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The Vent: Shakespearean response to the lockout; NHL, NHLPA make toddlers sad

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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THE VENT is a forum to rants, raves, pleas and laments from hockey fans across the world about the NHL lockout. It runs every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. If you've got a take on the lockout and need to let it out, email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com, Subject: The Vent.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we give unto you this Shakespeare-inspired rant from Archbishop Krejci, a long time Boston Bruins season ticket holder and quasi-frequent Puck Daddy commenter:

To rant or not to rant, that is the question.
Whether tis' nobler as a fan to suffer
The slings and arrows between men with outrageous fortunes
Or to take arms against the lockout troubles
And by opposing them, end them.  To not renew,
No more, and by not renewing to say we end
The heartache and the thousand labor stoppages
That hockey fans are heir to…

As this lockout has begun and we NHL fans gear ourselves up for a a long winter of discontent(yes, I know that line is from Richard III and not Hamlet), I've found Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy quite useful in processing my own thoughts and emotions, during the beginning of this unfortunate and fatuous labor stoppage.

While the issues that cause conflict in my alleged mind may not be as weighty as the ones that troubled Shakespeare's fictional Danish Prince (Hamlet, not Frans Nielsen or Mikkel Boedker), those problems are still burdensome to me.

You see, I am an NHL season ticket holder, which puts me and my fellow season ticket holders in a unique and uncomfortable position.

In the late 80's a sociologist by the name of Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called "The Great Good Place" that postulated the notion of the "Third Place." The heart of the theory and its evolution over time is that humans need a third, neutral space in which to interact, not only for the common good of society, through the acts of socializing, exchanging information and building community, but also for the mental health of the individual.

Having a place that you can go to free of normal obligations (like home or work) is essential for achieving balance as a community as well as an individual. A simple example is of course the TV series Cheers, where for the regulars, Norm, Cliff, Paul et al, the bar on Beacon street was a place that wasn't work, wasn't home, but where they felt safe enough to be themselves.

Going to games and engaging with friends at the games, friends outside of the games, coworkers, clients, and even the randomness of the Puck Daddy commentariat is all an extension of my what I consider my winter "third place." Since becoming a Bruins season ticket holder during the 2001-02 season, I've been to 92.5% of home games and try to do at least one or two non-New York City area road trips each season. I don't include this fact to humblebrag but more to concretely demonstrate my commitment. I'm sure throughout the Original 30, there are many fans who boast a far superior attendance record. And I know attendance is not the only measure for one's love of the game. True passion about the NHL or anything can manifest itself in numerous forms.

I could go on for pages about the sense of community I feel and cast of characters that I see every home game, but let me just say it's very Cheers-like, only my cohort all yell "Steve!" instead of "Norm!". This atmosphere and community, fused with my undying love and passion for the game of hockey and the eternal quest for the Stanley Cup is so valuable to me that anything that threatens this routine is both disturbing and disconcerting.

And aye, there's the rub.

As a season ticket holder emotionally and financially invested in the simple act of going to games and thinking about hockey, I see myself as both a victim of the lockout and an enabler of the lockout. My rage as a customer and fan is muted by the a queasy guilt like sensation. I know that whether the lockout ends today or a year from now, I will be back as a season ticket holder. And the NHL and NHLPA know that there are tens of thousands of us who will be back, no matter what. Knowing that I think the owners and player can ignore the customer service concerns that would plague other businesses in other highly competitive markets. Instead of customer being king, revenue is king in the professional sports world. And I don't know whether I should be proud of my loyalty or be filled with self-loathing for allowing myself to be taken advantage of when every CBA expires. The owners and players can pay lip-service to respecting the fan all they want, but the naked truth is that fans do not matter at the negotiation table.

Like many of you, I take certain pride in being first and foremost a fan of the NHL, as opposed to the other leagues. There is a strong belief that our sport is representative of our ideal selves; skilled and graceful, yet with a brutality and honesty unmatched in any of those other leagues. Hockey is both a thinking person's game and a violent person's game. We appreciate the skill and artistry of the playmakers, the Orr or Gretzky, who see the game as a chess match moving at hyper speeds. We relate to the grinders, the muckers, the warriors, the pests who endure with limited skill and unlimited determination. We cheer the enforcers, because we need a little blood lust now and again. The speed and confines of the NHL sheet act as a pestle and mortar on the soul, a grindhouse crucible of the human condition. Once a player steps on the ice, they cannot hide from their fate. Either they succeed or they fail. And we as fans love that brutal honesty. Yet within that harsh Dickensian realm of the ice, we find hope in the salvation of community.

The immortal success in the National Hockey League, The Stanley Cup, can only be achieved through teamwork. And in the rhythm and narrative of each and every season, that honesty, that measure of humanity that is hockey is what keeps us coming back, season after season, heartbreak after heartache. It is the one sport where all the strengths and failings of the human condition are fully exposed and celebrated. And in a world filled with spin, deceit, lies, agendas, commercial manipulation and fear, that honesty is refreshing. We watch the game and we see ourselves.

Hockey is beauty. Hockey is noble brutality. Hockey is honesty. Hockey is us.

And it is this honesty that makes us, vulnerable and impotent as fans during these labor impasses. Our love for the game will always keep us coming back. The owners know this when they impose a lockout. The players know this when they go on strike. It absolves them of the guilt that should accompany the theft they perpetrate when they don't do their jobs and miss play games. Both sides use the loyalty and emotional relationship the fan has with the team as a rationalization for their selfishness. "They'll come back."

While I fully believe that owners should not lose money and the players should earn fair salaries within their highly specialized and lucrative labor market, when the fans lose games, the quest for fairness starts to cross the line into selfishness.

Now,s I'm of the opinion that this time it's the owner who are at fault. But in the past, and sadly probably in the future that will not always be the case. Still, whenever this travesty gets settled, our anger will subside and we  fans will  welcome the game back with open arms. Regardless of the accusations, recriminations, conflagrations, machinations (I'm on a roll) and circumstances between the NHLPA and NHL during this lockout (or any other future labor stoppage) once the puck is dropped again, all will be forgiven. And that is what infuriates me with myself.

Now I don't want to sound as if I'm not angry. My anger is palpable, and the entirety of these circumstances offends me deeply on many different levels.

Emotionally, beyond simply the losing of my own personal Cheers, I'm offended as a survivor of the previous lockout. As part of the celebration for winning the 2010-2011 Cup, the Bruins made the Cup available for each season ticket holder for a professional photograph. I'm looking at the photo right now, as the anniversary of it being taken and the Bruins raising the banner is the week of October 6th. When the moment came, I was downright giddy. As I got to look at the Cup and pose with it and my best friend, I noticed the spot on the bottom band for the 2004-2005 season, and for the briefest moment I said to myself, "Yeah, it (that lockout) was worth it."

Oh how wrong was I? What I remember the most from 04-05 was that the rhetoric that came out after the agreement was reached that inculcated upon the unwitting fan the idea about partnership. Tellingly in this lockout, it's a word that doesn't seem to have been uttered once. The party line that was sold to the fans was that the economic underpinnings of the league were broken, and that losing the season and defacing the Stanley Cup with the phrase "Season Not Played" was the price that had to be paid for a better league. That new CBA was supposed to start an era of NHL and NHLPA partnership. The split of the HHR and the escrow was the mechanism by which both the owners and the players shared the rise or fall of the league's success ($$$) and would be the tie that bound them together and forced them to work together to make the game safer, more marketable and most importantly to them more profitable for all.

For the briefest time we lived under the delusion that the NHL would become like MLB and labor issues would be resolved in a timely and in an adult manner. And by adult I mean responsible and mature, not the sexy connotation of adult, well that would be weird and a truly disturbing mental image. (Shudder). Now that we as a league and fans are back in the same spot we were in 2004-05 in terms of losing games, it seems like that lost season is being lost all over again.

Intellectually, this lockout is beyond asinine. It reminds me of an epic storyline in Season Three of the critically acclaimed and pop culture catnip series,  The Wire. (I highly recommend The Wire as lockout replacement viewing.) The storyline featured a rift between Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale, two men whose partnership used the drug trade to rise up from the projects of West Baltimore to become fantastically wealthy and influential men. Bell wanted to run the drug trade like a business, buying for a dollar, selling for two, without the violence inherent in that industry. Barksdale was in the game for reputation and ego, squabbling over who controlled which corner, where long term success and profit were no concerns, just the weight his name carried in the myopic world of West Baltimore. Two men that were closer than brothers, put themselves on a collision course over the fundamental philosophical question what is more important; money or reputation?

The NHL is first and foremost a business. Therefore, money should always be the goal, doing everything that is possible to keep the business strong and keep the money rolling in. Unfortunately this standoff is purely about reputation under the guise of arguing about money. The owners gloated that they won the last lockout. The players emboldened by the success the last CBA brought, want to settle the score from 2004-2005. And leading the NHL is a person who has let his own ego and quest for reputation get in the way of productive negotiations. I'm sure some of the owners are of a similar mold as the Commissioner (and with a sickening feeling, knowing the man who owns my beloved franchise is probably in the same boat. Though of course, he could simply just be greedy. But that doesn't make me feel any better).

It's not a negotiation about what is fair for all stakeholders (owners, players, fans), or about making the league better, more inclusive and more relevant in the national sports conversation (US only. I doubt I can imagine the torture the lack of the NHL inflicts in Canada). It is a debate over vanity and being perceived the winner or the loser. One of the greatest lessons from being a hockey fan, is that you respect your opponent, and when you win, you celebrate without being smug about it. This is why we romanticize to the point of near fetishization of the post-series handshake line. Unfortunately it seems  lesson  of sportsmanship and partnership is something the players, owners and commissioner conveniently forget when they step off the ice and into the negotiating room.

And yet despite being angry and deeply offended by this lockout, I am stopped by the knowledge that no matter how long this goes, and or how much "the fan" is pandered to by the NHL and NHLPA in the attempt to win the public relations war, as soon as it's over, I'll load the schedule onto my calendar, try to plan a road trip and fall back into the familiar patterns of my favorite pastime. While I understand and appreciate the clarion calls of boycott, whether it be tickets or merchandise, as a way to demonstrate the fan anger at this situation, I know I cannot easily shuffle off hockey's mortal coil and follow those fans into the breach of hockey agnosticism.

The game and the life is too deeply embedded into my DNA to simply give it up. And that is the dilemma that I face, and I'm sure faces many  fellow fans, regardless of whom for which you root. I know that those who love the game, and are truly struggling with this lockout.

Like Hamlet, I don't really have an answer, unless I stage a play or get myself to a nunnery, which would be weird. I know I could just  just re-watch The Wire to pass the time, but that, or whatever else I do, would not give me the same return on investment as watching the NHL and my Bruins play.

So I sit and dither and hope that common sense prevails  followed by the puck drop. And I hope this is soon for my sake and the sake of every fan who truly loves this game.

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great puck and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Now THAT was a Vent.

From Scott Bort:

Wanted to take my son to see the Blackhawks take on the Oilers for his first hockey game on his first birthday (Nov. 11). Should be a great experience right? Father & son at their first game together. Cheering the anthem; celebrating every goal with Chelsea Dagger.

Not looking like that will happen now and that makes Lukas sad.

C'mon NHL and NHLPA, get it together.

Quit making toddlers sad.

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Here's Tom Urtz Jr., who also writes for the Bleacher Report, on his plight as a New York Rangers fan:

For many fans the NHL lockout induces utter angst, anger and disappointment because the season hangs in the balance. This was a feeling I had earlier this summer and each day the lockout continues, the memories come back.

Not to the 2004-05 lockout, but to Adam Henrique.

The lockout reminds me of how I felt as I watched Adam Henrique end my chances of covering the New York Rangers as a credentialed reporter in the Stanley Cup Final this past June. Putting that on a resume as a 19-year-old journalism student in love with this business would have meant the world to me.

However, I got over it after a few weeks and I watched R.A. Dickey carry the Mets and the spirit of fans during the summer months, and when August rolled around, I got the itch.

The itch of preparing to write season previews, the itch to re-do my mega white board full of line combinations, stats and other assorted Rangers' info.

I got a euphoric high by writing Nash's name next to Richards' and Kreider's on a white-board, and for full disclosure, these are non-toxic markers.

Knowing how John Tortorella feels about line changes, I have an industrial size bottle of cleaning spray but I  digress.

Then September 15th came and went and I got an internal clock in my head that ticked and tocked as the lockout continued.

I am intelligent enough to understand how this works. I am not a fan who is delusional to  think that this is supposed to be easy.

The players have a sweet deal right now where they maintain a sizable majority of HRR. The owners want a bigger and fair share of HRR, because that is how the world works.

Owners and business make more than the individuals they employ. The NFL and NBA players' associations learned that lesson last Fall during negotiations, and the NHLPA should too.

No one is saying that the NHLPA should lie down and take it, but they need to show some faith and actually negotiate because the fans are getting tired or having their hearts stomped on every couple of years.

Throughout negotiations, either Bill Daly, Donald Fehr or Commissioner Bettman have been eager to reiterate that the NHL has the world's greatest fans and that all parties involved feel terrible.

It would be semi believable if both sides were actually talking about core economic issues for the past few weeks. It would be even more believable if both sides were actually engaged in submitting proposals and counter proposals.

The NHL is coming off a year in where record revenues were earned. They are making money, a lot of money in an economy where millions of Americans are out of work.

If the endgame for the owners is to gain a bigger percentage of the pot, why does it have to be up front?

Wouldn't a deal that starts at 55,54,53 or 52-percent of HRR going to the players and moving closer to an even split at the end make the owners more money a year than they are already making now?

They would instantly gain percentage points and that would means millions of new dollars coming to the owners and that isn't enough off the start?

If the players have to wait for escrow payments to receive a percentage of their salary, why can't the owners wait for the length of a CBA to gradually get new money each year, because in the end they are still getting paid?

The NHL is a business and I expect the owners to hold out to their best interests. They want as much as they can get and they are holding out for their best interests.

A deal will eventually get done but I have a few requests.

  1. Please have an 82 game season
  2. Don't paint that Thank You Fans bull*** on the ice and insult our intelligence.

The NHL says they want hockey this season, the players say they want hockey and we all know the fans want hockey, so here is an idea.... have all the sides get together talk about the core economic issues instead of ****ing around, and lets get the season going.

To delay a 2012-13 season for a league still recovering from the 2004-05 lockout would be the worst business decision either side could make.

The fans have a message, fool us once in 2004-05, shame on us. Try and fool us twice in 2012-13, shame on you.

Finally, Matt Peake keeps it short and sweet:

Nice people at Puck Daddy, You've been asking for people to vent and send their feelings about the lockout.

I've been a fan for 30 years and I can't sum up my feeling about the lockout more precisely than this:

To the NHL and NHLPA, I'll be a fan when you come back, but you're dead to me until you settle this.  Talk to me when you've worked your crap out.  Until then, [expletive] off.

Well that was to the point.

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