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Why I No Longer Give a Puck About NHL Hockey

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As I'm sure you all know by now, a tentative deal has been reached between the players and the owners of the NHL. For most of the world, this means absolutely nothing.

For many Canadians, however, it means the return of Hockey Night in Canada, a spring chock-full of gut-wrenching playoff runs, and for those few who can actually afford it, arenas packed with crazed fans and $15 beers.

Yet I'm no longer one of those Canadians. I find the NHL more and more irrelevant every time it returns from another one of these temper-tantrums, these hissy fits, these futile tussles between overpaid millionaires and manipulative billionaires.

What's more, I'm not alone.

In my adolescence I had a love affair with NHL hockey. My favourite players were brave warriors fighting for the honour of their respective city-states. I memorized all their stats, watched all their games, and spent more of my meagre teenage income on their memorabilia than I care to say.

Some of my favourite players were probably your favourites too: "Burnaby" Joe Sakic, Stevie "Y" Yzerman, Jerome "Iggy" Iginla -- in my mind, these guys were heroes, taking Stanley Cups for their teams and gold medals for their country. I idolized them, and accordingly, I considered everything else to be ancillary.

Alas, in hockey, as in life, all good things must come to an end.

The 2004-05 NHL lockout shattered many of our worlds. It was the first time a major professional sports league in North America had cancelled an entire season due to a labour dispute, and consequently, the first time I was exposed to what truly drives professional sports -- money, and lots of it. Sound familiar?

There were many excuses offered up for the lockout, but no matter how much they spun it, it was all about the bottom line. The owners wanted new private jets and the players wanted new luxury sports cars. Sorry, I mean the owners wanted a salary cap and the players wanted salaries based exclusively on the market.

Both sides hunkered down and refused to budge. The owners stayed afloat by drawing from a $300-million "war chest", while the players kept themselves comfortable on union checks of between $10,000 and $15,000 a month.

Oh, the austerity!

In the end, it was all for not. The players' union succumbed to infighting and the threat of replacement players -- begrudgingly accepting a hard salary cap, lower revenue sharing, and immediate salary rollbacks amongst other things.

But as usual, it was the little guys who got the short end of the stick. The work stoppage forced the layoffs of thousands of people behind the scenes, from stadium attendants to office personnel -- none of whom saw any of that cushy $15,000 a month afforded to the players.

Not to mention the fans -- people who spent their hard-earned money on overpriced merchandise and extortionate ticket sales, who got screwed out of a whole year of professional hockey because some grown men couldn't put their egos aside long enough to sort out a deal for a fandom which keeps them all in the lifestyles they have grown accustomed to.

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In short, the NHL fan in me died somewhere between 2004-05, when I was exposed to the fact that the people representing my heroes cared more about profits than people. It's also probably why myself, and more and more other Canadians are greeting this news of a new agreement between the owners and the players with some reservation and trepidation.

As a recovered NHL addict, I can't help but wonder why we want to put so much energy and passion, offer so much devotion and piety, to a league that has done this to its fans four times in the past 20 years. Why do both the league brass and the players' union continue to overestimate Canada's passion for the NHL?

Canada's national pastime is so much more than the NHL. It is street hockey on the west coast, pond hockey on the east coast, new Timbits learning how to skate, and old dogs lacing up in beer leagues to see if they've still got it. The passion for the sport is bigger and better than a league focused on money and stardom, as are its fans.

So in the next few weeks, as the NHL undoubtedly spends millions on advertising campaigns encouraging its fans to come crawling back to a league that continues to take them for granted, try and remember all the other great things you have done over the past few months in that time you would have spent watching NHL hockey.

Perhaps you took up a new sport? Spent more time with your family? Took a stab at a new hobby? Either way, it was most likely a much better use of your time than fawning over spoiled multi-millionaires.

So maybe, just maybe, those of you who haven't lost faith already should consider giving hockey the cold shoulder this season. Show the players, the owners, and all the bureaucrats who have turned a cultural pastime into a business that behaving like entitled children for the umpteenth time is not okay.

As in many abusive relationships, I'm sure some of you will still take the NHL back. That's your prerogative. But you shouldn't, because if you do, nothing will change, and you all deserve to be treated better than this by something that you love.