The agreement between the NHL and its players’ union that ended a painful and unnecessarily long lockout has been met with far more skepticism and bitterness than any rejoicing. Many fans, and even sportswriters, are calling for boycotts of games and of NHL merchandise, the belief being that the league cares only about money and hitting it in the pocketbook will be the retaliatory gesture that hurts it the most. But is it really such a shock that a professional sports league, along with its owners and players, would focus on the bottom line? The most sensible things to do is be thankful the entire season wasn’t lost and just get back to enjoying the game.
Not that there aren't things to be miffed about. The intermittent and half-hearted negotiations came across as a grudge match between two factions that put pride before everything else. The final deal amounts to little more than the moving around of a few numbers and does nothing to solve the long-term problems facing the league. The most obvious of these problems is the continued existence of bankrupt teams in southern United States cities, such as Phoenix, Arizona. Why Canadian fans will be forced to continue to subsidize this failed experiment through revenue-sharing remains a mystery. We may as well start subsidizing the Phoenix housing market, for all the sense it makes.
But then the lockout wasn’t about redundant franchises. It was about the owners and the players divvying up the league’s revenues. This is what sports leagues do; it’s never pretty, and it is always frustrating for fans, who know the game’s success depends on them. Fans want to be appreciated for their love and knowledge of hockey, and they resent it when labour negotiations remind them that they are little more than a wallet to the millionaire players and their even wealthier owners.
Happily, that ugly truth can now be put away again for the duration of the new agreement, which is at least eight years. Fans can choose to revel in their resentments, or they can go back to what they love doing, which is watching their favourite teams and players compete at the world’s highest professional level. It’s a great game; don’t let the fact it’s also a business spoil it for you now.