Some NHL’ers, like our always-entertaining friend Ilya Bryzgalov of the Flyers, are claiming (if I understood some recent comments correctly) that a lot of players will stay in Russia and play in the KHL once the NHL lockout ends. I don’t know if that is being said as an unveiled threat or what, exactly, but I’m one fan (and I acknowledge I may be alone in this) who could not possibly care less if NHL’ers don’t want to come back to the league that made them famous after the lockout ends—if it ever ends.
Why do I say this?
Well, as much as I loathe the owners and their all-over-the map, chase-the-bouncing-ball method of negotiating (and general un-trustworhiness), I find the players’ constant chirping openly at Bettman (as if he’s doing anything other than telling it like the owners want it told) just a little irritating—and immature.
As I said here a while back, if players want to complain publicly, have the balls to do it to their own owner—that’s who their beef is with. And most people who make millions a year ought to be very careful complaining about their lot in life- especially to the person who signs their cheques.
I commented here a week or more ago about Leaf forward Joffrey Lupul’s comments in an article he “wrote” about the lockout. It all tried to sound so super-fan friendly, but who’s kidding who? The players are acting like their best toy (among dozens) has been taken away. Half of them are running off to play somewhere else instead of, as Bobby Ryan of the Ducks suggested last week, staying home to fight the good fight for the NHLPA. (So much for union solidarity and unity, eh?) Like we should believe the players—who get everything for free—care about us, the fans who pay through the nose so the players can make millions and get all those free perks, too. C’mon.
But set that aside for the moment. This idea that the KHL may usurp the NHL someday is, for me at least, not to be believed. I just can’t see it. Not even temporarily, when there is no NHL hockey. The players would like to peddle that notion, but, ah…it won’t ever happen.
I say this for a host of reasons, but let’s briefly cover off a few:
- The “excitement” will wear off in no time. Forget that because of the time difference the games are played at "off" times for North American fans. The KHL is simply no substitute for old-time NHL hockey. It just isn't.
- What’s the name of the KHL championship Trophy? Whatever it is, I’m sure it means something to fans in Russia, and that’s great. But it’s not the Stanley Cup. Hockey fans everywhere know what the Stanley Cup means. Maybe if, in 50 years, the best players in the world all continue to play in the KHL, it will matter. But I will be long gone by then…
- There is no way most NHL players—given the choice—would ever choose to play in Russia. The facilities that players have available to them in the NHL are amazing, full stop. These guys are spoiled. They would never, given an option, choose a league in Europe, and certainly not the KHL, as good as the hockey might be.
- The counselling and support systems available to NHL players are so much better than anything offered anywhere else in the hockey-playing world.
- The rivalries in the NHL are un-matched. How can we compare anything in the KHL with the Habs and Leafs, as just one example?
- Do we really believe players would get anywhere (and I mean anywhere) near the same kick they do out of playing in front of the great hockey fans that have been following the NHL for years in most (not all, I recognize) NHL markets? Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Minnesota. Those are all outstanding hockey towns, with knowledgeable fan bases. I’m sure fans in the various KHL markets know their stuff. But the history of our sport in the markets I mentioned above in undeniable.
- Think of all those Canadian kids who dream of playing on Hockey Night in Canada against (or even better, for) the Maple Leafs. In the old days it was the thrill of playing at Maple Leaf Gardens. Now, it's the Air Canada Centre. Or playing at the Forum (now Bell Centre) in Montreal. Do we really believe those players are just as excited at the prospect of playing in Vladivostok or wherever?
- In a fit of pique, or in desperation to earn even more (while still getting their lockout pay) money, North American players will go to Europe, sure. But the players who have spoken honestly about the experience over the years admit playing over there is a far cry from the first-class treatment they get in every way imaginable on the NHL. The KHL is a last resort for most.
- If the NHL was on a furlough for any length of time, how much would these KHL owners be willing to pay North American players if they no longer had to "compete" for those players with wealthy and big-spending NHL owners?
- What hockey player (not born in Russia) dreams all their life of playing professionally a gazillion miles from friends and family in the KHL, and wants to spend an entire career playing in Russia?
So sure, a bunch of North American guys, including “stars”, are playing in the KHL and in various ports across Europe during the lockout. And if you enjoy following the hockey in Europe, I get it. Hockey fans are all different. We all love hockey for our own reasons. But I do not believe, not for a second, that this is something the players would choose to do under any other circumstance. (And I'm still not happy with them taking away the jobs of players over in Europe who really need the work...)
As for me, as a hockey “fan”, I won’t be paying any attention to the KHL (or to European hockey) just because NHL'ers are playing there. I don’t say that with any disrespect. I know that many European teams have great followings. But I just don’t care. So what if Cody Franson or some other Maple Leaf goes over there and plays well? What does it matter to the Leafs? I care about the NHL—and the Maple Leafs. It’s been that way for me for more than 50 years now. I care about the Leafs as a franchise and those who wear the crest proudly. For all the flaws of the organization past and present, I respect that Leaf logo, but much more importantly I love the history of this great franchise and its heritage, and the legacy that earlier generations of players have left behind. For me, what matters is that combination of the legacy of the Leafs combined with the history that the National Hockey League represents. Unless those two elements are together, it just doesn't matter to me. (I'm not talking about junior hockey, which I followed closely and loved for many years when I was younger...)
As I posted here weeks ago, I would not pay attention for one second if NHL players ever tried to start a league of their own. (They won’t, believe me. They’d have to pay out salaries, take risks and not just take in the cash for themselves. I doubt they'd like paying middle of the road teammates 3 million a year…) My interest lies with the Leafs and them playing in the best league in the world, which has been and always will be the NHL.
Just like the Leafs, for all its many flaws and the greed and stupidity of so many of its owners, the NHL has history behind it, and the one trophy that matters—the Stanley Cup.
That all said, I'm guessing I'm in a minority on this one.
That all said, I'm guessing I'm in a minority on this one.