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Apparently, The NHL Is Starved For Attention

January 26, 2010

Every once in a while I’ll get sent a story or come across one that I feel obligated to use my public forum to politely respond “nu uh.” A few days ago I found a story written by Bob Smizik that claimed the NHL has no place participating in the Olympics. I read through the short article and felt as though some sort of counterargument should be offered to his claims. So here is my break down of his article, which can be found in full here.

Card-carrying members of what one commenter the other day called “the hockey Taliban,” made a brief appearance on this blog this week.

“Taliban” might seem a bit strong, but the reader described them this way:

“If you’re not completely committed to hockey, you’re the enemy.”

I know the type. If you write something even mildly negative about hockey they come out of the woodwork to denounce you with this standard response:

“You don’t know anything about hockey.”

I know fans like this, but one thing I think is unfair about these claims: Hockey is a close-knit family. Even our enemies are treated with respect because we’re tied together through this bond. Also I think a lot of us are gun shy about people making critiques of our game because we hear a lot of them from people who aren’t hockey fans. For example, I have a few friends that constantly try to tell me how my game should be changed to make it more appealing to their tastes. If you cannot understand why this puts a lot of us on edge then I’m short on ways of convincing you.

In their minds:

* Fighting is good for the sport.

* The regular season is fraught with meaning.

* Shootouts are the perfect way to determine the winner of a game.

* Hockey is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.

So many things need to be addressed here, I suppose I’ll do it in convenient bullet form as well.

  • I am a supporter of fighting in hockey. It’s part of the game’s fabric and it serves a valuable purpose. What I am against is people who make hits with intent to injure, which is what I’m assuming you think fighting is about in hockey.
  • Sorry the NHL cannot be like the NFL where every game matters because you only play once a week. I can tell you as a person from Indianapolis that week 17 is always full of meaning. Additionally, the regular season does have a purpose. It’s to determine the best eight teams in each conference and have them play in our second season, the playoffs.
  • Actually, I’m having a lot of problems finding a diehard hockey fan that LIKES the shootout. Most people think it’s a cheap ploy to attract the casual fan.
  • Well yes and no. That statement is true for NHL markets, but not with non-NHL cities. Youth hockey participation is up dramatically in all of the NHL cities that acquired teams in the Gary Bettman era. Sadly, I have to admit that his gamble to put teams in the Sun Belt may pay off in about 15 years when these kids become the major consumers in these markets.

I learned a long time ago that these super-partisans are not going to change. When you make a cogent argument in response to their rants, they disappear. Case in point: The the guy who wrote that I “loathe to Penguins,” but, who, when challenged, never offered an particle of evidence to support that conclusion.

He’s so typical. If you make an anti-hockey comment — and I’ve made them — you “loathe the Penguins” — which I do not.

They can’t see the difference.

I don’t believe I’m part of this grouping, but if I am I would like to submit that my arguments have been “cogent.” Also you write in Pittsburgh where if you hate a local team they’ll run you out of town. You’re surprised these people constantly question loyalty when it seems to matter most to them?

I’m not suggesting all hockey fans are this way, just some of them. They allow their powerful passion for the game to warp their view of any shortcomings it might have.

What they don’t understand is you can be critical of your team and your sport and still be a good fan. Who’s more critical and more loyal than the Steeler Nation?

Honestly, I think hockey fans may be rather stubborn about a lot of things, but a critical view of their favorite game is not really something we lack. As a slight amendment to what I said above, Pittsburgh fans may be loyal and critical, but that doesn’t mean they’re always intelligent. Remember these are the same people that called for Fleury to be removed from goal at the midway point of last season and at one point were demanding that Roelisthberger be sat in favor of Charlie Batch. Pittsburghers are loyal fans and at times their passion blinds them, which makes me question if it’s fair to lump large portions of hockey fans into this category you’ve created or if really this is just your reaction to meeting a lot of Penguins fans.

One person wrote: “The NHL players want to play for their country in the Olympics. They deserve credit for that, and the NHL deserves credit for giving them that chance and not making the individual pro teams suffer during that stretch.”

Trust me on this: The NHL participates in the Olympics because it is desperate for attention. Patriotism has nothing to do with it.

I literally almost did a spit take when I read this part of the article. You have got to be kidding me. NHL players DO want to participate in the Olympics, most of them willingly tell the media about it. Hell, Tim Thomas said it was his childhood dream come true. Yes, the owners do not want their players going to the Olympics and they don’t like the disruption in the season, but to actually claim that players do not want to play boggles my mind. If they did not want to go they could be like NBA players to the Slam Dunk Contest…avoid it like the plague.

No other sport would do that. If basketball were moved to the Winter Olympics, the NBA would not participate. When baseball was part of the Summer Olympics, MLB did not participate. If Olympics tennis ever went up against one of the four major tournaments, none of the top players would participate.

But hockey is so starved for attention that is sees, and correctly so, that the Olympics can draw more fans to the NHL. The problem with that is NHL hockey and Olympics hockey are not quite the same sport. There’s no fighting in the Olympics, which is a crowd-pleasing staple of the NHL regular season.

You’re right, the MLB didn’t participate in the Olympics. But it should be noted that they now have an international competition of their own instead which uses MLB players. Also the NBA probably wouldn’t participate, but getting the NBA to do anything seems to be a difficult challenge. I mean, even in the off-season they didn’t want to play until the US lost their Gold Medal streak. Also neither of these sports have the strong international play tradition that hockey has. To hockey fans international play is a big deal, if you don’t believe me ask any Canadian that lived through the Summit Series.

I love the fighting crack in this portion of the article. If you didn’t know hockey fans ONLY watch hockey for fights and any game that does not have at least five is a waste. Also people who are casual fans only come for the fights…that’s why we’ve lost so many fans to MMA.

In this quest for attention, the NHL is only demeaning itself. Its players expend energy playing in the Olympics that would be better used in the NHL. The players come back from the Olympics mentally and physically tired and then have to play a schedule overly crowded at the most crucial time of the  season  because of the Olympics break.

If anyone needs proof that NHL participation in the Olympics is a bad idea, just keep on watching. This will be the last time the NHL makes the mistake of putting the Olympics over its season.

Correct. This probably will be the last time the NHL is in the Olympics for a while and it’s because the owners are upset about the very issues you brought up. Yet, like I mentioned prior, international is a big deal to most of us. We watch the World Juniors and the World Championships every year. We often use nationality as an adjective to describe players. It’s important to us. It’s important to players too, important enough that in 2014 some of them might go play anyway…against the wishes of the league.

The most coveted award an NHL player should seek is the Stanley Cup championship, not the Olympics Gold Medal. The league realizes that and will withdraw from the Olympics after this year.

And when that happens, the hockey Taliban, the very same people who proudly support the NHL participation in the Olympics. will loudly proclaim a great decision it was.

Actually most hockey players/fans think the the Stanley Cup is the most coveted prize, but playing for your country is the highest honor.

I suppose I’m a part of the Hockey Taliban because Bob Smizik, you don’t get it.

And to welcome in my new era in the Hockey Taliban I’ll go ahead and quote Propaghandi:

Your stupid fucking laser-pucks were just the start.

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