Every Friday, Nashville Predators fans have come to expect a barrage of happy feelings pictures and press from 501 Broadway.
As the NHL's lockout plods on ad infinitum, the Predators' powers-that-be pull out their polishers and furbish the feculence.
Fans are promised free food or oil changes in exchange for donning their ever-dustier collection of golden game-day threads. The organization tweets photos of front-office types, coaches and broadcasters doing good.
Even if there is no hockey, by Asgard's hammer ... there will be photo ops!
It's an effort — one as naked as the day you were born — to remind the city that, yes, there is still a hockey team here, even if they aren't actually playing hockey.
The league announced the pucks won't drop until at least the first of December, the six-week lockout having now canceled all games in October and November. Fans remember with unease the last time this happened, when the 2004 season disappeared as a result of labor strife.
This summer, a similar result seemed laughably unlikely. Player salaries were up, as were league revenues. Record-breaking money flowed in to the teams, resulting in record-breaking contracts. The league inked a new TV deal with NBC Sports, a healthy boost to the bottom line of a sport that has never relied on broadcast rights for big bucks, unlike the other three major pro sports leagues.
With every passing day, though, the prospects of a season — even a drastically shortened one — seem less likely. Most of the time, the two sides can't agree on an agenda for a meeting, so they scrap the negotiations altogether. When they do meet, the post-talk press conferences tell such different tales that one wonders if the players and owners were talking with each other, or just shouting disparate talking points across a big oak table.
After one such meeting, the two sides disagreed on the content of what was actually discussed. It's not just that they can't agree on what to talk about. They disagree on what they actually said.
It's the most boring Marx Brothers movie ever devised.
The league and the players do agree on one thing: It's the fans who are hurting the most. At least that's what they say. The fan response, amplified by social media outlets unavailable the last time we went through this, has mostly been anger and despair.
There have been occasional jaunts into the farcical by fans. An increasingly popular question is whether some kind of rebel league could emerge from the impending NHL implosion. Ever since the NHL expanded into the Sun Belt, this has been a Canadian dream — why bother propping up franchises in Nashville or Florida, when eager fanbases from Flin Flon to Fredericton would happily support bazillion-dollar contracts? And there has been an explosion of fan petitions and Ron Paulian phone-call bombing raids to the league and union offices.
None of this, of course, makes any sense. Because if the NHL and the union were willing to buckle under fan pressure, a deal would have been done long ago.
While the NHL and the union script a frozen version of Horse Feathers, the fans prefer something along the lines of vintage Frank Capra, with high scorers trooping into Bridgestone Arena instead of neighbors crowding George Bailey's embattled home — preferably before it's time to sing "Auld Lang Syne."
Ultimately, though, the league is fine with its fans being angry. Anger means they still care enough to get mad. What they can't risk is anger fading into ennui.
So it is that the Predators, and the league as a whole, need to remind fans hockey still exists — and will, ostensibly, exist again. There may not be hockey for a long, long time, but that Gabriel Bourque shersey will still earn you free burritos. As long as you care enough to wear it.
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