Fans in New Jersey cheer on their team after a goal is scored. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
If you became numb to the mere mention of disclaimer, revenue sharing and contract term limits, you’re not alone.
If you turned to poker, junior hockey or the American League for post-work television or live-action entertainment, you’re not alone.
If you can’t wait to see Dallas Star Jaromir Jagr, Carolina Hurricane Jordan Staal, New York Ranger Rick Nash, or Minnesota Wild Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, you’re not alone.
If you stand in eager anticipation for the return of NHL hockey on Saturday, whether you plan on sitting through a day’s worth of games or simply nestle in for your favorite team’s, you’re not alone.
The hockey world is with you. Welcome back, fans of the top hockey-playing league in the world.
Don’t feel shame and don’t let anyone try and call you a sucker for returning with eyes open and jaws dropped. Nothing that has transpired since October has been about you, the fan – but it’s soon to become all about you again.
There’s no fault with tuning out the league, while it tediously worked through its financial system. And there’s absolutely no fault with returning to the arenas in droves or settling in front of the television with friends to catch a glimpse of the greatest from this point in the NHL’s history. To insinuate fans are foolish to crawl back to a league that shut them out misses the meaning of what being a fan is – the vast majority are chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle and suggesting from afar they should react any other way is advertising a disconnect of the highest level.
This isn’t a statement of principle – it’s an enjoyable escape from the rigors of everyday life. It's why fans in Nashville lined up to watch a practice and why the Oilers outdoor shinny game was such a big hit.
Tuning out the bickering business side does not correlate with decreased interest in action. All your average fan cares about are things such as 1) Is Alexander Semin a prolific goal scorer or an underachiever – and if he’s an underachiever, what happens to him when his contract expires this summer? Or 2) At what point will the Islanders be good and well-rounded enough that John Tavares, Matt Moulson and the like can lift them to a place of consequence? Fans want to witness these things play out, not just hear about them.
Now, there are those who will feel slighted and disrespected by the league and who will never return to NHL regularity – and that’s their own fair choice to make. It’s not for everyone and it’s no more or less wrong than letting bygones be bygones and returning to the league that makes you feel at home after a long day or week of work.
The fans are the life force of the NHL, who breathe meaning into its games and generate debates and talking points that drive season and career narratives. They’ll be pondering Evander Kane’s sustainability as a Winnipeg Jet (will his persona overwhelm his on-ice contribution?), James Reimer’s reliability as a No. 1 goalie (he isn’t one) and if the Oilers should offload a young forward or two to stabilize the back end (no).
Is Marc-Andre Fleury the right goalie for Pittsburgh (yes)? Is Roberto Luongo a top-flight netminder (yes)? Do the San Jose Sharks have a Stanley Cup run left in their aging bodies (no)? Were the Florida Panthers a flash in the post-season pan (yes)?
We can’t wait to watch it play out.
Welcome back, fans of the NHL. You’re not alone.
I’m with you – giddy as a schoolgirl.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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