Thursday, September 20, 2012

NHL Lockout - A Little Longer Please

By Peter Mansbridge
CBC News
September 18, 2012

The Winnipeg Jets take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7, 2012. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
Let's begin by pointing out that I'm a hockey fan. Always have been. Since Dick Duff was a Maple Leaf. And I do understand that the NHL lockout isn't entirely about millionaires and billionaires.
It affects thousands of people who work at NHL arenas, or at restaurants and even parking lots near them. And I certainly know how much CBC depends on Saturday night hockey games to make money.
But I find it difficult to get too excited about missing some regular season hockey games. The season is too long. There are too many games. In their quest for revenue, the NHL has made regular season games almost meaningless. I'm baffled about how anyone can look forward to a November game between the Leafs and say the Columbus Blue Jackets. Or the Jets and the Nashville Predators. Or just about any combination you can name.
The NHL is happy to play the games. In Toronto, you can pay up to $430.50 for the privilege of seeing a game. That's for one ticket. You can pay $48.50 for a standing room ticket. The Leafs have a flat fee on every ticket of $14.50 that they call a VIP fee. Yup, even if you're standing at the back of the arena, you're a VIP.
The league schedules 82 games for every team. They don't play those games to determine which team is the best. 
Oh no. The Vancouver Canucks were the best team in the last regular season. All they got for their trouble was the privilege of playing five playoff games against the Los Angeles Kings, losing four of them, and watching the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV, just like the rest of us.
Those Kings? They treated the regular season as a nuisance. They lost more games than they won. But they made it to the playoffs anyway. And then they won the only prize that counts, the Stanley Cup. So remind me again why they play a regular season.
16 of the NHL's 30 teams qualify for the playoffs. That means it takes six months and 1,230 games to determine that 14 teams have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Then it takes just two months and a maximum of 105 games to determine that 15 have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Does that make any sense?
To be sure, hockey isn't the only sport with a season that's too long. Major League baseball teams each play 162 games. You could justify that when the regular season was a real test. Only the best team in each league advanced to the World Series. But over time, that formula was diluted, and diluted again, until this year, 8 teams will qualify for what is now called the "post season."
In the Canadian Football League, six of the eight teams make the playoffs. So 72 games are played to eliminate just two teams from Grey Cup contention. That's plain silly.
But back to the NHL.
None of us is ever forced to watch a regular season game, either in person or on TV.  So if the NHL can continue to get away with what it's doing, I guess the most appropriate response is a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head.
But we cover this lockout as if a day without NHL hockey is an unbearable burden. And yes, I know CBC is as guilty as every other media outlet.
Here's a prediction: If the lockout continues for a while, the league will begin to get questions about when it will decide to shut down for the year. At first, the commissioner will say it's too soon to even think about it. But in time, he'll say that it's a real concern. And that he's considering what the minimum number of regular season games can be before the season loses its "integrity."
In fact, that happened long ago. 


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