One of our dedicated readers – Mike Rink – sent us the following letter, which we really enjoyed and thought you would too:
Dear NHL Management, and Mr. Gary Bettman
I attended my first hockey game when I was 2 years old (a tilt between expansion partners Buffalo and Vancouver). Although my Dad swears it was a great game, I was asleep in his arms by the end of the 2nd period. Despite that inauspicious beginning, the seeds of rabid fandom were laid there, and over time they have grown and matured to the point where I consider myself an ardent NHL hockey fan. But, over the past 15-odd years, I’ve started to seriously question whether hockey actually cares about having me as a fan, nearly as much as I care about it. From skyrocketing ticket prices, to pay-per-view games, to the exorbitant price of jerseys, every year it becomes more and more expensive to be a fan, and yet I feel like, paradoxically, the more I spend the less the NHL actually wants me.
Over 15 years I’ve seen a concerted effort to pander to “casual” fans (glowing pucks, ridiculous game scheduling, and needless rule changes are just a few examples), while fervent supporters have been allowed to wither and die on the vine. I’ve suffered through this in silence trying to convince myself that the quality of the product on the ice made up for these other slights. And in the end, that’s what is most important – the sanctity of the greatest game on the planet. In other words, the fluff you toss towards casual fans (who will likely never be converted anyway) doesn’t bother me enough to leave as long as you ensure the game is safe-guarded.
What happened between Stephane Auger and Alex Burrows on GM Place’s ice on Jan. 10th was an absolute travesty, and I know hockey fans across Canada are livid that the very spirit of the game could be called into question. The fact that a referee’s personal grudge might’ve affected the outcome of game is absolutely the worst thing that could ever be accused. As fans, we need to know that what we’re watching is real; that two teams are battling each other on a level playing field for supremacy. Even a whiff of impropriety is a grievous, grievous warning sign. Even a hint of bias means all our passion (and dollars) count for exactly squat.
The NHL’s reaction to the allegations is downright insulting to fans. We’ve watched other sport’s governing bodies put their heads in the sand over controversies (notably steroids in baseball and referee gambling in basketball) and it makes me sick to my stomach that NHL brass would so eagerly follow suit. Your halfhearted attempt to resolve the dispute through a couple phone calls is not sufficient – this requires a serious inquiry. And yet you seem to be content to do as little as possible to avoid rocking the boat with your employees, even if it means fans can no longer trust what they see on the ice. I watched that game with my own eyes, and what happened there requires more investigation than you’ve bothered to make; fans are not satisfied, and that should be your primary concern.
Let’s make something clear – the fans are the only reason any of you have a job right now. Players, coaches, NHL staff, everyone relies on our continued passion for the NHL so you can feed your families. By effectively sweeping this under the rug, you’re slapping every fan across the face who has ever helped put bread on your table. Our wallets drive your business, and in my opinion that means you are accountable to us.
My reaction has absolutely nothing to do with being a Canucks fan, and everything to do with being a supporter of NHL hockey. As a die-hard fanatic, I need to know that every team contends on an even keel, and every game is decided by the players, and not officials; Mr. Bettman, you like to speak of parity, but I’m tempted to think you’re just paying lip service based on the NHL’s actions over the past few days.
I would strongly encourage you, Gary Bettman and NHL Management, to reconsider your course of action, and also apologize to every fan across the world who you’ve wronged today. Unfortunately, I think what makes me saddest is that I know this letter will do absolutely nothing – NHL management has proven time and again that they’re much more interested in protecting their interests than fan’s. We need reassurance that we’re watching fair games, and the NHL has not nearly done enough to provide us with that. My only hope is that this letter and others like it which have been written in the last few days will be enough to open some eyes, so we can avoid the same sort of scandal that has tainted baseball and basketball forever.
This whole situation kind of reminds us of Tim Donaghy from the NBA. Did you see his interview on “60 Minutes” in early December? He admits that refs held grudges against certain players and owners, and thus, would make sure those players had off nights by calling fouls weren’t fouls and vice versa… and thus, would help the opposing team win. In one part of the interview, Donaghy turns the tables on the NBA, saying that they intentionally extend playoffs series and favor larger market teams, in order to turn a greater profit. Hrmmm… anyone remember the Detroit vs. Pittsburgh finals series last year? And remember, Gary Bettman is a product of the NBA… think he may learned a few tricks of the trade from David Stern?
Gary Bettman has always stunk of crookedness… and that stink has just gotten much stronger.