The NHL Owners Are Playing With Fire


via I wouldn't have believed then that I would quit on the team as I became an adult,

The Orioles were eliminated in the playoffs last night, and I don't care. And that fact should greatly concern Ted Leonsis and the rest of the owners in the NHL.

I grew up as a huge fan of the Orioles, Capitals, and Redskins, in that order. Today, I don't even follow the Orioles or Redskins. Because they lost my trust. And the NHL is on that path.

You've probably read a lot of sports fans listing their bona fides as though someone ought to be impressed, and trust me for the 1990s I was an extreme Orioles fan. I became an American at Camden Yards. No, literally. And then watching the Cal Ripken 2131 game live, in person, at the stadium was probably the absolute highlight of my 18-year-long (at the time) life. If you knew me then, you'd have thought I'd be an O's fan for life. And I could list some other details about how big a fan of the Skins I was. Whatever.

The point is, I'm not today. And the reasons both teams lost me are similar, and are probably familiar to those on this board. It was, in both cases, a death of a thousand cuts. And the blame falls squarely on Peter Angelos and Dan Snyder, who sullied the names of once great franchises by ineffectively micromanaging the teams, rendering games unwinnable and unwatchable, and by taking the fans for granted. Two of my strongest memories about teams I used to love are the feeling of shock on the day that Angelos fired Jon Miller (one of the best voices in baseball) for telling it like it is, and the feeling of being cheated -- of being made a chump by Dan Snyder -- when we paid a fortune for the "right" to park at the Caps Centre and walk three miles to FedEx Field (built with public money). Anyone who's lived in this area any amount of time can think of other examples.

As I think about it, those events all contributed, but there was no single day when I decided to quit following. I just kind of faded away. I got busier, and the O's and Skins weren't worth my time. Watching the games just made me mad, and why would I willingly choose an entertainment product that makes me feel bad? So I stopped.

Unlike the Orioles and Redskins, the Capitals are well run. But they have the misfortune of being part of a league that isn't. And there's a real risk of driving me and fans like me away. This lockout is the kind of thing that'll do it.

The main problem is that there's no reason for this lockout. We understood the reasons behind the last lockout -- it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that the financial system was unworkable. But this time, everyone knows the Owners and the Players were both doing very well under the last CBA. The league was having a lot of financial success (often despite itself). Individual teams that weren't successful were being run by disfunctional ownership groups, or meddling owners, or crooks, or the league.

There's no reason for this lockout from the Owners' side -- just like there was no reason for Angelos's and Snyder's erratic decisions (firing coach of the year Davey Johnson, running a team with no real general manager for years, Albert Hanynesworth, etc.). A fan can put up with losing (a team losing games to an opponent or a league losing games in a work stoppage) if there's some reason for it. A plan, a rebuild, a reworking of the system.

But the Owners have given no reason this time. They just want more. A bigger percentage of the pie that was laid out in the last CBA. Because they can. And presumably, they'll want the same next time, when this agreement runs out again.

That seeming certainty that we're just in for more lockouts in future years is why the're at serious risk of losing me. I don't want to put my trust in a league that locks out every few years. My passion is a scarce resource, and I don't have time for jokers who close a perfectly good league without good reasons. I understand why the players are not agreeing -- the Owners want to take something away from them. What I can't understand is why the Owners won't take the concessions the Players are clearly willing and ready to give, and engage with the Players on ideas for expanding the pie that have thus far been ignored, and get this game back on ice.

I hope one day the NHL owners hire a pie-expander as commissioner, instead of a pie-slicer like Gary Bettman. Barring some kind of major change of direction for the league like that, I can feel myself becoming a little warier, a little less passionate, and a little more willing to let other things impinge on my love of hockey than I was before this experience. Those are feelings that are already entrenched, no matter how this stupid thing ends.

It's a hell of a lot easier to let trust slip away than to earn it, and the NHL is losing mine.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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