Cole: L-word episode looks like a repeat
Maybe if we ignore ‘Moronic’ Hockey League’s labour battle it will go away
On May 19, in passing reference to the moving target that was the deadline for settling the Phoenix Coyotes ownership mess, I typed the word “lockout” in a column.
You have no idea how proud I am to have managed to go 139 days before doing it again.
Alas, the Stanley Cup playoffs have come and gone, along with the U.S. Open, a little family time in and around my mom’s passing in Edmonton, the British Open, the London Olympics and the Ryder Cup, and it is suddenly October and no longer easy (dammit) to ignore the elephant in the room.
The natural rhythms of autumn for a Canadian sports columnist — the post-Labour Day meat of the CFL schedule, playoff baseball, early days in the NFL — are missing their customary backbeat: the all-is-forgiven optimism of a hockey training camp, when hatchets are buried and bridges are tentatively rebuilt and new faces are learned and the scores don’t really matter.
In a week, they would have started to matter, but only a little.
The NHL announced Thursday that the first two weeks of regular-season games have been cancelled, no doubt in an effort to avoid refunding any ticket money for the present and keep alive the fiction that at any moment a settlement might be reached.
“We understand the disappointment this news causes all of us who share a passion for hockey; however, we’re hopeful a resolution will bring the season underway as soon as possible,” read a statement signed by Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis.
“We understand the concerns of our passionate and loyal fans, especially at this time. Our commitment to deliver exceptional experiences and reciprocate your unwavering support is stronger than ever.”
And yet, in doing my best to ignore all the posturing and acrimony arising from the non-negotiations between the league and the players’ union — surprisingly easy to do from abroad — it was enlightening to discover I have no dog in this fight: don’t care who wins the lockout, feel no empathy for either side, don’t mind postponing a couple of months of the kind of hockey we get while teams are still figuring out who they are and what they are about.
This seems to me entirely sensible. I wish fans could do it.
They can’t, of course. They are conditioned to care, no matter how hard (or how many times) they get kicked in the goolies by the combatants in the labour dispute.
Those who represent the collateral damage in a CBA war — team or league office employees whose wages are cut, ushers and servers and security staff whose supplementary income is gone — care deeply, in their pocketbooks.
Hockey bloggers, who have carved out niches small or large in the sport’s digital landscape, have to care, because without fresh product for the mill, they are spinning their tires, tap-dancing, trying to sustain an audience on thinner and thinner material.
So in the social media, there is probably a large disconnect between the mainstream jocks (guilty, your honour), who can afford to be dismissive and just flip the channel and cover something else, and the hockey nerds — I say this with some affection — for whom a day without quotes to be parsed or performances to be lampooned or games to be dissected to within an inch of their lives is like a day without air to breathe.
That’s probably why the some of the heartbroken dispatches from the Twitterverse and blogosphere sound so desperately angry when there is no progress or unreasonably hopeful at the least sign of it. It’s kind of pathetic and understandable at the same time.
What all of us should know by now, though, even the slavishly devoted — if we’ve learned anything from a strike and, what, three lockouts in the last 20 years — is that the NHL never fixes itself. It is the world’s most moronic sports league.
The players always look (and talk) as though they have been forced to capitulate, and by the time a few years have passed, it’s clear these players’ clever agents can always find a few screw-the-rest-of-you owners to turn the collective bargaining agreement on its ear and necessitate another round of “We can’t help ourselves” relief.
The union then acts as though none of this is its doing, as if the agents dropped, uninvited, out of a passing spaceship and did nothing more than field offers from billionaires with more money than brains.
It may be right about that last part.
All the while, the rich owners have Gary Bettman’s ear, and he represents their interests superbly, while the struggling majority of them, who may be making a little money or losing a bunch, refuse to make themselves heard.
And they all expect us to agonize while they argue over a $3.2-billion pot.
Worse, they know that some of us — sadly, maybe too many in Canada — will.
But not me. Not yet. I’m going to a Lions game Saturday, if I can figure out what happened to my press pass.
After that, we’ll make it up as we go along.
The word “lockout” is hereby locked out.* If this is disappointing to my passionate and loyal readers (either one of you), rest assured it is my intent to deliver exceptional experiences and reciprocate your unwavering support by writing about ... you know, other stuff.
(*-until next time.)
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