National Hatred League: Animosity at All-Time High in NHL

Matt GajtkaCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2009

Let me make sure I understand you, Chris Osgood.

You claim that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and by extension the entire league has it in for your Detroit Red Wings because stars Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom were forced to sit out Tuesday's tilt in Columbus, a 3-2 Blue Jackets overtime win, after skipping out on the NHL's All-Star weekend in Montreal.

Fair enough. I'll temporarily ignore that the franchise you're lucky enough to play for is probably the most popular one in America, that your team leads the NHL in road attendance while routinely selling out arenas as the visitor, and that the presence of the Winged Wheel played a large part in the very healthy ratings garnered by last year's Stanley Cup Final.

For now, I'll forget about the fallacious nature of your claims and your apparent paranoia and focus instead on the New York Yankees-caliber hate that you say is raining down upon Joe Louis Arena and its primary tenant.

I narrow in on the hate because there seems to be a tremendous amount of it spewing forth from various sources around the NHL, most of it directed toward other hockey-related entities.

As a public service, I have accumulated a rudimentary list of grievances floating through the National Hate, er, Hockey League in recent memory.

Here we go: Everyone hates the Red Wings because they win. The San Jose Sharks are chokers. Sidney Crosby is a whiner, crier, diver, Bettman sell-out, secondary-assist compiler, and might actually be female.

Alex Ovechkin is a hot-dogging caveman who shows up the opponent. Florida, Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, etc. don't deserve an NHL team. Gary Bettman ruined hockey and may in fact be a David Stern-planted demon with designs on expanding the league to 42 teams.

Sean Avery is a parasite who should never skate a shift again. Fans of the Blackhawks, Capitals, Penguins, or any other team that recently experienced a huge positive turnaround are bandwagoners.

Oh, and the All-Star Game stinks.

At the same time, let's not disparage legitimate on-ice rivalries like Detroit-Chicago, Canadiens-Bruins, Flames-Oilers, Sharks-Ducks, Rangers-Devils, or any game involving the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington trio. These sublime confrontations are the gasoline that propels the NHL's engine.

But with the NHL playing from behind the NFL, MLB, and NBA in the United States, does hockey really need to indulge in petty infighting?

Don't get me wrong, anger and animosity always draw attention from media and fans alike; however, all the time and energy wasted tearing each other down can probably be better channeled toward promoting the sport itself.

On the other hand, though, maybe the fact that puckheads everywhere are at each other's throats is a promising sign for the NHL. After all, you never hear anyone talk about "promoting the game" in the NFL because the players, coaches, GMs, and owners are too concerned about beating each other's heads in to care about much else.

I'll let you folks decide for yourselves whether too much internal bickering is good or bad for the sport of hockey's general health.

For now, it's just jarring to see the sheer amount of hatred pulsing through the NHL's veins. In a passionate sport such as hockey, perhaps having some vitriol spill over the dasher boards is simply inevitable.

Although for this writer/fan, an honest on-ice battle beats an off-ice slam every time.