Past and present, the NHL is like any other business, it moves and shifts with the market and it does not hate Canada.
Three news articles and a tweet caught my attention today and derailed a piece I was working on about those athletes who transcend mere respect and become heroes, the bones of which I had formed in my head while researching some material on Colleen and Gordie Howe, which had led me to flipping through an old book whose last entry - current when it was printed - chronicled Teemu Selanne's rookie year in Winnipeg. I even ramble when I am researching. Illuminating as it might be, all it helps is my Trivia IQ. Its hell on the writing.
The Dan Ralph piece felt as if it would read more like a Government White Paper on Reduced Retention of Abstract Math in Junior High Adolescents in Urban Areas, so it interested me in theory, but not enough to move it up in the clicking order. I resist anything that has "survey finds" in the title, to be honest.
I also have a hopefully transient bias against the word "shun" since, apparently, if you were not invited to attend an Olympic training camp, you have been shunned. What? Are we in high school? Not being invited is passive. Shunning is passive-aggressive. It implies they decided who not to invite and sent invitations to the names that were left. It's ridiculous. Please stop it.
But I admit, stunning Messier seems like a somewhat difficult thing to do, so that article captured my attention. Stunning trumps shunning. It's all in the title, I tell you.
Anyway, as I was saying, three news articles and a tweet ...
Not quite ready to settle in for a long series of reads (the coffee was still dripping through), I flipped over to Twitter and read through my feed. That's when I saw the tweet.
It was by Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski), the editor over at Yahoo Sports' Puck Daddy, and was his usual mix of accuracy, relevancy, disdain and snark. You cannot not like the guy. Even when you try hard. Smart people can be very annoying but they are also hard to resist.
When the C-word and the H-word each appear three times in the same little clump of tempting fodder, it's like a sign from God.
Not quite a journalistic trifecta, but a nice little triple layer cake with a lot of stuff in between each layer. The Howes and Selanne can wait for another day or so.
Hockey Doesn't Actually Belong to Canada
I feel this is important to say. Although it does read like a statement of the obvious, it does seem that some people believe otherwise. People say "hockey belongs to Canada" all the time. I say it all the time. The turn of phrase is what is known as an idiom - something whose figurative meaning is not the same as its literal meaning. When you say to a beaten opponent "I own your ass", you do not mean that literally, you mean it figuratively. You have used an idiom. Because, let's face it, you can't own someone's ass.
And, likewise, you can't own a sport.
It gets embarrassing when people who don't know they are using an idiom, take the whole thing literally.
And I am a Canadian who loves hockey and loves the history we have with the game. I have been known to write copious amounts of sentimentality infused verbiage on the subject. As I have already confessed, I have used the phrase, "Hockey belongs to Canada". Yes, it's true: My name is Catherine and I use idioms.
It's ironic, or maybe just funny, that the article which got Wyshynski so naturally high on the whine was written by the same fellow, Adam Proteau, who wrote an article in 2008 whose title also contains the C-word and the H-word. That article, Opinion: Hockey doesn't belong to Canada alone, contains the phrase-as-denouement, "The game is not Canada's; never was, never will be."
That's true. And you also can't share ownership. Hockey is not ownable. It might belong to our hearts, but that's a poetic relationship, not a legal one. Maybe the first rule of hockey club should be to never use the words "belong" or "own" in a sentence also containing the word H-word, "hockey", and certainly never in a sentence that also uses the C-word, "Canada". The title of that article makes it sound as if we were generous enough to give some of it away. Which is where the whole thing starts. Because that's sort of what some people seem to believe.
The Proteau article Wyshynski linked in his tweet contains the following words, "... the sense the NHL has some type of anti-Canada bias still bubbles not far from the fore of some fans' minds".
The article is basically an argument intended to prove that the NHL does have an "anti-Canada bias" and it is pissing Canadians off and will soon piss them off more if the NHL does not deal with it. It will "only result in more bad Canadian blood against the league", he writes as he exits stage left. In the body of the article the following phrase appears, "... Southern Ontario is still undeserving of having two teams, while a region like New York City gets to have three ...".
Proteau is essentially saying the NHL is shunning Canada. And he doesn't mean that idiomatically. He means that literally.
And you know how that word makes me cranky. Even when it's used properly, in the literary sense, it can still be used incorrectly.
He does not make a bad argument, he makes some interesting points and it's well enough written. But even couched in the tactical diplomacy of words like "I don't believe that commissioner Gary Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly have any ill will towards Canada", it does sound like a gussied up version of a conspiracy theory along the Bettman fixes games line. I am not sure I would call it a whine myself, but I can certainly see how it could be perceived as one.
I do consider the whole notion of the NHL having an "anti-Canada bias" to be patently ridiculous. People are confusing business decisions with emotional ones. They are confusing intentions with results. They are working backwards from their displeasure or sadness or sense of loss, or whatever it is, and playing pin the tail on the blame-donkey.
Which, in turn, annoys people like Wyshynski up there who, in turn, writes about it, which, in turn, makes us look whiny to more people than is desirable. There's sense in between that murder of commas. So, if we want to shut Wyshynski up about how whiny we are in Canada about this particular issue, then we have to stop annoying him by being whiny about this particular issue. Because, in our second "let's face it" moment of the evening, we can definitely be whiny about it. And you know he's not going to stop rolling his eyes at us by way of his keyboard until we stop.
Shutting Up Wyshynski
We don't want to completely shut him up, of course. I love Wyshynski. I read everything he writes. He makes me think, he makes me laugh and sometimes he makes me want to throw my cat across the room. I don't always agree with him, but I never regret the minutes we spend together, so to speak. Maybe we can just be nice Canadians and work together on this and ... you know ... eradicate the phrase "NHL anti-Canada bias" from the hockey vernacular. Which will lead to less annoyance which will cause him to move onto other more annoying and interesting things and write snarky stuff about that instead. Like a diversion created on an epic, national scale.
It's a deliciously passive-aggressive idea. Very Canadian. We could write a folk song about it later. We could call it "The Day Wyshynski Stopped Picking on Us For Whining about anti-Canada Bias in the NHL" and sing it to the tune of the "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".
We have already established that no one owns hockey, so we're halfway there. The rest is easy, trust me.
We may have invented hockey and we may supply more than 50% of the NHL's players and we may love it more as a society and we may even be better "customers" of it in a relative way. We don't post better viewership figures in hard numbers, but we post better viewership figures in relative numbers. We may feel more attached to the game and have had a tremendous impact on the growth of the NHL, but we don't own it or control it and it owes us nothing except gratitude, which it gives us aplenty by employing our players, broadening the appeal of the game and preserving our shared history.
The NHL is a business. It makes business decisions. It doesn't sit around deciding how best to mess with Canada. The NHL needs Canada if it wants to remain the premier professional hockey league and everyone knows this. We are its largest supplier. Canada needs the NHL if it wants to remain a part of a premier professional hockey league and everyone knows this. They are our biggest customer. The only way we could hurt the NHL would be to start our own league. The only way the NHL could hurt Canada would be to let us. So, we're stuck together. Everyone just needs to accept it.
So, now we've established that the NHL is a business (a for profit entity) and makes business decisions (to earn profit). Almost done. The rest is A-B-C easy.
If they aren't expanding to Canada it is because it does not make business sense. No more and no less. I can think of a pile of cogent arguments as to why Southern Ontario or Quebec don't appeal to the NHL. It has to do with watering fan bases and disrupting the markets of two of the most profitable and powerful franchises in the NHL. It has to do with financial viability and perceived ROI and other risk factors which are informed by history and current market trends. It has to do with television broadcast rights and player income taxes, it has to do with division alignment and parity. Maybe it even has a little to do with not alienating their largely American fan-base. Who can say? It's some or all of those things and some other stuff I am not smart enough to understand or talented enough to communicate.
There are probably a dozen cogent arguments as to why it might be a good idea or why it would work well.
It's not about whether we agree or disagree, or whether it makes sense or not. Or even whether it's a good or bad business decision.
What matters is that we stop thinking about it like it's personal. Like it's emotional. We have to stop feeling shunned. Complain all you want about the result of that business decision making you, or the fans, sad or mad or angry or bitter or resentful. It's okay to be hurt by the result of something. It's okay to be pissy about it. But to turn it into an "anti-Canada bias" is really annoying. And not just to Wyshynski. It might be a decision that turns out to have a result that is not good for Canada or Canadian fans, but that is a world away from being a decision designed to be bad for Canada or Canadian fans.
"Anti-Canada bias" is the equivalent of "they're against us". The phrasing alone reads like a thinly veiled conspiracy meme much like the ones that suggest Bettman fixes games and the referees have a secret cabal to ensure Sidney Crosby gets lots of goals.
Games go the way they go, Crosby gets lots of goals because he's really good and the only anti-Canada bias going on is the one in your heart.
I feel for you (the universal you, whoever you are, that believes in the existence of a bias), I really do. As a Canadian, I get the deep sense of loss over the reality that our country simply doesn't have enough cities and people to have as many teams as the Americans or to provide as many customers to the NHL. I get it, we love the game, it's a big part of our national identity. Most of us feel, in the idiomatic sense, that the game does belong to us. I understand that a reduced representation at the NHL level, in terms of "home teams" has the potential to decrease our grassroots interest in the game and thus our ability to continue to be the primary talent provider to the NHL. I see the slippery slope. I have my toes dug in, too.
But no one is doing it to us. It's just happening. I'm with Wyshynski on this one. You have to find a way to get a little more Zen about it. Or, leaving no cliche unturned, get a better tinfoil hat.