Sunday, January 6, 2013

A "Dear John Letter" to the NHL

"And so you're back from outer space,
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face;
I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key,
If I had known for just one second you'd be back to bother me..."

- Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive

Says it all

Dear John National Hockey League:

This is a difficult letter for me to write. Well, it should be a difficult letter for me to write but it really isn't, so it must be the right thing to do. I've decided our relationship has run its course and I am writing to tell you I'm breaking up with you. No, there's nobody else, not specifically. I just don't love you any more and that's the bottom line.

We've been together a very long time and I always thought our relationship would last forever, but things change, you know? People change and they want different things sometimes. It's nobody's fault, really.

Except, in this case, it's your fault. Totally. I could soften the blow and give you a bunch of platitudes; I could say, "it's not you, it's me", but it's totally you. You could have kept me in your life forever with just an absolute bare minimum of effort but that was beyond your capability, it seems. All you really had to do was show up year after year and even pretend to give a rat's ass about my feelings. Maybe every now and then do something constructive about your personality, other than making pathetic cosmetic changes to your appearance, like that idiotic geometric figure behind the nets. Seriously, what the hell is up with that?

But not only could you not make even the slightest effort to do the little things that would make me happy, this year—for the second time in seven years—you didn't even bother to show up. And now, again, months after I expected to see you at my door, you come staggering up my path (on account of all your head injuries) wearing the same clothes you left in, expecting me to just accept your absence and let you back into my home, my life, my Saturday night schedule. Well, not so fast there, buster. As that noted scholar, George W. Bush, once said: "Fool me once, shame on....shame on you. Fool can't get fooled again." I know you'll understand what he meant (on account of all your head injuries).

In case you think this is a knee-jerk reaction and I'll "get over it" in time, let me assure you that it isn't. It's been a long, long time coming. I've been falling out of love with you for years and when you slapped me in the face with the last lockout I started to realize just how well I could get along without you. Sure, I took you back that time, but the seeds had been sown and I was definitely not as passionate about our relationship as I used to be. But rather than doing anything at all to try to remedy that situation, you just went right ahead and pulled the same stunt all over again and now you come back to me without changing a single thing. Not one thing that would mean anything to me. And you think that's good enough? Get over yourself.

NHL ticket prices
You are far too high-maintenance for me. Your tastes are ridiculously expensive and, in fact, have been far out of my budget for most of my life. Do you know that in all of my fifty-one years on this planet I have bought tickets for precisely one NHL game? Oh, I've been to several—though far fewer than you'd expect for someone with my deep passion for the sport—but I've had to rely on the kindness of strangers (ok, maybe not strangers) to attend all but one game. As a comparison, I've probably paid for over 90% of the baseball games I have been to over the years. That is not to say I haven't been given tickets to baseball games—far from it. I've been to far more baseball games on someone else's dime than hockey games, but they still probably only represent less than 10% of the total. Contemplate that for a while. I've bought more tickets to NFL games over the years than NHL and I don't even really like football. I've bought more tickets to Raptors games—and even the old Buffalo Braves when they played at the Gardens once—and I don't really like basketball. Hell, I've even bought tickets to two soccer games in my life and I hate soccer. As my life has progressed and I actually visit your home less and less often it was only natural that a disconnect would begin and flourish, don't you think?

I also don't like the way you treat people you profess to care about. Your "solution" to the positively frightening rise in head injuries over the years is to say "what can we do about it, hockey is a dangerous sport." No thought has been given to slowing the game down; in fact, you've tried your best to make it faster over the past decade. There are too many bodies out there in too small an area going far too fast; it's only a matter of time before someone is killed during an NHL game (again). Is that an acceptable level of risk for you? Well, it isn't for me. Just another way we have grown apart over the years.

Is some of this due to the fact that I'm a Leaf fan? Hey, probably. Forty-five years of abject futility is really more than anyone should have to put up with. But then, I'm a hockey fan first and a Leaf fan second and let me say this about that: if I had given up on the Leafs when I probably should have, I would have long ago turned my back on you, NHL, because I have a lot more fun at hockey games at virtually every other level I can think of, from TimBits hockey right up through Major Juniors. The sport is the best on earth until you meddlers get your hands on it. Blame some of my frustration on the Leafs' ineptitude, sure, but don't for a second let that mask my issues with you, personally.

So I think it's time we faced up to the fact that we have drifted apart and put an end to our...ok, my misery once and for all. I know you will get along fine without me. You probably won't even notice I'm gone at all because you have so many lovers in so many other ports. Now, don't even try to deny it. There are plenty of people who you still hold in starry-eyed awe of you and that's fine. Good for you and them. I've decided that I need closure and a change in my life and you have, this winter, provided the perfect opportunity for me to do that.

I wouldn't call this a bitter split, though I wouldn't exactly call it amicable, either. Mostly, it's a split filled with ennui on both of our parts: I don't care what happens to you from here on in and you clearly have the same lack of concern for me. I'm sure we'll cross paths again at parties (such as a championship round or two) and when one of our favourite kids graduates to the post-season after many years of being held back in school. I'm sure your name will come up in conversations with my friends and I can look back fondly on the many years of pleasure we had together before the recent disillusionment. I know I won't be able to avoid hearing about your activities and, though it will probably hurt a little, I think I can follow your life from a distance with no major issues. But we will never again be close, you and I, and there was a time when I thought saying that would really be tough. Today changed that for me: when I heard you had returned from wherever the hell you had wandered off to, I didn't feel happy, I didn't feel excited, I didn't even feel indifferent. No, I felt angry. I felt pissed off that my life was in pretty good shape and I no longer even missed you but here you were strutting around trying to distract me (and many others) from really important business like Spring Training (just around the corner) and taking down the Christmas tree and reruns of Community. It would have been bad enough had you returned and I felt torn or sad. But to resent your return? Well, that brought the whole thing to a head and I knew it was time to write this letter, before I had to consider watching another Ottawa home game where half the fans are holding "Leafs Suck" signs even though the Senators are playing the Blue Jackets that evening. (Not your fault, per se, NHL, but still really damned sad to watch.)

"Count" Gary Bettman
So, NHL, take care of yourself. If you ever get around to making meaningful changes, like maybe full-time four-on-four hockey to cut down on "accidental concussions"; or aligning your divisions (like you promised) to stop screwing Winnipeg (where, I think, the best hockey fans in the league live); or admitting that every single time you make a controversial rule change by adding a "mandatory" call to the referees' (men who are already pretty overtaxed in the IQ department) books it will always, always end up blowing up in your face at pretty much the worst possible time in the playoffs (especially if the team affected lies on one or the other shore of Lake Ontario); or, hell, even something as trivial as presenting Offer Sheets to Restricted Free Agents once in a while so the regular lockouts look just a little less like a mockery of a sham; if any of those things happen, then give me a call. Maybe we'll grab a coffee and chat. You can show me real growth as an enterprise and demonstrate just why you think we should get back together. Oh, and maybe in the meantime you can stop owning a team in your own league, because that's really not cool. And find someone to put in charge who doesn't actively hate the sport of hockey. And perhaps do something about improving the worst full-time officiating in all of professional sports. And then there's that loathsome bit of effluvium known as "The Shootout"...

You know, on second thought, don't call me. I'll call you.


Movin' On


  1. You said it better (and with far less profanity) than I would have. Bravo for an excellent essay!

    1. Thanks, Hugh. I think the lack of profanity truly reflects the complete disinterest I really feel about the NHL's "return".

      Either that, or it's on account of all the head injuries. :)

  2. *sound of enthusiastic clapping*

  3. I see the Leafs have the most expensive tickets. So if you count drinks, food and transportation that is about $300. For that I rather buy the iPhone 5. Wait I did.

    John P

    1. Well put and reasoned, my friend. Did you also notice that the top six most expensive tickets are for teams who play in the cradle of hockey, Canada? (The seventh Canadian team is farther down the list, but nobody really cares about them anyhow.) The stubborn and aggressive "Americanization" of the NHL—especially in markets that have absolutely no interest in the sport—is another in my long list of reasons to abandon this league. Those ticket prices could almost be understood when our dollar was at sixty cents on the American dollar, but's just simple price-gouging.

  4. As a die-hard Bruins fan, I realize that disillusionment of hockey exists, but still, I cannot turn away. I love my hockey (maybe it's the Canadian in me, or head injury), but to see them take the ice is great, but a 50 game, compressed season. I didn't know that the players were making 57% of hockey related revenue. How can it be that they make more then the OWNERS, who run the team, and have to pay their excruciatingly high salaries? Anyhoo, I digress. I like the article, it's informative, witty, and entertaining. However, I must be a glutton for punishment, here I go again. I have an idea. To minimize on head injuries, make the helmets more like the NFL's, and bolster the padding around the back of the player (like they do in the NFL, to minimize the whiplash concussion effects.

    Well, frankly, I've been watching the B's 2010 championship on YouTube for months. Still, live hockey can't be beat.

    1. I think this is as good a time as any to clarify something here: I am not turning my back on hockey, just the NHL's version of it. Well, not even that: the NHL itself. There is plenty of outstanding and entertaining hockey still around and I will spend more time and money following—and participating in—that hockey instead. Believe me, I completely understand the pull of the top-flight professional game and I hold no disrespect for those who cannot break the ties. I've been a Leaf fan all my life and I began following them when I was six—in the fall of 1967. Yes, that's right: I have been following the Leafs for exactly as long as one can follow them without a trip to the finals. So how could I ever, after so many years of taking their abuse, in good conscience begrudge anyone else their continued support of the NHL itself? Short answer: I do not. And I hope it works out for you and for everyone like you, because this really is the best sport on the planet. I just can't do it any more.

      Thanks a bunch for the comment and especially the nice compliments!


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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