If you're like me, you believe all groups or organizations are reflections of, or reactions to, the society in which they function. And if we share such a philosophy, you're not surprised that, just as a certain world superpower's citizenry wonders and worries about the merits and consequences of its present-day political leadership, the NHL's fans see Gary Bettman at the league's helm and reach for the depression suppressants.
In the same way, while more and more people stand alarmed at the more-apparent-by-the-day environmental crisis facing the entire globe, so too are those who monitor the hockey industry and, for a variety of reasons, fear for the future of the game.
In both those cases, I count myself as one of those fearers.
Now, I certainly don't want to come off as one of those Â“The End Is NighÂ” types seen wandering the streets wearing the latest in sandwich board couture. However, I don't think I'm the only one who senses hockey's stay on the world's stage could soon be halted by a subtle-but-harsh hook.
I mean, did men's tennis or the pro bowling tour spot any blatant harbingers of trouble before the mainstream left them in the lurch? Or did their guardians and gatekeepers operate under the NHL's patented brand of Perpetual Denial as it all came to pieces around them?
I think you're smart enough to know the answer.
Yet for whatever reason Â– and in spite of much evidence to the contrary Â– the NHL believes it can send out backslapping press release after backslapping press release and eventually convince fans, corporate sponsors and media that its future is brighter than ever before.
But perhaps I'm wrong. You tell me if these sound like banner developments for the league:
Abysmal American TV ratings; phony attendance figures; an increased use of stretchers, to the point where a sponsorship contract is almost warranted; a bass-ackwards schedule that should've been tossed to the trash bin last year; new uniforms that double as dehydration devices; Nike pulling the chute on its involvement with the game; an epidemic of concussions; and franchises whose ownership situations are clear as a teenager's face.
All this is going on, and one of the NHL Board of Governors' primary concerns is expansion?
(Your deity here) help us all. If these gentlemen were on fire, their wallets would be thrown toward a water source before they wished to be extinguished.
At one point a couple years back, I had some genuine hope the NHL's leaders were finally awakening to the crises gathering before them. The lockout, and the apathy it was greeted with south of Canada's border, seemed to shake the league's major movers out of their decades-long slumber.
Hence, significant and positive changes were made to the game Â– although, even then, it took the efforts of one player (Brendan Shanahan) before the league truly jumped on board and implemented new concepts.
For a while, it appeared as if the hockey establishment had turned the corner and was headed toward a progressive mindset. But after the 2006-07 NHL campaign, it seems the game has slipped backward again.
The NHL's old boys' club and its deeply-rooted tendencies to let the game's inmates run its asylum have stormed back to the fore Â– and consequently, the number of horrific on-ice incidents and accompanying awful press have again eclipsed any of the league's modest structural achievements.
Someone, somewhere, needs to step up and be the loudest canary chirping in the cave. Somebody needs to take the narrow-minded fundamentalists by the snouts and show them precisely how the present road eventually merges with the one that leads directly to ruin.
How might such a hero do so? How 'bout by establishing a summit/symposium, with a primal focus on skill development, player safety, marketing and growth of the game at the NHL, amateur and international levels?
At the very least, such an event would function as a worldwide clarion call to those in the industry who've been comfortably numbed by wealth and worship at the altar of Â“old-time hockeyÂ”. At the very most, it could galvanize all associated with the sport, and steer them in a direction they should've been steered long, long ago.
If it is to survive and thrive in the decades to come, hockey needs the vision and leadership that will demand equipment manufacturers make their products more affordable, and that communities who already embrace the game build new arenas to accommodate the growth in their regions.
This game needs leaders who understand and serve the symbiotic nature of the NHL's relation to the grassroots level, not act as mere masseuse of billionaire owners' egos. It deserves architects unwilling to compromise when it comes to the ideal aspects of the sport. It needs salesmen who are savvy and strong enough to lay bare the truth for the self-important hockey operations side.
Right now, the game's true power brokers are mere border-builders and plug-fillers, yes-men and true believers. Until one of those folks puts the onus on themselves to own up to reality and set course for solid sporting ground, hockey's doomsday clock will continue to tick.
Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau's Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.
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