As if things weren’t bad enough already between the NHL and the NHLPA, now we’ve been presented with, thanks to Bill Watters of Sportsnet, the potential of seeing replacement players on the ice in NHL rinks if the dispute isn’t resolved.
From replacement refs, to replacement journalists (thanks, @KPDglobe!), to the laughable idea of replacement NHL players, it’s now at the point where I’m ready to ask the all-important question: where’s the replacement earth? The only thing funnier than the thought of NHL owners trotting out has-beens, ship jumpers, and over-the-hill junkers is the notion that some fans are actually receptive to the idea of replacement players. Call it starvation, call it desperation, call it whatever you want. I call it lunacy, and that’s to put it mildly. Put it this way: driving a kit car is not even remotely close to driving the real thing. It doesn’t provide half of the experience of the real thing, even if the exterior shell is identical.
Year-in and year-out we spend long 82 game seasons dissecting and analysing our team, chewing out our respective teams’ GMs for acquiring players who we feel have no place on the team…and now a chunk of the fan base is ready to welcome replacement players with open arms? All for the sake of seeing NHL jerseys on the ice? I’m sorry, just because they’d be wearing an NHL jersey, it wouldn’t make it NHL hockey. Stop fooling yourself.
There are plenty of ways to scratch the hockey itch. From university hockey, to the CHL, to Women’s pro hockey, to the AHL, KHL, and pro Euro leagues, there are plenty of avenues to explore before compromising the integrity of the caliber of the NHL brand. If you live in Montreal, you have access to ALL of those leagues, except the KHL and Euro leagues, which I imagine are available online somewhere. Pretty much any large Canadian city has some good hockey to watch. If you’re in the U.S., there’s the AHL, ECHL, NCAA, and USHS to delve in to. No, it isn’t the NHL, and I get that. But watching hockey that is not NHL hockey is better than watching a gang of fakes masquerading as NHLers. At least there’s an authenticity and honesty about the other calibers. Don’t give me any crap about lower-tier hockey not being the same as heading to the Bell Center (or another NHL rink) to watch the Habs (or any other team), or taking in the game on RDS. Just because the owners open the doors to sub-par talent, doesn’t make it worthy of attention, or money (speaking of money, are you willing to pay NHL prices for non-NHL quality? Because the owners wouldn’t open the doors for charitable prices). Sure, some good players may show up to play. But the NHL’s strength is rooted in the belief that every player on every team is one of the best 700 players in the world. To even consider temporarily tampering with that is nothing short of insanity.
In the end, we’ll likely never see replacement players on the ice. How this became part of the discussion is beyond me, but the fact that some people would willingly gobble it up is worrying, especially in a place like Montreal that considers itself a discerning hockey market.
Do we not recall the 2004-05 lockout? We survived that, didn’t we? Reluctantly and painfully, yes, but we got through it without resorting to half-baked ideas that wouldn’t please anyone in the long run, except for the owners who would have their cake, and eat it, too. The biggest difference now is that in 2012 we have social media to exponentially amplify the cacophony and lead everyone towards the edge of the cliff. Step away from the ledge, take a deep breath and relax. The NHL will eventually return, and in the mean time there is other hockey to acquaint yourself with. You may even like it, without toying with the idea of helping the owners piss on their own product.