Memo to hockey fans: Don't get too excited that the coolest game on earth is back. What we're about to watch shouldn't be passed off as hockey.
|As a former hockey broadcaster, I've seen a lot of lackluster performances when teams are forced to play games on consecutive days or, vastly worse, 3 days in a row.|
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Before we talk hockey, isn't it cool that my last two posts are references to the first two Gin Blossoms albums?
No? Well, then that segues nicely into another subject that appears pretty nifty on the surface, but at it's core is pretty dumb.
If you're one of the many hockey fans celebrating the NHL's return, don't get me wrong. I wish I shared your enthusiasm.
Maybe I've finally become a crusty, jaded sports writer, too weathered to truly enjoy the thrill of sports.
More likely, though, I know of what I speak when I say the resuscitated season is going to be the most injury-addled, lackluster, shoehorned campaign since ... well ... the craptacular 1994-95 campaign, also shortened by a Gary Bettman-enabled work stoppage.
Don't remember that? Well, if you paid any attention to the 2011-12 NBA season, you know what we have in store: injuries galore, teams embarrassingly rusty until about one-third of the regular season is in the books and a schedule so brutally condensed that the energy and effort will often be equally brutal.
You know what? That comparison doesn't do it justice. Sure, basketball is physical. But hockey makes it look as violent as a cricket friendly.
I worked as a hockey broadcaster in Muskegon, Mich. It was a juniors league, meaning players ages 16-21, vying for college scholarships, their sights ultimately set on the NHL. The bulk of the games were played on Fridays and Saturday. Sometimes the USHL was just cruel and unusual enough to make teams play Sunday, too.
Those were the worst games I've ever seen. No jump. No hustle. Plain and simply, no gas. And that was with junior players and their allegedly boundless energy.
Now, imagine a league in which many players have reputations for taking off shifts (see: Ville Leino pre-2010). When your favorite team plays back-to-back nights or - God help us - three in a row (and it's going to happen), get ready to feign joy when a relative gifts you tickets for that get-away game.
"I got a great deal on StubHub," Aunt Carol will say.
Be ready to say thank you, before seeing if you can't get one-third of face value for said tickets.
Guys are going to get hurt. A lot. The human body isn't engineered to withstand the sort of abuse this schedule will levy. I spent a lot of time discussing this with folks on Twitter on Sunday. As I hurled fire and brimstone from my soapbox, former Sterling boys hoops coach Ryan Brown shared the opinion of ESPN's Mike Greenberg:
"ESPNGreeny: Happy for the hockey fans. And, as with NBA last year, a shorter regular season is often better, not worse."
I often agree with Greeny, but his statement couldn't be further from the mark. The NBA was awful a season ago. It still stinks. Even with a standard schedule, my Bucks (yes, I'm a glutton for punishment), one of the youngest teams in the league, are incapable of winning the second game in as many nights. They're 1-6 in such scenarios. 15-10, otherwise.
Back to pucks, hockey - like football - saw a meteoric rise in concussions last season. A better product, Greeny? How in the world can more frequent violent blows to the head be a good thing. It can't.
Wait. In one sense it can.
This brings us to a Catch 22. The good news: With head injuries being so en vogue, the heightened return-to-action protocol means this is as good a time as any for a condensed schedule. Players will be more closely monitored than ever before. But guess what that means for you as a fan. Yep. The days of players playing all 80 ... er ... 48 games are over. Teams will be tapping their AHL affiliates like a wide-eyed pledge at his first kegger.
So the watering-down has a trickle-down effect. Those who were enjoying talent-rich farm teams best get used to watching high-end ECHL talent in just a few weeks.
I see you looking at your watch. I'm just about done here. There is a HUGE silver lining. The concession workers, ushers, Zamboni drivers and lots of other folks who've been stuffed in a proverbial penalty box by greed these past few months are about to feel respite. Add to that hotels, restaurants and myriad other cogs in local economies.
So there's a happy ending for some. The NHL has finally shown them some love. Or so it says. And it's going to insist it's burnt the midnight oil to get this deal done for the fans, too. Don't let them insult your intelligence. The suits, players, all parties involved discarded your interest like yesterday's smart phone, just when it had spent 7 years lulling us into a false sense of security.
Of course, how you spend your time and entertainment dollars is your perogative. It's your choice if you want to let them insult your intelligence. I wish I could.
- Follow SVM assistant sports editor Christopher Heimerman on Twitter at @CHeimerman_SVM. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org