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Hockey’s Back! Or, Hockey’s Back?


My trusty golden retrievers and I have something of a weekend routine.

Every Saturday and Sunday, they wake me up at 6:45 for their morning outing. You can set your clock by their reliability. 6:45, every time. Under normal circumstances, this sleep disruption is one of the few nuisances of pet ownership. Through bleary eyes, I make the social media rounds on one of my mobile devices. The aim is to take in anything newsworthy, while not engaging my mind so much that I’m unable to promptly return to sleep when they’ve completed their morning business.

This past Sunday was expected to be slightly different. When I turned in on Saturday night, the NHL and NHLPA were still embroiled in an all-day, marathon negotiation session. Reports suggested that while the two sides were getting closer, there was still a considerable gulf on some key components. I felt that it was probably safe to catch up on Sunday morning, with the expectation that the two sides had broken talks off, to be continued Sunday.

For the first time in the 113 unfortunate days since this mess began, I was pleasantly surprised.

On a personal level, my immediate emotional reaction was something resembling unbridled joy.  While I’ve run the gamut of emotions over the course of lockout, perhaps even traversed the grief cycle, it’s never been in doubt that I would wholeheartedly embrace the return of my beloved NHL\Nashville Predators.  Because of that, I suppose I was a little surprised to see some tweeting\Facebooking that their anger wasn’t satiated, and that they were unsure if they would immediately return.  While I could definitely empathize with some of their frustrations, it troubled me to read these sentiments.

While the decision is ultimately a personal one, I felt that I needed to make a case for the NHL, and more importantly, the Nashville Predators.  Hopefully, if you’re one of those scorched-earth fans, this post finds your eyeballs.

The 113 days of locked out NHL were a difficult time for everyone.  From businesses that rely on revenues, to bloggers who had nothing meaningful to write about, and most of all…to fans both die-hard and casual.  While the vitriol toward Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr is deserved in many ways, I would hope that Predators fans in particular could be careful not to make Nashville an innocent bystander.  From all reports, this lockout wasn’t a unanimous or popular event.  The Predators likely weren’t crazy about losing the traction gained by a second straight trip to the second round\the retention of Shea Weber in the face of big market bullying.  Withholding your ticket\merchandise dollars punishes the league and the NHLPA to some extent, but it hurts the Nashville Predators in a greater way.  Knowing that every penny counts, and knowing that the franchise–while more stable than it has ever been–will always be a couple of slow years away from being back in a tenuous position, it’s important to stay invested as a fan.  Don’t punish the team you love for something they may not have even wholly supported.

Another perspective to consider, and it requires playing devil’s advocate for a moment–in the longterm, this lockout may prove beneficial to the Predators in particular.  Pundits and fans alike admitted that the 04/05 lockout, while painful, was necessary to fix a system that was badly broken, and likely to eradicate a few franchises if left unchecked.  This work stoppage was less necessary, and more about the size of the pie-slice for both sides.  In spite of that, it’s not like the Predators can’t benefit, now that hockey is back on.  With the immediate reduction of the cap from 70.2 to 64.2, the Predators are likely to finish the season pretty close to the cap, but not OVER it.  Teams like the Rangers and Flyers are going to need to do some roster surgery via the new compliance buyouts to get down to a legal number.  Best of all…so will the Minnesota Wild.  As a result, the gulf between the haves and have-nots shrinks, and there may also be some “bargain” players that become available.  On and off ice, the financial climate for the Nashville Predators gets a little warmer.

Above all, it seems that our players managed to conduct themselves with decorum and reticence, this go-round.  We didn’t have a local villain emerge like last time, a la Scott Walker (who famously threw his own team under the bus, with comments along the line of ‘if the Predators can’t survive without a cap, then maybe they shouldn’t have a team.)’  I don’t find myself angry with any particular player the way I am with some of the mouthier guys from around the league.  There’s no Ron Hainsey to scorn, no Jonathan Toews, Erik Cole.  On the management side, we’re not owned by Jeremy Jacobs or Murray Edwards.  Again–I can’t see punishing our delegates from either side, because I don’t know how “in it” their hearts truly were.

Ultimately, if you’re a Predators fan…and I would assume you are, if you’re reading this–it’s important to remember that it’s the same team you’ve ultimately endured the highs and lows with, over the last 15 or so years.  It may have been easy to neglect or forget that in the midst of the stoppage, but I would ask you to give them the chance to win you back.  If you head back to the Bridge, watch the team take the ice with the same blue-collar philosophies that they’ve always had–and your heart isn’t in it, the damage too great– then at least you tried.  However, I suspect that it will only take one 17,113-strong counseling session for the relationship to be repaired.  Something about the smell of the ice, the sound of the crowd, and the chill of the air in the arena has a way of healing these wounds.

At any rate, as I said, it’s a personal decision, but hopefully you’ll give it another shot.  There’s a lot to lose, if you don’t.  This is the only blog I’ll write along these lines.  From here on out, it’s back to my trademark ranting and raving, playing bad cop to Martel’s good cop– and I’ve got a doozy of a downer post coming in regard to what’s going on, ON THE ICE–so,  you can look forward to focusing your wrath in the appropriate places :).