An Open Letter To NHL Owners:
Hi, folks. You might recognize my name from my regular, often intense criticisms of you online, in print and on social media. But I’m not writing to you today to rip you a new one, or even re-rip you an old one. I’m writing to talk to you about your legacies.
You remember those, right? They’re the only things that hold tight to our names once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, the longest shadow we’ll ever cast. And with the real crunch time for NHL labor negotiations looming in the next handful of weeks, I thought it was worth examining what your legacies will become if the league cancels its second full season in less than a decade.
Make no mistake, your legacies will take an incredible walloping. All of the good you and your NHL organizations have done on and off the ice will be relegated to the lower, lesser-read paragraphs of your biographies. The damage inflicted on the sport will linger like a dusty residue in your clothes and on your persons for much longer than a cancelled hockey campaign.
Take you, Ted Leonsis. You’ve carved out a pretty sterling reputation for yourself in Washington. You’re an affable guy, you’re incredible when it comes to fan interaction, and you’ve got a burning desire to bring the Capitals their first-ever Stanley Cup. In short, you’re one of hockey’s most visible, socially aware owners. But what happens if, in pushing a hard line against the NHL Players’ Association over these next few weeks, you wind up alienating your superstar Alex Ovechkin beyond repair and he decides to stay home in Russia and play in the Kontinental League for the rest of his career?
I know what happens: in an instant, you go from being the toast of D.C. to being The Guy Who Ended The Ovechkin Era. Somehow, I don’t think all the “Ted’s Take” blog entries in the world explaining your side would return you to fans’ good books. You’d be a heel in a way you never could atone for.
And what about you, Mario Lemieux? You’ve been your typically Sphinx-like self throughout this lockout, but you’re as beloved a hockey figure there is in today’s NHL because you’ve demonstrated your passion for the game time and again. But how will your legacy change if, say, the entire season is kiboshed, Sidney Crosby goes overseas to play and suffers a career-ending concussion? Suddenly, you’re attached to No. 87’s life story in a way that does not reflect well on you. Suddenly, you’ve lost your marquee attraction and the torch-carrier for the league.
What are you guys risking these potentially massive legacy hits for? A few more stringent rules on player contracts? Doesn’t seem worth it to me.
Yes, I appreciate your confidence fans will return in droves as soon as the NHL reopens its doors; the fortunes that followed the 2004-05 lockout provide ample evidence upon which to base such a belief. However, I’d argue you’re wrestling with a much different animal – a surlier animal with sharper claws and a dramatically reduced capacity for patience – this time around. Fans aren’t nearly so understanding now. There is an unknown quantity about the NHL’s future that ought to terrify you from the tops of your bursting bank accounts to the bottoms of your investment portfolios.
I’m not trying to suggest you shouldn’t stick to your principles. But you’ve already got NHLers to agree to a massive pay cut. Is the prospect of total victory that crucial to you? Especially if it comes at the cost of your good names?
For your sake – for the sake of everyone who loves hockey – I sure hope not.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com.
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