Dear Hockey: A Letter From A Fan

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A letter from a hockey fan to the 'Guardians of the Game'. "Please... don't screw this up".

Dear Hockey

It's me, a hockey fan suffering through yet another lockout. It's been quite a momentous week so far, hasn't it? We've seen you release your latest offer to the NHLPA in a rather sudden move that, well, reeks of the kind of desperation that one feels when you need to repair a massive PR mess like the one you suffered earlier this week. And let's be clear, you were using a soulless political operative like Frank Luntz to develop spin to try and sway public opinion to you and away from the PA. It was cynical, and showed the kind of blatant disrespect that, oddly enough, mirrors what guys like Luntz have for voters in America. You've been really, REALLY bad to us over the last couple decades, and Commissioner Gary Bettman deserves much of that blame. There's such a massive disconnect right now, between the NHL and the owners, and we, the fans of the game. It's been said that you are the Guardians of the Game. Instead of nurturing it, and allowing it to grow, and show the rest of the sporting world just how incredible hockey can be, you've once again brought things to a grinding halt, preying upon our love of the game and unwillingness to walk away, no matter how badly you treat us.

It's so frustrating. We as fans can't even agree on a course of action, much to your delight I am sure. A massive, organized movement can sway things, we've seen it throughout history. Most ideas revolve around internet petitions and poorly attended protests, which get mocked by other fans as much as anyone else. And rightfully so. Don't get me wrong, I admire the passion behind these things, but deleting the NHL from your Twitter friends list has zero impact. We know what you do hear, though. That is where the impact could be made. Yet when we hear the Philadelphia Flyers have had a whopping 12 season ticket cancellations out of over 18,000 sold, one can see exactly why you treat us the way you do. Not even 3 work stoppages in less than 20 years is enough to make us turn our backs on the sport we love.

It's even tougher in Canada, where the game is completely ingrained in our culture. And that's not to disrespect American fans of the game, some of whom have a passion that is amazing to see. This lockout didn't need to happen. It was such a cold and calculated attempt to try and ram another favorable (for ownership) agreement down the players' throats. We can see that it was the plan all along, and unlike the previous lockout, we can see through the spin. You created the system. You got what you wanted last time. Yet here we are, watching you try and tell us with a straight face that the game is in financial peril. And yes, even with record profits, the game is in bad shape in some areas. That hangs on the heads of your owners, and their inability to see that even a mild form of profit sharing would be so beneficial for the game. We certainly get the sense that a great lot of them care little for the game, the teams nothing more than another item in their financial portfolio.

So much of this lockout is painted as Billionaires vs Millionaires, and we're constantly reminded that many players are still going to be rich when it's all done. I get the frustration that people feel when looking at it through this filter, and as someone who lives paycheque to paycheque, there's not a lot of sympathy there. What does resonate for me, is the fundamental disregard for making a deal that is honest and fair. I've been involved in collective bargaining, and what I have seen here simply cannot be considered bargaining in good faith. The opening position of the owners was offensive, not just to the players, but to the game itself. It's the kind of blatant greed that has seen protest movements like Occupy Wall Street spring up. The unadulterated lust for profits with little or no regard for the damage caused. It has to stop. For the good of the game it has to stop.

So now, you've released the CBA proposal in an attempt to show you want to be transparent, but we're smarter than that. It's damage control, and while some have been swayed, thanks to the revelations earlier this week in Luntzgate, some of us see it as just another cynical, disrespectful attempt to manipulate public opinion. It's not that you shouldn't be able to do it. We know how the game is played. I truly believe the release of the focus group material was a game-changer in your relationship with us, because we saw in black and white just how little you think of us. I mean, out of a million possible fight photos, you couldn't have used one without Derek Boogaard? That was so vile, it makes my stomach churn. Your desperation to paint the PA in an unfavorable light couldn't be more clear than the inclusion of Boogaard, whose family is currently in legal action over money owed from his contract with the NHLPA. It's despicable. It's shameful. And it is what you get when you run with dogs like Luntz.

So now we wait for Donald Fehr and the PA to put together their response. And while there is genuine reason for optimism for the first time in this entire debacle, in my mind at least, it's not enough to make me believe that it's going to end right away. I now believe that there will be a deal, but perhaps not soon enough to get in a full season. One thing I have to request, is that moving forward, you please, PLEASE stop insulting our intelligence. Stop telling us you didn't want to have a lockout. Stop telling us that an 82 game schedule starting in November is for the fans. We're not stupid. It's completely about money. And please, don't screw this up. We deserve so much better than this. We don't want hollow, insincere apologies. We don't want slogans painted on the ice. We want the game back. We'd like it affordable, though I see Bettman isn't trying to fool us with claims of lower ticket prices this time around. Just get a fair deal done. Fair not just for both sides, but for OUR side. We need you. It would be nice if you finally acknowledged how much you need us.

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