… I’m sorry, so sorry
That I was such a fool …
— Brenda Lee
If the NHL offers any further apologies for itself, Gary Bettman will be the next guest on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.
Shove over, Lance Armstrong. Hockey needs some of that sweet Oprah absolution.
Or so it would seem.
In a rather awkward public act of contrition after playing search and destroy with sponsorship and fan goodwill for nearly four months, NHL administrators and players are falling all over themselves to appear humble and apologetic now that the lockout is all but over. Thus, in one shot, the league has stumbled upon an appropriate theme and a theme song for NHL 2013: “I’m Sorry.” Why not have the Brenda Lee recording of that mournful song blaring from the speakers of every arena beginning on Jan. 19, and each night thereafter until the season is over.
I mean, you just can’t say sorry enough, right?
“Sorry” doesn’t cut it in that case, nor should it satisfy those whose livelihoods, financial partnerships and emotional team ties were hurt by a long and needless work stoppage until the CBA resolution this past weekend. Since Sunday’s tentative deal, individual clubs, players, and of course, the little man himself, have been pleading to the point that the words are ever less meaningful.
“I know this won’t erase hard feelings, but I owe you an apology,” Bettman said, in one of the myriad make-up statements of the past week. This was after the NHL Board of Governors unanimously ratified the CBA, which now just needs the players to sign off it before short training camps can begin on Sunday. The commish had to say something but …
It’s the fans’ call at this point. Do they carry through with some sort of boycott? Some have suggested a single day of protest — Jan. 19 as the season kicks off its shrunken, 48-game schedule. The league withheld its services from early October to mid-January. The least fans could do is send a message by staying home for one night.
But this is coming across more like periodic shouts into the wind, rather than any organized, collective action.
And where do fans stand on the blatant attempts to buy back their affections, news of which trickles in day-by-day? Does pride have its price? Free tickets for kids in Dallas, $200 season tickets for the first 200 takers in Tampa Bay. Free eats at the first four Penguins games. I expect the Florida Panthers will offer up tix, beverages and limousine service to the rink, judging by the tradition of discounted hockey in southern Florida.
Every club will eventually offer something, as the “make whole” provision gives way to making good with fans. Talk is cheap, but goods are cheaper, around the NHL these days.
After an informal skate at Scotiabank Place on Thursday, Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza agreed there isn’t much that can be said to make up for the damage. Action speaks louder than words. Haven’t we overdosed on verbiage since September? The quickest path to forgiveness is a drop of the puck. Hockey as distraction. A salve.
“It’s just getting on the ice,” Spezza says. “I think fans have known how we’ve felt through the whole thing. We’re sorry (that word again!) it took this long to get a deal done. If we had control we would have been playing right away.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can say. We’ll just play — hopefully the fans enjoy the condensed schedule. It’s going to be hard on the body, but I think it’s going to be exciting for fans. Every game is going to mean a lot, hopefully the product speaks for itself and that people realize the merit and how excited we are to be back.”
Unlike his lockout brethren at home, Spezza hasn’t had much feedback from fans, even since returning from playing in the Swiss League and representing Canada in the Spengler Cup — his first professional championship victory. Afterward, he spent four days in Toronto visiting family and this week in Ottawa has been “buried in my closet unpacking the whole time.”
On balance, he expects a mixed bag of fan response.
“I think there will be some disappointed fans, and there will be fans glad to have us back” Spezza says. “This was a terrible situation for everyone. You feel for the fans, you feel for the people that couldn’t work in the rinks, you feel for businesses locally — especially in a community like this where a lot is dependant on our game nights.
“I understand that. I know that it’s not going to be an easy road. People are not just going to welcome us back with open arms. But you hope they can see the purity of the game and we can all leave the business side behind for a while. I’m happy it’s a 10-year deal.”
Few in hockey are sorry about that.