Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Adults In The Room

With the NHL threatening to take the Canadian bubble to the US thanks to both the federal and provincial governments making it harder for Canadian teams to travel from city to city, it might be time to take a step back and really ask some hard questions about the NHL. While I get the idea of wanting teams to travel from city to city to ensure that local TV and sponsorship contracts are fulfilled for teams, it almost seems like Gary Bettman believes there isn't a pandemic still raging across North America. It seems ludicrous that we're hearing the NHL talking about cancelling Canadian home dates for hockey, but maybe the NHL shouldn't be the one to determine how and where hockey can be played.

Of the four worst-hit provinces in Canada, all have NHL teams - Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. British Columbia, home of the Vancouver Canucks, has strict no-inbound-travel mandates to limit the transmission of the virus within its provincial borders, and the Canadian government has made it clear that non-essential travel should be avoided. The NHL, however, believes that the seven NHL teams should be exempt from these rules in order for them to play a modified 56-game schedule for the 2020-21 season in front of arenas featuring zero fans as per local rules on gatherings.

Let me put this very bluntly: screw the NHL.

If we're talking about which one is putting the health and safety of its constituents first in a nationwide health crisis, the Canadian government and the provincial governments who stand their grounds are the adults in the room. The NHL, on the other hand, comes off looking like a money-grubbing bunch of greedy billionaires who need to continue to find ways to maximize contractual profits in an era of a highly-transmittable virus. They'll give their usual "health and safety" rhetoric to appease the masses, but this is nothing more than a decision powered by money.

"The Government of Canada's priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada's measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19," the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement on December 17. "NHL teams and other professional sports teams must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events."

That statement is something an adult would say. It speaks nothing of the money lost by the many local businesses and economies who are forced to play by the very rules from which the NHL is seeking an exemption nor does it lend any support to finding ways to avoid those very rules. Instead, it speaks of the people of those jurisdictions who seek an end to this crisis with the hopes of resuming a normal life at some point. The NHL would usually call these people fans, but I'm not certain all of these people would call themselves fans of the NHL if they were to receive an exemption from the rules keeping them out of jobs or their businesses closed.

Look, you can be unhappy that I seem to be anti-hockey lately. That's your right, and you're welcome to use as much energy as you like on being unhappy with me. I would ask that you consider that I live in one of these NHL cities where the NHL would be trying to operate, and I am currently locked down in my house in a quarantine that has now lasted for over a month. Frankly, I'm tired of not being able to do things like see family or close friends. I'm annoyed that I can't celebrate Christmas or New Year's Eve with people I love. Honestly, if you think you're unhappy with me, put yourself in my boots and try to understand how unhappy I am that people can't follow simple rules like wear a mask, avoid socializing in large gatherings, and stay home unless necessary.

Because those rules can't be followed, sports in my province and in many other provinces have all been shut down. So what gives the NHL any right to come in and demand special treatment for its teams and players just so it can run through a season? Why on earth would any government acquiesce to this request when the citizens of those provinces can't live their lives in a somewhat-normal manner? Or, to be blunt once more, why is the NHL acting like a petulant child while the rest of us are being punished for not following rules?

With the federal government already indicating that they wouldn't be in favour of this, the sign-off will ultimately come from the governments of the five provinces who house NHL teams in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia. While it would ultimately be far more beneficial to run the Canadian division in a bubble, the NHL reportedly isn't in favour of this solution in any sort of way and is pushing for interprovincial travel among the teams.

Based on previous decisions, we know that Alberta's government is virtually spineless when it comes to attracting NHL dollars, so I assume Alberta will sign off on this like they had just robbed a bank and gotten away scott-free. Ontario has pushed both the Blue Jays and the Raptors to American homes, so it's hard to say they'd be willing to go along with this idea, but those teams play in mostly American-based leagues. Quebec seems keen to the idea of whoring itself out to the NHL while its citizens live in a lockdown. Manitoba, being as careless as the government has been in this pandemic, seems poised to make another stupid decision - both medically and with respect to the optics - as Manitobans have been in a lockdown for more than a month. And that leaves British Columbia who has already cancelled all sports for athletes aged 19 and older while also restricting inbound travel to their province, so it seems like BC might be the only adult of the five provinces in trying to keep its citizens safe.

It should be noted that Frank Gunn of The Canadian Press reported two days ago that "the Ontario Hospital Association today asked the Ontario government for a strict four-week lockdown in regions with high rates of COVID-19 positivity that would include Toronto and Ottawa" and that "the mayors of Toronto and Mississauga both said on Wednesday that they want a strict four-week lockdown to begin over the winter holidays to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the GTA." Maybe Ontario will actually do the responsible thing and listen to its constituents and medical professionals as opposed to two NHL teams? One can hope that intelligence wins out here.

In saying all this, if the NHL is deadset on playing this season, do it in the US. I'd rather get this country back in working order so that kids of all ages can go back to playing hockey for the love of the game, not just seven teams of overpaid athletes whose owners need to fulfill contractual obligations in order to make more money on top of the millions and billions of dollars upon which they already have built their kingdoms. The hollowness of the NHL asking the various levels of the Canadian government to allow them to do something which the citizens living in those jurisdictions cannot is proof enough that the NHL has lost sight of what it means to be good community partners.

If I'm looking for adults in the room where the NHL and the Canadian and provincial governments are negotiating, I'm putting all my money on the government to do the responsible thing. Don't make me regret this wager, Canada.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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