50 Reasons Fans Will Never Give Up on the NHL
Fans of the NHL must be gluttons for punishment. I include myself in the above statement because no matter how poorly the league is run or how little the league seems to care about its fans, I will still watch when the puck gets dropped again.
I know that I'm not alone here. If you present the numbers in a certain light, an art commissioner Gary Bettman has mastered, the paying general public actually prefers lockouts. OK, prefers might be a stretch, but the attendance numbers, profit improvement and franchise appraisals pre- and post-lockout suggest that the fans just didn't mind.
Again, I don't believe that anybody likes a work stoppage, but hockey fans and sports fans have shown that they are the most loyal consumers in the world. Slapping a nice "Thank you fans" on the ice and raising ticket prices seemed to be enough to bring millions of loyalists back to the arenas.
The truth is that the most legitimate hockey fans will be back regardless of a lockout or strike because they love the sport. There is something about the sport that will draw us in no matter how poorly we are treated. Our consumption may be altered. We might not go to as many games. We may not buy as much merchandise. We may not purchase the NHL Center Ice package for three easy payments of $64.99.
We will know the schedule when the commissioner says "Game on!" though. Our television sets or computer monitors will be ready when the puck drops. We may put on the jersey of our favorite team too, even though we might feel a little dirty afterward. It would be too much to ask of the NHL to buy us a seafood dinner beforehand, but we'll accept its contrived appreciation anyway.
When the NHL opens for business again, we need not avert our eyes when we see our reflection. The shame you may feel as a fan will wear away about two-and-a-half minutes into the first period. The emotions and excitement will replace any guilt easily enough because the product is just that good. I'll stop short of calling us "puck junkies," but if the shoe fits.
I've put together 50 reasons that the fans, including myself, will be back for the NHL whenever it can get its act together. I'm sure we all have our own reasons to get back on the NHL roller coaster, and here are mine.
The relatively organized chaos on the ice makes it often appear to be rugby on skates. Sure, there are plenty of rules to regulate the game. There is no sport on earth that goes end to end like hockey, though. The entire game is played with the urgency and frenzy that you will find only in the last two minutes of every other sport.
One of the best things about hockey is the scoring itself. From out of the mayhem and piles of humanity comes sheer artistry from players at every level. The creativity and skill that go into some of the goals that you see on a nightly basis speaks to the extraordinary talent on the ice.
Assists and Passing
For nearly every goal that requires a supreme individual effort, a play that requires an equal amount of skill and precision is required to facilitate. Some of the best players, including the best of all time, separated themselves from their peers with their innate ability to see the game better and make the pass that everyone saw. Sometimes, they were able to make the pass that no one else saw, which is what made them extraordinary.
For all the offense we love, there is nothing that makes us jump off the coach, recliner, folding chair or seated platform of preference like a great save. Not just the elite goaltenders flash the glove or lightning reflexes either. If you have made it to the NHL, chances are you have a particular set of skills that can make you great, even if just for a moment.
Sorry to all the people who think fighting should be banned. Actually, no, I'm not sorry. Get over it. Fighting isn't going anywhere and should be part of the game. The average hockey fight lasts less than a minute and is often times an important part of the game. Sure, it's brutal at times, but it establishes a physical and often times psychological presence over an opponent.
There is certainly much more to the physical side of the NHL than just the fisticuffs. A big hit can change the momentum of a game and alter the flow of play when players have to worry about keeping their heads up. Here's a fun sampling from one of the NHL's best at delivering the big hit.
Has there ever been a more obvious sponsorship than if Purell hooked up with the NHL to sponsor the Stanley Cup? Quite possibly, the world's most famous trophy has traveled the globe and been handled, rubbed and kissed by millions. Fortunately, the Cup gets regular checkups and has a pretty good immune system. Whenever and wherever Lord Stanley goes, a crowd is sure to follow, but if you're a player, you can't touch the cup until you win it.
Peggy and Other Hockey Commercials
Sure, the novelty has worn off of the "USA Prime Credit" phone operator named Peggy, but we love to see our favorite players repping anything from credit card companies to used car dealerships.
Tim Thomas: Peggy, my card's not working
Peggy: Yes. Is common problem.
Hockey players are some of the most superstitious in all of sports. Whether it involves putting on equipment a certain way or having a certain meal on game day, the routine takes a manic twist when it comes to NHL players.
Wayne Gretzky would drink two Diet Cokes a glass of ice water and a Gatorade before each game. Sidney Crosby doesn't call his mother on game day because he was injured twice before when he had spoken to her on the phone earlier. Coincidence or crazy? Possibly a little of each, and we love it.
Love Your Team Unconditionally
In hockey-rich markets, no, I'm not talking to you Phoenix, hockey fandom is inherited. You will cheer for the team that your family collectively roots for. There are no divided households because no fan of one team would dare engage in relations with a fan of another.
The loyalty and love lasts a lifetime for a hockey team. A classic example of this exists in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are the current holders of the longest Stanley Cup drought, but their fans are arguably the best and most passionate in hockey.
Haters Gotta Hate
First of all, let me say that I know how much a hockey jersey costs. I also know how much a custom hockey jersey costs. If you would rather wear a jersey hating an opponent than a jersey supporting your team, then your name tag reads "Hater."
Are you more passionate about rooting for your team or hating your rival? For some, it's about the same; for others, there is an unhealthy balance. Polarizing teams and players will make you watch because you want them to fail. If you don't like the hater tag, the important thing to remember is that you are watching them.
Quite possibly the only thing I can give Gary Bettman credit for. Maybe it wasn't his idea, but he had the power to make this idea come to fruition. It is the main reason that hockey fans don't get blackout drunk on New Year's Eve. It's a lucrative and fan-friendly event that promotes the NHL like nothing else besides the playoffs.
I don't know many fans of the NHL who like the NBA. I'm not saying that they aren't out there, but the two leagues seem to be mutually exclusive when it comes to fans. I certainly appreciate the athleticism that exists in the NBA, but it seems that the season is too long and the players typically don't give a crap unless the game is close with less than five minutes in the game.
The playoffs in the NBA are watchable, and there is certainly an element of drama, but for the most part, the NBA will not take the place of the NHL.
Football Is a Servicable Distraction
For those who are missing out on the speed and violence of the NHL, the NFL can provide a relatively equitable fix. The business model of the NFL alone should be something that the NHL pays attention to. The marketing done by the NFL to promote its stars helps make it the most popular sport in North America.
Let's be very clear, though. The NFL is not the NHL. The athletes for each are very gifted, no question, but you can only get football three days a week, and it simply doesn't provide the end-to-end action the NHL is all about.
Love him or love to hate him, we all pay attention to Sidney Crosby. He's the icon in the NHL whether we like it or not. His talent is undeniable and we all want to see him on the ice.
Some hockey fans think that the lockout will enhance the competition for the NHL. Other leagues in Europe, and the KHL, will have the opportunity to step up and possibly keep the current NHL exiles that have sought gainful employment with them.
There have been discussions and grumblings from some players that if the salaries are rolled back too far, then why even come back to the NHL? The KHL should be a good watch in place of the NHL, for now, but the eccentricities in the ownership ranks don't make its viability as legitimate competition very plausible.
Fear not, hockey fans, you can stay up to date with your favorite NHL teams and players and play a full season by picking up your copy of NHL 13 today. Create yourself and play on a line with your favorite players. There's not such thing as lockout mode on a video game, so you could lift the Stanley Cup!
History of the Game
No sport, with the exception of baseball, has a storied tradition like the NHL. Sure, all of the leagues have a certain amount of historical charm, but the NHL has done a pretty good job of romanticizing the roots of the league. The Canadian teams have the reverence in the north like the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics and Green Bay Packers do for their respective leagues.
The majesty of the playoff beard would certainly fall under superstitions, but I felt it is worthy of its own slide. It goes hand in hand with the war of attrition that is the NHL playoffs and can usually be spotted around the workplace as fans show their support for their team by rocking the facial fuzz.
In Pennsylvania, there is a three-way race for the Hart and Ross Trophies. Malkin, the reigning scoring king and league MVP, occupies the locker room of another former winner and his captain, Sid Crosby. Malkin is crazy good and just turned 26. The rivalry with the Flyers and Claude Giroux is something that the NHL should embrace.
He's the hockey guy we all love to hate on ESPN, the man known in many circles as "the Mullet." Melrose has not much more on his resume "than friend of Gretzky" when it comes to his hockey expertise, yet finds himself front and center on the worldwide leader in sports as their hockey "expert."
I typically include Melrose on my lists because I like to remind everyone that his initials are BM.
If your sport requires you to wear a protective helmet, there is a good chance you are going to see plenty of guys with hair coming out of the back of it. I can't speak for the current times, but in my playing days, you earned some respect for the flow coming out of the back.
Hockey is unapologetic about continuing the tradition of marginally acceptable hair styles, with some players going straight for the business in the front/party in the back look.
King Henrik is on the list for two reasons:
1. My wife.
2. He's the best goalie in the league right now.
The Rangers got some much-needed offense acquiring Rick Nash, which might help Lundqvist get that elusive Stanley Cup. He has won at every prior level, but Lord Stanley has eluded him.
Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole
If you're fortunate enough to get SportsCenter with an -re, then you have the privilege of getting the personalities of Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole for your sports highlights. Though they are spot-on for the entire year, there is no team better at bringing the hockey highlights than Dan and Jay.
Probably one of the more underhyped players in the league is Steven Stamkos. Toiling in the anonymous hockey market of Tampa, Stamkos will challenge for the scoring title every year. He has a nose for the goal and scored 60 times on a bad Lightning team.
Since the 1970s, the NHL has incorporated the goal horn in the arenas after a home team scores. The evolution of the goal horn is now team specific accompanied by music. There is nothing that fires up a crowd like loud horns and music to follow.
Though this could go hand in hand with the hating, the rivalries between certain franchises can cover a lifetime. Teams with a long history will always hate their rival, and that makes the games that much more intense and fun on and off the ice. Tune in to the next Philadelphia-Pittsburgh game for the best rivalry in hockey right now.
Back in my day, and possibly earlier, they used to have an organ in the arena that would play between the action. I know there are still some arenas that have the organ, but for the most part, it's now replaced by some contemporary stuff.
Certain arenas have songs that are played at certain times in the game to fire up the crowd. "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey is a staple at Joe Louis Arena for obvious reasons.
There is no other purpose on the planet for the Zamboni than to clear the ice. Zamboni is also one of my three-year-old's favorite words and possibly one of mine too. With an outside chance that the giant "ice-lawnmower" could take out a hated rival on its way off the ice, the Zamboni is part of the fiber of the NHL.
Social media, specifically Twitter, has brought the fans closer to the players than ever before. With access to an NHL player's mobile device through the beauty of the Internet, retweets and direct messages are often more valuable to some than an autograph.
The accessibility and the candid posts from the players humanizes them and makes them more likable and fun to follow.
Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the league in spite of playing marginal defense at best. At 22 years old, Karlsson is going to get better defensively, but he is offensively one of the more electric players in the league from the blue line.
The Russian Quote Machine
There is no better interview in the NHL than the Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov. An early playoff exit left the fans wanting more quotes. His last one of note was about "not being afraid of any Penguins, only bears" in reference to the Flyers-Penguins series.
Some guys get under your skin and some are complete homers, like our boy Jack Edwards in the video clip. Either way, most fans know who their announcers are and love or learn to love their play-by-play calls. Not everyone is as over the top as Edwards, but they make the game fun to watch if you can't be at the rink.
I would put NHL playoff overtime as the most intense scenario in sports. The "next goal wins" scenario is perfect for the sport and takes everything off of the table except a team's will to win.
A much more entertaining resolution to regular season games highlights individual player skills, including the goalies. The shootout has produced an endless stream of highlight videos as the players try to find creative ways to score. Surprisingly, the results tend to favor the goalkeeper, though some "specialists" excel in the one-on-one scenario.
Giroux is an especially gifted player for the Philadelphia Flyers and also happens to be one of the coolest players off the ice too. Though former Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards lifted the Stanley Cup last June, Flyer fans marveled at Giroux's talents all year.
He's only 24 and has shown that he can compete head to head with the elite players in the league.
Not a fan of his, but Don Cherry is the John Madden of hockey. He has the loudest voice and the loudest suits, and to many he is the face of hockey. I guess that's better than Pierre McGuire.
As I alluded to earlier in the Twitter slide, the personalities of the current NHL roster are on display like never before. There are characters on every roster that come to life off the ice with the extensive media coverage and the advances in social media.
Games in Canada
With apologies to arenas that happen to be south of the border, there seems to be a more tangibly electric atmosphere during the games that take place in Canada. Every time I see a Montreal or Toronto home game, I hear chants and singing like an international soccer game.
The fans care about their team more and seem to have a different level of enthusiasm. Again, no offense, Phoenix.
The current Stanley Cup champions barely made the playoffs last year. They eliminated the team with the best record in the playoffs in the first round, needing only five games to do so. The league has a balance like it never has before, with only a couple teams being irrelevant in the overall playoff picture.
Some free-agency surprises this summer could make even more teams competitive, which should keep their fanbases more involved during the year. Parity is great for the league in terms of building fanbases and loyalty while maintaining a solid competitive balance.
I love hockey jerseys. Much to my wife's chagrin, I covet more than the dozen or so that I already own. I know that I am not alone in my fixation because there are websites specifically dedicated to hockey jerseys.
I also love a third jersey or throwback as long as we are clear that the third jerseys are not allowed for Original Six teams. The original franchises have throwbacks only, and the others can have different money-making variations of their jersey and logo.
The Pro Bowl sucks. The MLB All-Star game has actually ended in a tie. The NBA All-Star game last year was actually pretty good.
That said, the best display of a league's All-Stars is in the NHL.
I like the idea of the draft and that the game means absolutely nothing. No checks, little defense and just a display of the world-class talent that you don't get to see during all the clutching and grabbing of the regular season.
Stay with me here, but am I the only one that thinks the Cooperalls are awesome? The Flyers and Whalers were the only teams to rock the handsome hockey slacks, but I think that the Red Wings and Lightning should have a Cooperall game with opposing red and blue jumpsuits.
The NHL has always been pretty good about celebrating the legends of hockey. I consider it a reminder of where the game has come from and how it has evolved. The argument of who would succeed in today's game and who would be good in the older game will go on forever.
Don't get the wrong idea and think that it's OK to toss things on the ice. However, there is a time and a place to toss certain things on the ice. Just expect to get thrown out of the game if you are planning it. In Detroit it is the octopus, Nashville the catfish, and in Phoenix, the ice is pelted with indifference.
The NHL is a current occupant of fourth place among North American major sports. There is little indication that the league can move from that spot, and the lockout is certainly not helping matters. The underdog factor of the NHL endears it to fans who might actually support the league because they get tired of the other three.
The NHL players make less money, are more humble and don't get crammed down our throats like the other mainstream athletes. Hockey has come a long way from a niche sport and will always have the support from fans who get sick of the top three.
If you don't know who this guy is yet, get yourself familiar. Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues is the future Norris Trophy winner. He has the size, speed and skill to be the best at his position for years to come. He just scratched the surface with a breakout season last year, and at age 22, is the Western Conference version of Erik Karlsson, but plays better defense.
Two winters ago, Sidney Crosby capped a fantastic Olympic hockey tournament with an overtime game-winning goal to lead Canada past the United States in the gold medal game. The inclusion of NHL players in the Olympic Games was somewhat controversial at the onset, but has been an overall success in generating interest in international hockey.
In 2014, the Olympics head to Russia and there should be much anticipation over who from the NHL is selected to represent their country and how well each country will perform.
Of the star players I have listed, only Henrik Lundqvist is over the age of 27. The NHL is getting younger and better a whole lot faster. It typically took prospects two to three years to be ready for the grind of an NHL season. The advances in fitness, nutrition, scouting and preparation have helped the younger players assimilate faster and make the leap quicker.
Can't Let Bettman Win
As simple as that. I will support the sport in spite of the fact that I loathe the little tool box that calls the shots. He's a self-aggrandizing, manipulative little weasel who could absolutely care less about the actual sport of hockey.
I'm as confused as to how he got the job in the first place as I am about how he is still able to maintain his employment. One of the specific purposes of his hiring was to help end labor unrest. The NHL has just started its third lockout in 10 years.
Bettman is most likely the most hated man in hockey today, but we'll still watch the sport in spite of him.