01/07/2013 12:19 EST | Updated 03/09/2013 05:12 EST

Why I'll Still Watch NHL Hockey (and You'd Be Stupid Not To)

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2012 file photo, a nearly empty hockey stick rack in the locker room of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team is shown during the NHL labor lockout in Buffalo, N.Y. The NHL lockout that's already wiped out the first three months of the season is taking its toll on Buffalo businesses. And it's no different in many of the NHL's 29 other markets. (AP Photo/David Duprey, File)

Not surprisingly, fans are upset with the NHL. A bloated, unnecessary and ugly lockout, "a fight between millionaires and billionaires," kept fans from the game they love. "They don't care about us, the fans who buy tickets and overpriced beer," and other obvious, stupid messages were common. The 2004-05 lockout kind of felt to me like my high school darling breaking my heart, but then she got back together with me only to do it all again. Callous harpy! Am I a sucker for giving in to her twice?

No, because this isn't at all a good parallel. There is no personal connection between me and the NHL, just a throbbing love for the game they play. The league itself I view with cool detachment. I understand and accept that owners are just people making money off the game. They don't have to care about me or hockey, and they don't, and I'm fine with that. I don't care about them. Anyway, I was nearly totally indifferent to this lockout. It really surprised me. One or two Saturdays I felt a muted pang, wondered what it was, recognized it, and drank hockeyless beers with a smile nonetheless.

Now that I am older than the league's best players, I view them differently too. They aren't simply older Timbits players there for of their purity of heart. They are the best skaters, stick-handlers, shooters, and hockey visionaries in the world, and this won't change because of the lockout. I admire their abilities, not them. Those who put a celestial trust into the hearts and minds of strangers are incredibly naive, and ought to be disabused of the notion that players, nevermind owners, care about them. Do grown ups really feel this way?

We are not entitled to hockey. Hockey doesn't enter this world the way forest, mountains and rivers do. A lot of boring, legal framework stuff that I am completely and wilfully ignorant about needs to be there, and when there is a disagreement at this level, which seems to happen twice a decade, I do something else.

But the NHL is back now. Is it that the owners and players finally sympathize with the hearts of fans? Is it that they could no longer go without hockey, the game they love? No, maniac, of course not. I'm sure the players actually do love hockey, or did anyway. But the players have a profession and the owners have a lucrative hobby (some of them, not all).

I have grown out of regarding hockey players in supernatural terms, something especially easy to do when you're a Leaf fan. The lockout was undoubtedly stupid, but the fact remains that the most skilled players on Earth will get to play again, their skills not a bit diminished (maybe rusty) for the ugly lockout. If you loved hockey before, there's no reason why you won't love watching the same sport again. If you've gotten used to life without hockey, fair enough, but taking the lockout personally is the result of viewing your relationship to the game in unhealthy terms. Those who claim to take revenge on beloved hockey by ignoring it are in effect prolonging the lockout out of spite, and I suspect this crowd will tune in soon, their misplaced pride notwithstanding.

Hockey players are just strangers doing great (or horrible) stuff with a puck, and there is no gun to our head demanding we view. Love of NHL hockey, hockey played at its best, must not be contaminated by money, even if the latter is required for the former's existence. Now that it's over, I can finally get back to feeling heartbroken whenever our questionable goaltending and porous defence does its work. Lupul and Kessel are exciting. I hope Kulemin rises again (he is deserving), JVR is useful, and all Phaneuf's hard work improving the accuracy of his slapshot, hours of aiming carefully at the side of a barn, pays off. These are question marks that, however they turn out, I will watch get resolved.

So you all can remember the good times, here are Datsyuk highlights.

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