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In Praise of the Lockout
Alex Ovechkin and company are back (Photo by Alena Schwarz)
I’ve missed half an NHL season due to the lockout. That’s half a season of Alex Ovechkin charging down the wing. Half a season of Martin St. Louis and Teemu Selanne continuing to amaze me. Half a season of Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. I’ve lost a Winter Classic that probably wouldn’t have been a very good game, but would have been stunningly beautiful to see, and a TV series that’s become essential viewing every season in “24/7”.
And yet, I come to praise the lockout, not to bury it. Every so often we need to be reminded exactly who runs this game and this business. It’s people like Craig Leipold, who complain about not being able to compete, and then go out and spend close to $200 million on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They are billionaires who hold the taxpayers hostage to build them new rinks, which, to paraphrase the late Marvin Miller, is something that hurts communities a lot more than the “high ticket prices” they say will result when player salaries rise. They are kin to the same robber barons who have made off with most of the wealth of this country over the last 30 years.
All that unpleasantness and anger aside, maybe we needed something like the lockout to appreciate what we have in a season that’s already a bit too long anyway. Maybe it took a lockout to make us realize how fortunate we are to be living in this era. There is more great young talent in this league than there’s ever been in the entire history of the game. There are good teams in giant markets to attract the most casual of the casual fan, if you’re into that sort of thing. Hockey has literally never been better than it is right now, and watching it tear itself apart over these last few months has been excruciating.
I guess it really goes without saying that I’ll be back like nothing has really changed, and really nothing HAS changed. We’ll go through this same dance again in eight years when either the players or owners opt out. I’ve talked before about the kind of “unspoken agreement” fans make with themselves that they accept when giant athletes are flying around that there will be horrific injuries. It’s part of the game. The same thing applies to the oldest conflict in the world, which exists between labor and capital. Sports have never really been a game, they’ve always been a business, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is delusional. As long as the owners continue to try to make as much money as possible on their investments, and as long as the players continue to seek just compensation for their services, this will keep happening. The best we as fans can do is to ride it out, and hope that the problems get put off long enough without too much damage to the league’s reputation.
So let’s drop the puck and start rolling again. I’ve missed the circus being in town.