Well, the NHL season is 10 days old and the lockout is a distant memory. My boycott has been reduced to a "give them no money" protest that is as ineffective as it is meaningless. Forgiving fans have returned to the game in droves, with record ratings and sold out rinks in many markets. The NHL won't miss my $49.99 that I normally would have spent on Game Center Live. In fact, to my eternal shame, I have been watching GCL quite often. The league has employed a brilliant marketing strategy, offering the service for free for the first two weeks of the season. I couldn't resist watching a few games and even with the limited training camps, the action was fast and furious. Hockey is the most exciting televised sport and seeing it again being played at the highest level made me feel like a recovering alcoholic offered a free beer. In this case, I reluctantly took it, had a few sips, and am again regularly late for work. In my case though, it is because the NHL games are on in the morning here in Singapore. A hockey hangover so to speak.
So now I'm considering the advantages to the shorter season. Usually by early February, the mid-season doldrums have taken over as the 82-game slog is simply too long for players and fans alike. But a 48-game sprint should keep the mail-in games to a minimum and most teams will be in the playoff race until April. With no interconference games, travel schedules will also be lighter and the Stanley Cup Final will be the first East vs West meeting of the season.
I was hoping to avoid attending an NHL game during my upcoming month in North America, but that was wishful thinking. I've already given in and bought a ticket from a friend so I can see a regular season game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, one of three NHL rinks I've yet to add to the Quest for 400. Before that I have a week in NYC where I will probably check out the Jets and Rangers at the renovated MSG, as well as the Leafs on Long Island. In both cases, the box office is not an option, as I want to get in the building without giving the NHL my money.
So does it really matter who gets the cash, beyond me being able to write this column extolling how I am not a hypocrite? Probably not. If I buy a used Camry from you, Toyota may not get the money directly, but they get the ancillary benefits of having me drive the car and talk about it to friends. Even if the NHL doesn't get a single dime from my pocket, they will count me in the attendance figures and will also enjoy the extremely minor exposure they get when I write about the game. In fact, my failure to stop writing about the NHL is pretty much a sign that my boycott was stupidly conceived to begin with.
The only way an economic protest can work is if a majority of market participants agree to it. Most fans want nothing to do with the business side of the game and are just happy to have the chance to cheer on their favourite team for the rest of the season. Those of us who thought we could make a difference had no chance. Before the first puck dropped, I estimated that about a third of fans would engage in some sort of action to protest the lockout, but in reality the number is probably around 5% if that.
Simply put, if you want to follow sports, you have to accept labour problems on a regular basis. If you get so frustrated that you are capable of turning away permanently, more power to you. I am not that strong, and watching Matt Frattin's beautiful overtime goal to beat the Sabres this morning convinced me that it is better to forgive and forget than hold a grudge. So once again, it's Go Leafs Go! See you in New York!