With the NHL and the Players Association striking a middle-of-the-night deal to save what is left of the 2012-13 season, like many fans I may rejoice that there will in-fact be NHL hockey. But is it a good thing for the game of professional hockey?
The deal is obviously good economics as a season is otherwise saved and will now produce revenue for everyone involved in an NHL game day. The writers will have something tangible to write about: games. The concession companies, security and other event staffs will have the work they have been missing. The front office folks of the 30 teams can get back to meaningful work and the players will be paid game checks. All the bars and stores that have suffered from a lack of NHL games, that have had to shut their doors or scale back employees because of a lack of business, will once again open. Those are all very real and positive needs that will be met for many families and individuals who depend upon the NHL to be playing hockey games.
That is one of the best reasons to get hockey back. The second best reason is for the fans who have been on the sidelines of this back-and-forth lockout, waiting for their game to return. This is the time of year when most sports fans would truly be missing hockey, when the NFL playoffs are underway and will conclude in four weeks. I am included, I have missed hockey greatly because I don’t care much for the NBA and college bowl games bore the hell out of me … meaningless exhibition games for teams that should have been finished at the conclusion of their regular season schedule. It would be a long agonizing two months for me from February to April, waiting on the MLB season with no hockey.
I need hockey just as much as anyone else, but the purist in me says that a shortened season is a false season. The Stanley Cup will be awarded, on time, to one of the 16 teams to make it through the playoffs come spring/summer. That to me is the tragedy in this all: a team will win the Cup in a shortened season.
I don’t like the idea.
Call me a purist, but I see the value of winning it all to be greatly cheapened because it wasn’t in a full 82 game season, but in a 52 -or 48- game affair that began almost 5 months after it should have. I find a great deal of disappointment knowing that the winner may not be truly deserving of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup because they only had to play half as much as they should have to win it.
I’m not advocating for an asterisk to be placed next to whoever wins the Cup, as if they don’t matter in the annals of hockey history. They still matter and it will still be celebrated, but I don’t know if I can look at them as true champions because they had to overcome less to win the same championship that the LA Kings improbably won last summer. Somewhere in every hockey fan there has to be the same desire to see a true champion, not one that made it through a half season to still win it all.
That being said, a shortened season in the past (1994-95) produced a New Jersey Devils team that at the time was looked upon unfavorably for winning the Cup and has also brought criticism from fans for Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, having won his first championship on a shortened season. The Detroit Red Wings won the President’s Trophy that season and faced New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Devils managed to walk away with the only Cup that matters. Maybe that was all bias as the Devils were high favorites to win that season anyways and maybe because they won it over the Red Wings.
They still played the same tournament, so why should it matter how many games they played before it? Because those lost games provide teams the time to coalesce, time to refine their play and also to pick up injuries and overcome adversity. Injuries can easily happen in a 52 or 48 game season, but the chances are cut almost in half by only playing half as many games.
Maybe I am just being a stubborn, bitter hockey purist … I also love fighting in hockey and don’t think anything should be done to remove it from the game. I just love the idea of preserving the integrity of the game of hockey more than I do the idea of having it back for even half of a season. I’m happy that the NHL will be back but I will be less accepting of whichever team hoists the Cup, even if it were to be my team, the Colorado Avalanche.