Monday, November 12, 2012

A Lockout Top Ten

I don't know about you, but all the negativity surrounding the NHL lockout is really starting to get me down. It's unnatural that there should be no Canadiens hockey in November. The pointless posturing by both the owners and the NHLPA inspires every bad-mood feeling from frustration to outright boiling anger. So, as we roll toward Christmas with no NHL hockey in sight, maybe it's time to take a collective deep breath and tally up the good things about the lockout. For example:

10. Eight minutes of basketball highlights at the beginning of every sportscast. Before the lockout, I confess, I was among the many hockey fans with only a passing interest in NBA basketball. I just didn't see the point of running back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and scoring a basket 75 percent of the time. Now, thanks to the lockout, I am absolutely positive I hate basketball. So, thanks, NHL owners, for clearing up that question for me.

9. Better appreciation for the KHL. One eye opener that's resulted from the lockout is more readily-available access to KHL clips. I'd always thought of the KHL as a league for Russians who were too scared to come play in the NHL, minor pros from North America who couldn't cut it in the NHL, or former NHLers on the downsides of their careers. While that may be true to some degree, there's also some good hockey going on there. I've enjoyed watching some of their games this fall. (Not as much as watching Kladno in the Czech league, where my boy, Tomas Plekanec is enjoying every minutes of his time on a line with Jaromir Jagr, but stilll.) That there is hockey life on other hockey planets is a good lesson to learn.

8. More exposure to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly. In the 8 years since the last lockout, Bettman has become a caricature. We boo him for sport. Daley, we hardly even know. We just recognize him as that vaguely thug-like dude who walks two steps behind Bettman in public, similar to the protocol upheld by Prince Philip and the Queen. It's perhaps unfair to Daley that by the time we register the fact that he's not an extra from The Sopranos, his screen time is up. The lockout serves to remind us that there's more to these men than surface appearances. The more they talk, the better our understanding of inflexibility, mulishness and arrogance.

7. P.K.Subban giving full rein to his goofball side. We haven't seen this much of P.K. since he got called up in the middle of the 2010 playoffs and had overzealous Habs fans thinking he'd be the next Bobby Orr. He became a media darling then, with the Bell Centre crowd chanting his name. Since that time, squabbles with teammates, name-calling from opponents and a production plateau at the beginning of last season have tarnished a bit of his golden glow. He's making up for lost face time during the lockout, though. He's been applying for jobs on the George Stroumboulopoulos Show, doing the weather on CTV, promoting a kid's hockey charity, and reading the news on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. If you're tired of reined-in P.K. during the hockey season, you can enjoy unfettered Subban-mania for the duration of the lockout.

6. More time to dream about how much closer the Habs prospects will be next year, after a whole year of development in the AHL. As it looks more like the lockout will become another lost season at the NHL level, the clock stops for the prospects. Number-three overall pick Alex Galchenyuk can catch up on the time he lost to knee surgery, without the pressure of being thrown into the Habs lineup and expected to perform right away. (You may say that wouldn't have happened, but you have to believe even a decent showing at camp would have bought him a 9-game NHL trial, and when injuries and/or sucking hit the second line during that period, they'd keep him for the year.) The new Bulldog prospects in the AHL may accelerate their development by playing against the higher level of competition afforded by young opponents who should be in the NHL right now. When the lockout eventually ends, all of those guys will be higher up the development ladder than they would have been if the season had started on time.

5. Earlier Christmas shopping. Every year I mean to go shopping in September or October, with every intention of avoiding a mid-December panic. Inevitably, though, hockey interferes. There'll be a game to watch in the evenings, or a blog to write. Online time that should be spent picking the perfect present for the near and dear ends up spent reading some profile of a hockey player. This year, thanks to the lockout, I have almost all my gifts purchased and half my cards written. The holiday season will be stress free and much more enjoyable.

4. Saving money. Last season, I didn't go to Montreal to see a hockey game for the first time in several years. The team was terrible and I decided not to risk spending on a plane ticket, hotel, meals out, transportation and ridiculously-priced hockey tickets. It was a tough choice, but as it turned out, probably a wise one. This year, however, I thought the new faces signed over the summer and the added maturity of the kids, as well as the returns of Andre Markov and Brian Gionta from costly injuries would make a much better Habs team. I was planning a trip to see the team in October. Fortunately, though, the good old lockout came along and, just in the nick of time, spared me a nice chunk of change. If not for the lockout, I would not have been saved from myself and and thanks to it, I am now considerably more flush economically.

3. New hobbies. This fall I have returned to writing things other than a hockey blog. If we lose an entire season, I may finish that novel that's been languishing on the back burner while I cried over the Habs. I also decided to join a yoga class. I never would have done that in the past because it's on Tuesday nights, also known as Mechants Mardi on RDS. So, thanks, lockout, for making me a more relaxed and productive member of society.

2. Perspective. During the last two months I have come to recognize more clearly things that are more important than hockey. Hurricane Sandy and its consequences for people's property and lives is more important than hockey. The Greek economy is more important than hockey. Girls' education in Afghanistan is more important than hockey. So is the Conservative government's attempt to push the comprehensive economic trade agreement with the EU through without proper consultation with the provinces. And the closure of rural schools, forcing kids onto buses for an hour each way, is more important than hockey. Right at this moment, basketball highlights are more important than hockey. We're recognizing this, NHL, and some of us will give our heads a shake and realize hockey really isn't that important when you put it in perspective. Fortunately for the world, and unfortunately for the NHL, we've got lots of time to learn that lesson and many of us won't forget it when you stop fighting over billions.

1. Anger management. Well, if I haven't had a fury-induced stroke over the Bettman Show's insistence that players must give everything and owners nothing during these farcical negotiations, I'll never stroke out. That's a good thing. In learning how to ignore the lies and incalcitrance, we learn how to breathe deeply, lower our blood pressure and keep our patience without medication. This is also good practice for whenever the NHL resumes play and we see closeups of  Zdeno Chara's face or hear Brad Marchand speak.

So, there you are. There are benefits to this lockout that could lead us to happier, more fulfilling lives. We owe a lot to the owners of NHL teams for that. Not quite as much as the owners believe the players owe them, but hey, every little bit counts.