What the hell has happened to the National Hockey League? I don’t really know, because I no longer follow it. But I used to follow the NHL religiously, and more specifically the Boston Bruins. From my mid teen years I spent countless hours watching the Bruins, reading about the Bruins, having arguments about the Bruins, bleeding Black and Gold, as they say.
I remember being 17 years old and the B’s swept the Hartford Whalers in the playoffs. We celebrated like any mature teenagers in the 1980’s did. We went out in front of my house in a quiet stretch of suburbia , and we drunkenly ran around with brooms sweeping the street. At one in the morning. On a school night.
I remember the triple O.T game in the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers. I watched it over at the house of some friends who lived in my neighborhood. I vividly recall cringing when Bruins defenseman Glen Wesley missed on an open net in OT and sent the puck over the crossbar. The game went on for what seemed like forever. Finally, late in the third overtime Petr Klima scored for Edmonton. It was like a haymaker to my tender breadbasket. I mourned like any young adult boy in the 1980’s did. I drunkenly stumbled home singing “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” and punching telephone poles. At two o’clock in the morning. On a work night.
I remember feeling sick to my stomach when I heard Cam Neely was retiring due to injury. The greatest power forward to ever lives career was cut short by a cheap knee on knee hit by the even cheaper Ulf Samuelsson. Damn you Ulfie! I still actively despise you for that.
I watched with utter disgust as the notoriously stingy tandem of owner Jeremy Jacobs and general manager Harry Sinden made Raymond “The Captain” Bourque go to arbitration for a contract. He was only the heart and soul of the franchise, why should he get rewarded for that?
I remember the pall that hung over the city the day Ray Bourque requested a trade from the B’s to go play for a contender and have a chance at the championship that had eluded him his whole career. He went to the Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Quebec Nordiques, who lost their team and then saw them win the cup the very next year. Talk about a kick in the nuts), and while the Av’s didn’t win it all that year, they took the cup the following season. Ray wound up bringing the Stanley Cup to Boston’s City Hall Plaza for a rally. It was packed with people wanting to celebrate their captain finally winning it all. Even though he wasn’t ours anymore. Harry Sinden released a statement saying that it was wrong for him to do that. Harry Sinden can suck a chub.
I watched the Bruins nosedive for years after that. They always talked about how a salary cap was needed in the NHL. They refused to sign players past the 2004 season because they knew a lockout was coming. They repeatedly stated they would be in the best financial shape to sign players after a cap had been put in place. The entire 2004-2005 season was lost due to the lockout. Smart business move. The league came back the following year and it was like I was playing a fantasy draft team on NHL2K5. I had no idea who half of my beloved franchise was. They made a move locking up number 1 draft pick Joe Thornton for the six-year maximum contract and then traded him to the San Jose Sharks where he went on to finish the year as league MVP.
I was done. I couldn’t spend any more of my precious time and money caring for a team whose owners didn’t care. All Jeremy Jacobs is concerned about is selling $7 hot dogs and $9 beers. I just stopped watching. My laissez-faire attitude came in handy a few years ago when the B’s were up 3-0 in the playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers and wound up losing the next 4 games. It didn’t faze me at all. A few years prior to that and I would have spent a week in the fetal position on the floor in my own filth. But my life carried on, unlike some of my very good friends, who were devastated over it. I felt their pain, I just didn’t feel “the” pain.
The next year, the Bruins won it all. The Stanley Cup came back to Boston for the first time since 1972, not counting the aforementioned Bourque rally. The Bruins winning the cup was something I had wished and prayed about for years. But when it happened, it might as well have been the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Nashville Predators that had won it. I didn’t jump up and down and hoot and holler. I did high-five a few friends but that was all for them. It’s never cool to leave a high-five hanging. It’s just bad etiquette, all around. I was happy for my friends. Their team had just won the championship with the coolest trophy in all of professional sports. But that’s the part that sucked, because it was no longer my team. I couldn’t just jump back on the bandwagon after they won, could I? Damn right I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
Now the NHL is in the middle of their fourth work stoppage in their history, and they have all occurred under Gary Bettman’s watch. That’s a fantastic track record. Expansion has weakened the league. The NHL has thirty teams when it should have twenty-four at the most, twelve Canadian and twelve American. I’ve always thought that if you can’t go outside in the winter and play hockey on a pond, than your city probably shouldn’t have a professional hockey team. That seems like common sense to me.
The kicker of it is that I still believe the hockey is one of the best sports, and it is the absolute best to watch live. It’s fast, it’s tough, it’s exciting.
Unfortunately, it’s just not for me anymore.
Thanks Jeremy Jacobs.