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Puck Daddy

The Vent: NHL fan’s resignation letter to Gary Bettman

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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The Vent is a column that hands the mic on Puck Daddy over to hockey fans to rant, rave and react to everything in the game. If you have a pitch for an editorial, or have one written, and want it featured on Sunday, email puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com with the subject “The Vent.”

Joseph Steinbock presents an open letter to Gary Bettman, in which he announces his resignation as an NHL fan:

"Mr. Bettman,

"I am writing to inform you of my resignation as a fan of the National Hockey League.

"I am not a johnny-come-lately to hockey. The NHL came to Philadelphia in 1967, shortly before my tenth birthday, and I have been an avid fan ever since. In the early years we watched the few available Flyers games on a low-powered UHF station and tried to fool ourselves into believing we could actually see the puck through the static; the play-by-play man’s primary job at the station was as “Captain Philadelphia,” where he wore an astronaut’s uniform and introduced afternoon cartoons. I attended my first game during the second or third week of the 1969-1970 season and there was a buzz in the old Spectrum the entire game as people turned to one another and asked “Who is this guy Clarke?” We didn’t know a great deal about hockey but we knew we were seeing something special.

"My parents owned Flyers season tickets through much of the 1970s and into the 1980s, although they eventually surrendered them because there were still kids in the house to put through college. I’ve attended hundreds of games over the years, their ticket stubs placed in several boxes that I sift through every few years in search of sweet memories. I attended the playoff victory over Minnesota during the 1972-73 season on a goal that has been memorialized by the statue of Gary Dornhoefer standing over a prone goaltender that still stands outside the Flyers arena. I was there for the game in which Bill Barber scored his 100th point in a single season, the game in which Ron Hextall scored his first goal, and many, many more.

"I was there when Rick Foley challenged the entire Rangers bench and only Brad Park had the courage to stand up to him; when back-up goalies Bobby Taylor and Gary Smith played rock‘em sock’em robots at center ice; and when Rick MacLeish scored four goals against the Islanders and my father caught a puck.

"When I enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, and realized that the Flyers did their pre-season training at the school’s Class of ’23 rink, I spent my time between classes watching the team’s workouts. Even now I live just a few minutes from the team’s practice rink in New Jersey and have visited a few times a year to see the team prepare for its next game.

"I lived through the Broad Street Bullies days and marched in the second Stanley Cup parade in 1975 (my parents wouldn’t allow me to skip school for the first parade but by 1975 I was a senior in high school and received their approval). Even back then I knew there was something wrong with how the Bullies conducted themselves but my guys were winning, so I did my best to overlook it.

"Now, when I occasionally search out old Bullies clips on YouTube I’m appalled by what I see and ashamed at my own complicity in what that team did.

"Those weren’t ordinary, I’m-mad-at-you-so-let’s-just-throw-down-our-gloves fights; they were hired guns chasing down, terrorizing, and pummeling opponents’ skilled players.

"But what I saw during the Flyers game on November 1 against Washington was the last straw.

"During that game, as you know – and I know you know because I read a news account of your utterly inadequate response – Flyers goaltender Ray Emery engaged in a fight with the Capitals’ Braden Holtby.

"No, that’s not quite right: Emery assaulted Holtby – and without provocation. To recap what I saw, several fights broke out in the Flyers’ defensive zone; Emery was not involved in any of them, nor were any of them being waged on the goaltender’s behalf, as is sometimes the case in hockey. Despite his total non-involvement, the Flyers goaltender decided to get involved, so he skated 180 feet, the length of the ice, to initiate a fight with the Capitals goaltender. The Capital was not involved in the altercations on the ice, hadn’t been involved in any altercations on the ice that evening, and had not interacted with the Flyer goalie during the game in any way. The two play positions that keep them 180 feet apart, and if I recall the rules correctly, cannot have any contact in any way because during the course of play goaltenders are prohibited from crossing center ice (except, presumably, to get to their own bench during a delayed penalty call).

"What possible justification can there be for the Flyer’s actions? He wasn’t involved in the altercation, the Capital wasn’t involved in the altercation, but the Flyer decided that he wanted to fight, for no reason at all, and instead of fighting with one of the players nearby, someone who might be better equipped to defend himself, he chose to skate 180 feet to engage a total non-combatant who plays a position that is normally not expected to engage in on-ice fisticuffs. The Flyer’s ill-chosen actions had nothing to do with sport, nothing to do with hockey, and nothing to do with competition.

"How is this not assault? Do you not remember back in the 1970s, when a Toronto court convicted three players for their violent on-ice actions and an aggressive prosecutor threatened to do more? Has the NHL learned nothing? Have you, as your comments in the Columbus Dispatch suggest, learned nothing?

"Now I’m not one of those fans who advocates banning fighting from hockey. Oh, I support such a ban, but I don’t advocate it because I’ve always loved hockey and I realize that once you take the possibility of fighting out of the game, about fifty percent of those who currently attend will disappear permanently and the game could wither and die. I don’t really accept the notion that the players police themselves through fighting, although I admit, I recall one of those international tournaments in the early 1980s when notorious non-combatants Marcel Dionne and Mike Bossy started throwing around their weight against Europeans because they realized no one was going to punch them in the face for doing so. Suddenly, they were acting more like Clark Gillies than Lady Byng.

"(By the way, I recognize that there is a red herring out there regarding the Flyer telling the Capital to defend himself and the Capital not be willing to fight. This is a distraction, and it is irrelevant. What is relevant is an uninvolved player skating 180 feet to instigate a fight with someone else who was totally uninvolved in anything taking place on the ice. Do that in the real world and you go to jail. Do that in a hockey game and you’re a hero to the hometown fans and especially to the hometown broadcasters.)

"I also recognize that the NHL, under your leadership, actively and vigorously promotes the most violent aspects of the game. Get out of the owner’s fancy box and spend some time in spectator seats at the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia after the teams have completed their warm-ups but before they return to the ice to start the game and you’ll get a real sense of how the Flyers prepare their fans for the game to come: a never-ending video montage of the game’s most violent hits, always delivered by the home team, accompanied by pounding, violent music. It’s like the Roman Colosseum, with the fans being prepared to demand blood. I’ve learned to stay out of the bowl until the referee is about to drop the puck to avoid this nonsense.

"At about this point you’re probably contemplating forwarding my letter to the Flyers organization to inquire whether you need to care about me at all, and the truth is, you’ll learn that I’m not a season ticket-holder and therefore maybe not someone you need to be worried about.

"But I am. You can work in your outrageously priced New York City office, wear $900 suits, and interact mostly with millionaire and billionaire owners, but you probably don’t understand that most season ticket-holders don’t attend every game. Some can’t afford to, and they count on being able to sell some of their tickets to other people; if they couldn’t, they’d have to surrender their season tickets. Others simply lack the time and energy to attend every game, and they, too, count on other people to buy some of their tickets from them. I’m one of the people those people count on, and there are undoubtedly thousands more like me in Philadelphia and in NHL cities across North America.

Currently, I’m helping to make it possible for three such people to continue holding season tickets, buying nine to ten pairs of tickets a year from them. So no, I’m not a Flyers season ticket-holder, but yes, you need to be concerned about me because people like me make it possible for a lot of those season ticket-holders to continue buying their tickets year after year after year.

"But now, I’m done. Finished. The events of November 1 convinced me that you, the owners, and the players support the kind of behavior we all saw that day, and I’m not going to watch it anymore.

"Unfortunately, I’ve already paid my friends for my tickets for this season, so I had no choice but to send them to a reseller and hope for the best; also unfortunately for me, the Flyers aren’t doing very well this year, so I’m probably going to take quite a loss. I also have informed the people who count on me to buy some of their tickets that I won’t be buying them anymore. I won’t be reading about the team and won’t be buying sponsors’ products because if I want to see that kind of mayhem, I can go see professional wrestling or mixed-martial arts. There was always a line, I knew, and that line was crossed on November 1.

"You had a chance to do something about it and you failed – failed completely and utterly. The Flyer deserves a suspension – ten, twenty games, maybe more; personally, I think he should be permanently banned from the game for his actions, but I saw room for compromise. You didn’t even see room for any kind of disciplinary action at all, falling back, in your impotence, on a literal reading of the rule book instead of what you saw with your own two eyes, so I will take my ticket money, my interest, and my enthusiasm for hockey elsewhere, because through your inaction, and that of the NHL, you’ve lost it forever.

"I don’t want to be a fan of a sport that, through the manner in which it enforces its rules and governs the behavior of its players, not only condones but also, through its silence, encourages actions like those I witnessed on November 1 – and I won’t be, not anymore."

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Colorado Avalanche fan Brandon Davenport wants to know where the Avs’ love is:

"I'm one of those rare hockey fans from rural Western Nebraska, and have been an Avalanche fan since I was 12 years old secretly staying up late with my Denver-native Dad to watch Uwe Krupp's overtime goal in '96. Up until the last five or so years I pretty much only followed the Avs.

"As my scope of hockey has broadened to a league-wide appreciation I've noticed something: although many of those great Avalanche years are burned into my mind as legendary, I so rarely ever hear praise of the organization. Joe Sakic, Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg, etc. seem curiously absent (to my biased mind) when great hockey players of days past are spoken of, and I get a sense that maybe league wide, there may exist some kind of annoyance, or dislike of the Avalanche organization."

"Am I crazy or is there something to this?"

• • •

Finally, here’s Chicago Blackhawks fan Alex Sheridan with a bone to pick about the way the NHL has been treating fans:

"I've got a real bone to pick with the NHL over how it's treated us, the fans, lately. I'm sure you're ready to find this trite and boring, but bear with me.

"Us, the fans, who heap Evander Kane-sized money stacks at a league that, quite frankly, embarrasses us. The season ticket holders, who line your pockets with money to hide in your beverage distribution company, that drink $8.50 Budweisers that taste of soap because you can't be bothered to pony up to clean the lines, that willingly buy jerseys of guys surely to be traded, are the ones who look bad here. Because for some reason, we keep coming back and buying the best moments, like Boston's miracle comeback against Toronto and subsequent wondrous collapse against Chicago, despite the fact that we have to face our friends, coworkers, and sometimes even strangers when they ask us "Hey, so what exactly was cool about Ray Emery taking Braden Holtby to the woodshed?"

"And the only true answer we can give is "it sells."

"Because that's really the only thing that's left when you peel back the endless fancy stats debates, the arguments about the merits of the Caps picking their own Amstel Light (or whatever, who gives a crap) Three Stars of the Game, the insane degree to which this league refuses to acknowledge that every one of those players actually has a life to lead that's not confined to 200' by 85'. And the fans are the ones that are made to look like fools; time and again, we come back and fling money at a league that locks out its players, then proceeds to profit on those players beating each other's brains in, then outright refuses to punish one of the most violent, unnecessary and downright inexcusable incidents of recent memory.

"So here's what the NHL should do to fix it, even though there isn't a snowball's chance in hell they ever do anything like it: Suspend Ray Emery for 25 games. Guaranteed to go to arbitration, but at least you've stood up and said something. And I don't think the NHL should really care what the arbitrator rules; they should continue to dole out massive suspensions and fight for them.

"I can't keep watching this wonderful game while George Parros spends time in the hospital, Vinny Lecavelier is out for weeks, and plugs like Frazer McClaren get time on a team that desperately needs to play better defense while a violent, scary assault that involved a not all that short sprint down the length of the ice to beat up a guy who, hey, is really the guilty party, since Razor told him to "defend himself" gets nothing.

"This is coming from a guy who thought it was pretty funny when Ray challenged Barret Jackman to a hallway fight in a Hawks-Blues tilt last year.

"I don't think I can look back on that quite the same anymore, and I don't think I want to. The NHL ought to do something, and I mean really do something, about what it's become. Because when he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

"Signed,

"Blackhawks fan Alex Sheridan"

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