their salary; first, when you gain employment, then thereafter based on your performance and later experience. It’s the same whether you’re working at McDonald’s, coding for a Fortune 100 company, or playing a professional sport. And sometimes, the business just doesn’t have enough money in the bag to pay you what you want–and believe you deserve–to get paid.
Maybe the answer isn’t a salary cap. Maybe some of these smaller market teams in the NHL should be allowed to shrivel and die, even in the birthplace of hockey, O Canada. That would be good capitalism. It would also mean a smaller marketplace in the NHL for players, so maybe the players and their union should think twice before embarking on a course of action which would lead to that outcome, as fewer of them would be employed.
When the Stars began play in Dallas in 1993, many people thought they’d never see the NHL below the Mason-Dixon line. Today, you have five NHL teams in the old South: Dallas, the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Nashville Predators, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Two of those teams have won the Stanley Cup. Those people who thought “What is hockey doing in Texas?” must be out of their minds wondering “What is hockey doing in Tampa Bay?” Never mind the fact that the Lightning now have their name on the Cup.
Three years ago, however, Tampa Bay would have been a poster child for the NHL chopping block. The Ottawa Senators have always been so (in my mind, at least). After a wildly successful inaugural season, attendance has been disappointing at Nashville games. I’m not hearing much from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I can’t imagine that market supporting a NHL team in the long run, unless they can consistently begin making long playoff runs. Maybe some of these teams should never have been allowed to be. Maybe some of them should be allowed to fold.
None of that really matters now. There will be no 2004-05 season for the National Hockey League. A suitable compromise could not be reached by the two sides. Both sides have gotten rich at the expense of the one thing they cannot afford to lose: fans. It will take years for the NHL/NHLPA to win back the fans it is going to lose with this utter nonsense.
I don’t particularly care for basketball, other than to actually play it. The NBA holds no appeal to me, even less so now that I’ve actually attended a NBA game. While I’ll watch the NFL, I don’t follow a specific team, and I much prefer the college game. I think Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones are both incredible egomaniacs, and could care less about the Mavericks or Cowboys while either is running his respective show.
That leaves me with hockey and baseball. My winter, as far as sports are concerned, is shot. I think MLB (talk about a league needing a salary cap) spring season starts next month…