This idyllic, outdoor shrine to hockey, a celebration of the game and an advertisement to lure more fans in, is gone, cancelled, out of our collective memories.
This may be collateral damage of the labor negotiations. As the labor clock continues to countdown, things will get cancelled.
But this is not just about the Winter Classic. No, this cancellation, this lockout as a whole, is about something deeper. Greed. Selfishness. Egotism.
Beyond that, it's also about something everyone is familiar with; the neighborhood bar.
Imagine, if you will, that you're attending a hockey game in one of the 30 arenas scattered across the country and Canada. Surely, there is a bar (or five) located nearby. This is not by accident. Fans stop by before the game, and stop by after. People congregate in the bar to watch the game, especially important ones.
Now, games are not solely responsible for paying the rent for these establishments. But they help a lot. They help fuel salaries for workers. And it's not just bars. It's restaurants, clothing, parking, etc. These are secondary businesses that benefit greatly from the NHL (and all leagues).
But while that goes unnoticed by the league bigwigs, something else is lying under the surface: The fans.
Every time you buy a ticket to a game or buy a jersey, you are, indirectly, supporting the team. That means, in a way, our hard-earned money goes to the league and NHLPA. That means that our money is going to the NHL to hire a political strategist to help "fine-tune" their message. That means our money is going towards a labor squabble.
Labor disputes are inevitable; there have been many before and there will be more to come. It's a part of business. Everyone wants their share of the pie.
But not everyone is arguing over a $3 billion pie. Even if the split ends up being 50-50, it still amounts to $1.5 billion per side. They're arguing over money most of us can never even fathom.
While the lawyers work things out, us fans are here on the side, waiting, patiently but growing ever frustrated, for hockey to return. To experience the exhilaration of a game-winning the goal, the agony of losing in overtime. To watch the game we love.
While I can accept that labor disputes are inevitable, what I cannot accept is two labor disputes in less than 10 years. This is not just about dollars and cents anymore. This is about ego.
The NHL is concerned more about the bottom line than the fans who support it, and contribute to that ever-important dollar. The NHLPA is concerned about getting its fair share. Fine, but what, really, is the difference between $1.5 billion and $1 billion among friends?
The NHL is belittling the fans who hold it up. Fans have been treated with disdain for years. No fan truly cares about the revenue split. What we care about is hockey.
So why stay? After all, we've helped give the league record profits and ratings. Attendance is at an all-time high. USA Hockey is on a high note after its silver medal finish in 2010, and Sochi is right around the corner. Why sign up our kids to play hockey?
We do it because we love the sport. We love the subtle code that governs the game, the swivel of a hip as a defenseman corrals a puck on the point, the the way a Zdeno Chara slapshot defies physics, the gymnastic split of Henrik Lundqvist as he kicks out a puck just before it reaches the goal line.
But it's hard to love a sport where we're constantly taken for granted. A sport where ego and selfishness reign over all.
They said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Now, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, they're fiddling away as they hit businesses, employees, hot dog vendors and merchandise hawkers hard. Meanwhile, the fans who love the sport scratch their head wondering why they stay.
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