First, an admission. I don’t eat chocolate and junk food until I’m full. Generally speaking, I eat them until I hate myself. I am an as dyed-in-the-wool sweets addict as you’re ever going to find. I do not have a sweet tooth. I have 32 of them. My wife often has to hide sweets and baked goods because if she doesn’t, they’re bound to be gone by the time she gets home from work.
But every Ash Wednesday, I steadfastly give up sweets for the 40-or-so days of Lent that lead up to Easter Sunday. (Technically, Lent ends at sunset on the day before Easter Sunday, at which time you can find me wolfing down a chocolate bar or six.)
This year will be no exception. But another important date falls on Ash Wednesday this year. That’s when the puck drops on the men’s hockey tournament at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the one that would have featured the deepest, most exciting, most compelling group of players in hockey history had the NHL not made one of its worst decisions ever. So that means for the first 12 days of Lent, I will not be without two of the things I most crave in life, chocolate and NHL hockey.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. (ET) on Wednesday morning, I will be imposing a complete boycott of the NHL until 11:59 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Feb. 25, the last day of the men’s Olympic tournament. As such, I will not write one word about the NHL, either in our magazine or on our website. I will not watch one second of one NHL game on television, will not click on nhl.com one single time, will not read about the NHL or even talk about it. I will not comment on it, I will not monitor it or pay any attention to it.
I will instead monitor the Olympic tournament from afar in my pajamas and bunny slippers from the comfort of my couch. I will go out and watch minor hockey. (Anyone out there with a compelling story at any level below the NHL is free to get in touch during the next 12 days.) I will go to junior games and watch them on television and in addition to my beer league game every Thursday night, I’ll probably strap on the blades and play a little outdoor shinny, weather permitting.
Why? Well, first of all, because I’m pissed off. As I write this, I probably should be on a plane to Pyeongchang, and I would have had the NHL been participating in the Games. Instead, a league that clearly loves to portray itself as an outlier among major sports and thinks it knows better than everyone else what is best will continue playing as the eyes of the world turn to lesser lights who will provide compelling stories and, most likely, some compelling hockey. And it’s important to remember that the entertainment value of the game and the skill level of its players have little to do with each other. In fact, you could argue that one of the things that makes the NHL unwatchable occasionally is that the players are too good and too well coached. When almost all the players are on the same level, as they will be in the Olympics, that lack of perfection could lead to some very, very exciting hockey.
We can only hope enough eyes turn away from the NHL for it to take notice. I’m guessing that probably will not be the case. And there’s a reason for that. And that is that the NHL continues to thrive in spite of the people who run it. The NHL is blessed with the most dedicated and loyal fans on the planet. The fact that it managed to shut down for an entire season and came back more popular than ever is a testament to that.
So, feel free to join my 12-day boycott of the NHL. Or not. This is a personal stake in the ground, a protest against a league that has chosen to leverage Olympic participation against its own players, one that complained about the expense associated with going, then still balked when those expenses were going to be paid. It’s a league that is so short-sighted, so vindictive and so petty, and it’s one that out of one side of its mouth talks about growing the game globally and out of the other tries to convince its fans that objective is achieved with the World Cash Grab of Hockey™.
Look, the NHL is free to conduct its business the way it sees fit. It’s the owners’ league and they have the right to opt out of shutting their business down for 17 days to accommodate a tournament where the return can’t be measured in tangible terms. I get that. But hockey consumers have rights of their own. They can vote with their feet, or in this case their TV remotes.
And that’s what I will be doing. I’ll be on hand at the Air Canada Centre tonight for the Maple Leafs game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And I’ll gorge myself on chocolate. But starting Wednesday, I’ll put an end to both. My waistline will thank me for the latter, my conscience for the former.
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