Between 1993 and 1995, I was a college student. I studied journalism at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology; some critics of my work over the years have stated I should have studied harder.
Anyhoo, growing up in a single parent family, I realized, young, that if I wanted to go to college I would have to pay for it myself. Some of the sacrifices I made before enrolling included selling my motorcycle and committing to a student loan. Some of the sacrifices I made while in college included living off ramen and water for months at a time and having part-time jobs in addition to full-time classes. It was during this time I swore off the NHL forever; I have never spent a cent on the NHL since.
National Hockey League fans will remember this particular time period as an interesting and tumultuous one. The 1994-95 season was cut in half because of labour conflict; the NHL locked-out the players, in the owners’ opinions, to control the skyrocketing player salaries. On the other hand, players like defenseman Chris Pronger appeared on TSN, wearing Italian tailor-made suits, crying about how the union was just trying to get a fair shake for the players, and that the players weren’t just going to sit back and be exploited by the NHL owners anymore.
At that time, I was already becoming jaded about pro sports, and the NHL in particular. As a teen I was a fan of the Minnesota North Stars (long story, too long for this space). In 1993, the team was moved to Dallas using typical excuses such as a better arena deal. I guess the hockey hotbed of Dallas, Texas deserved an NHL team. Oh well.
Then there was the spiritual gutting of the NHL by commissioner Gary Bettman. I don’t mean the hilariously bad decisions made for American TV (remember the blue streak behind the puck?), I don’t care about any of that. I’m talking about trash-canning the history and tradition of the NHL, of which some fans felt a part of. The North Stars, for example used to be part of the Norris division, usually referred to as the Chuck Norris division on account of the number of Neanderthal-like enforcers employed by member teams. Now the divisions are simply referred to as division a, b, c etc. or some such. The league had personality before Bettman.
The whining by Pronger and NHL players in 1994-95 just sealed the deal for me. The top players in the league at that time, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and others, were making, on average, over $6 million per year. To play a child’s game. And today? Well, if you can believe it, the average NHL salary is $2.4 million, more than the National Football league’s $1.9 million, which explains why NHL games are hideously expensive to attend.
I took into account the quality of game being played too. When I watched NHL hockey in the late 80’s, early 90’s, there didn’t seem to be a shortage of 50 goal scorers. Heck, Brett Hull scored 86 goals in 1990-91, which seems like a dream. Now, a 30 goal scorer is considered special. The quality of the NHL game is horrible; watching the playoffs with a fellow reporter in 2003, even seeing a single goal scored was something to write a memoir about.
Most NHL critics also lay the blame for this on Bettman and the owners who employ him. American expansion has diluted the NHL talent pool so badly few teams have bona fide star players, and some teams have no talented players at all.
To me, the NHL doesn’t even exist and it doesn’t seem I’m missing much at all.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.