To Whom It May Concern Amongst the NHL's Ticket Holders, Vendors, Arena-Staff, Arena-Area Workers or Small Business Owners, Players, Coaches, Front Office Executives, Sponsors, Team Owners, and to you The Fan:
And to the distinguished Commissioner Gary Bettman and to NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr:
First and foremost, Commissioner Bettman, sir. Apology accepted!
Now, let's all move on as the season is underway and Bettman, the NHL's proprietor of pucks, declared open the lockout-shortened 2013 season as he munched on some "Humble Pie" when he recently walked up to a microphone and did what any CEO would do after a corporate disaster.
"I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the last few months, but I owe you an apology nonetheless," said the NHL commissioner.
Well, I was at the TD Garden in Boston for the Bruins' home opener and a legion of hockey fans seem to agree with my viewpoint. They were back, and they tweeted #BruinsAreBack or #HockeyisBack as though they were campaigning for office. These are the facts to be reported this weekend as the NHL cranked up its engines:
- Every seat was sold.
- Occupying Causeway Street was a loyal, avid -- maybe rabid -- ice hockey fan, nearly all decked out in varying styles of Boston Bruins replica team jerseys.
- The passion of a loyal fan base was very apparent, smiles on faces signaling incredibly happy fans.
- The team's messages were straight and to the point. A sincere "Welcome Back" with some special promotions, beautiful ice sculptures on the grounds, a tremendous pre-game ceremony to introduce the 2013 Bruins and more.
Yes, the NHL season is underway and the NHL league and team Public Relations people, Broadcasters, Marketing, Ticket Sales, Game Presentation and every employee from ice dancer to Zamboni driver have all done a fine job relaunching pro ice hockey in North America, much to the appreciation of that avid fan base, all seemingly starving for a hockey fix.
Truth be told, lockouts and collective bargaining agreements, work stoppages, business deals and salary caps, the endless bickering and arguing between the Fehrs and the Bettmans of the world are the last things a fan wants to hear about. Sports fans want to watch their team play. Period. For many fans, the shortened 2013 season ends a bad dream, but the awakening brings hope their team can compete for a playoff spot or maybe even a title. While doing so, all the fans want is to enjoy themselves, buy a sweater, quaff a brew and maybe take their kids now and then to see the best brand of ice hockey the world has to offer, outside Moscow.
Whether it is "in-person" (and we know the NHL is the best "in-person" experience of the four major North American-based sports) or, if it's only on TV (where the NHL might be the "worst" of the major sports in terms of the ability to soak in the game on TV), sports fans just want to have two hours and 30 minutes of fun and excitement during which they can show their love and enthusiasm for the local heroes. Hockey fans want to display all of their built up, pent-up, competitive spirit and natural passion as they witness true competition in the most entertaining of any professional sport. Fans ask, only, that the players are prepared and play HARD. They want their teams well coached and to skate as hard as they can.
This year, it's a 99-day sprint to the Cup Playoffs. It's wide open and more than a dozen teams have a legitimate shot at carrying Lord Stanley for a ride.
To the contrary, though, some fans choose to heap some sort of discipline upon the league for orchestrating the terrible 2012 lockout. There are viral videos calling for a 10-game boycott to account for every game lost after the self-imposed December 21 line drawn in the sand. A group of fans created a Facebook page and a video message that went ultra-viral online.
One of the proponents of that cause is a good friend of mine -- call him "Billy," who is one of the most avid, well-rounded hockey fans I've ever met. Billy played the game, knows the game and LOVES the game, yet he explained it well: "I'm in my parenting stage of life," said the father of a four-year old. "I know that I have to lay some type of foundation so he know what's right and wrong. And, there has to be some sort of consequence if he doesn't behave, listen or recognize there is right and wrong.
"I feel the same way about the NHL. The lockout was drawn-out and they were operating without any regard for the fans. We just have to do something to let the NHL know, we're just not going to take it. We have to show them some discipline."
A worthy argument, yes, but I tend to believe that lockouts are like hurricanes, stock market corrections, parking tickets and a slew of other things in life that annoy the bejeezes out of us. The lockout was a necessary means to get a 10-year labor deal that worked for the owners of the league.
Commissioner Bettman was under marching orders from hard-line team owners to get "the best possible long-term deal" and he did. Now that the deal is done, I refuse to look in the rear view mirror. I refuse to judge the owners or the players or try to decide if there was a winner or loser in this mess.
Like the 17,565 fans at TD Boston Garden, most of them dressed in Bruins Black & Gold, I stand ready to fully accept and embrace the 2013 NHL season for one and only one reason. It's FUN!
That's what a pro sport is supposed to be about -- F.U.N. I wanted to lay a $20 on my favorite bar-keeper, as I know he felt the pain of this lockout far more than goal-keepers, owners or Commissioners.
So, dear National Hockey League, I'm back! You're back, so I'm back. Although, Mr. Fehr? I wouldn't mind hearing an apology from you, too.