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How to Spend Hockey’s Summer Vacation

Mike Spry (@mdspry) Jun. 18, 2014 12:10 PM

[Credit: Hockey News]

Alec Martinez started the summer and I missed it. On Friday night, out of beer and inclined to see the Cup final end in the company of friends, I foolishly believed that I could make it from my apartment to my local during an overtime intermission. I was wrong, and I missed the NHL season's ultimate moment. When the puck fluttered past Henrik Lundqvist and dashed the hopes of legions of Rangers fans, I was stuck in a cab listening to Haitian hip hop and refreshing my TSN app. When I arrived at the pub, still hopeful that I would catch the end of overtime, my buddy Dave asked me if I had seen the goal. And that was it. I had missed it by mere moments. And now I would have to wait the eternity of summer to see another one.

But how do we spend that summer, in the absence of hockey? In its earliest hours, we have the World Cup to satiate our need for climactic sports moments. Like many North Americans, I'm not a big soccer fan, but every four years I find myself intrigued by the "beautiful game". I watched last week's Spain-Netherlands match. It was somewhat thrilling. It was higher scoring than a New Jersey Devils game. But without a team to be invested in, and with a lingering pessimism stemming from the horrific treatment of the Brazilian people by FIFA and their own government, it's tough to see the World Cup as anything other than a peripheral spectacle, and a deeply flawed one at that.

[Credit: CTV News]

I suppose there's baseball. Well, more specifically, there is only baseball. I love the greatest pastime, but for those of us who loved the Expos just as much as the game itself, it's still hard to root, root, root for the home team when your home team now plays in a different country. And there's some ailment of nationalism that infects me with affection for the Blue Jays, but I'm not ready to commit to a team that seems to lack humility as much as they lack accomplishment. Also, you know, I'm a Montrealer. They're a Toronto team. Cheering for the Jays feels like adultery, like Ashley Madison set us up with a pair of seats on the 3rd base line.

And what of the hockey itself? How should it spend its summer vacation? The sport had a great year, especially in the shadow of concussion issues, enforcer suicides, and a lengthy lockout. The season was spectacular, the outdoor games a hit if not a gimmick, the Olympics were a welcome break in the long regular season for both fans and beaten up players, which perfectly set the table for an epic postseason. Hockey built up a lot of goodwill in 2013-14. The last time the sport could claim such a healthy spotlight was 20 years ago, when Mark Messier and the Rangers charged to a Stanley Cup and hockey found itself on Sports Illustrated's cover, under the headline "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not". But the NHL, epically self-destructive as a Bukowski character, took that opportunity to expand the breadth of the sport and killed it with the first of three lockouts of the Gary Bettman era.

[Credit: National Post]

But here, two decades later, we have labour peace and the sport is perhaps at the peak of its international visibility and popularity. So how should Bettman and his owners spend the summer? Perhaps they should learn from the successes of this postseason, and tweak the game accordingly. The NHL playoffs were fast skating, hard hitting hockey highlighted by skill and spectacular goaltending. And there was but one fight, and not even the most ardent supporter of fighting in hockey could argue fisticuffs were missed. I understand the regular season is a long slog through winter, but do we want a sport where unnecessary violence breaks up the monotony? Especially when we've been witness to the majesty of the sport in its absence? I'm not saying take fighting out of the game, but Colton Orr and George Parros are unnecessary elements of the sport.

[Credit: ESPN]

The hockey entity most in need of this summer break is the expansive community of punditry, from the media (both mainstream and not, though the line between the two becomes more and more blurred with each passing season) to the social media inclined fan. On Monday I witnessed an obsessive and rhetorically flawed argument on Twitter over the rumoured re-signing of Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise. Was he signed? Should he be signed? Was the term good for the cap? Who did and did not celebrate his acquisition from the Canucks for Raphael Diaz. French media versus English media versus fan versus blogger, all desperately lacking humility in their arguments. When the Habs officially announced a deal on a two-year contract extension with Weise Tuesday morning (for the exact term and dollar amount reported and endlessly disseminated Monday) the futile and superfluous argument began anew. I mean, over a fourth line winger? Paul DiPietro never received this kind of attention. Neither did Weise's concussion, but that's a story the media will ignore another day.

[Credit: NY Times]

While social media and universal web access has taken the discourse to an inclusive realm, it has created an obsessive and pathologically invested fanbase and a media that stretches itself thin to fulfill the 24-hour new cycle. Take a breath folks. Go outside. Do something extraordinary. Expand your horizons. Go love up on a Bruins fan. Take a day at the beach. Spend a week without checking hockeydb.com or capgeek.com. Leave the sport alone for a few minutes. It'll still be there when you get back.

The season's not quite over yet. This week the NHL's 30 teams will consider buyouts to prepare their caps for next season. On June 22nd the 2014-15 schedule will be released so that we can all plan our November Saturdays accordingly. On the 24th, the NHL Awards ceremony takes place, where scarred players freshly relieved of their playoff beards wonder quietly who George Stroumboulopoulos is. The draft takes place on the weekend of the 27th in Philadelphia, which will ignite the hotstove and fuel dreams of parades and revelry. July 1st, Canada Day, a day we should all be out drinking Labatt 50 in the sun and launching bottle rockets recklessly into the night, finds much of the hockey world inside watching TV and waiting to see which albatross of a contract will be bought out in the summer of 2018. And then nothing until September, beautiful autumn, summer fading into the promise a new season, when all teams in first place, except the Oilers, who will be tied with the Flames for 30th.