Sunday has been a weird day that followed 113 other weird days for hockey fans. Very early this morning, Gary Bettman stood in the middle of a media scrum pressed up against his mortal enemy Don Fehr and announced that the framework for a new CBA had been reached. It wasn't all on paper yet. It needed to be ratified by both the NHL Board of Governors and the Players' Association membership. Still, it was all but done.
And collective giddiness reigned in the hockeysphere. Finally, a deal. Whew. And many, many people were excited. Ecstatic, even. Bells rang. Doves were released into the air. Thunderbug jumped out of a cake. PAR-TAY.
It wasn't long, though, before the controversy began. The exhortations to boycott, to punish, to be angry. How can you celebrate the people who stole hockey from you finally giving it back to you? How can you enable this kind of thing? If you were on Twitter or the Internet in general after the initial euphoria wore off, you may have started to feel guilty for being excited, relieved, or happy.
But you know what? It's perfectly fine to be happy. It's perfectly okay to make plans to be in the Tampa Bay Times Forum on opening night. You're neither a sucker nor a sellout if you do. You're an NHL hockey fan and a consumer acting in your own best interest. And that's okay.
What's more, you aren't a bad fan if you're pissed off. Being angry at this whole mess is just as natural and reasonable as being relieved it's over. Be as angry as you need to be for as long as you need to be. Forever, if that's the way it works out. It's okay. Really.
I'd frankly be surprised if the majority of fans don't vacillate between emotions for a while. After all, our loyalties have been tested sorely and split seven ways to Sunday. We've been put through an emotional wringer since July, and it's going to take a long time to put things into perspective.
The thing here is that none of these responses are bad responses. They're just responses. They aren't mutually exclusive either.
I have my own viewpoint on things. To me it's pretty clear that fans didn't start this mess. Fans aren't responsible for the lockout. Nothing the fans did created it. And nothing the fans do now will guarantee the end of labor strife in the NHL. The problem never lay with the fans. Thus, the solution never lay with them either.
To my way of thinking, no one stole anything from me. NHL hockey, as much as it's a huge part of my daily life, is not a right. It's not something I own or something I earned. It's something I watch and talk about. There's nothing about the relationship between me and the NHL that has anything to do with who "deserves" hockey. The league operates as a business and I get to purchase the product if I want to. If I don't want to, I don't have to. I didn't sign a contract to be a fan, and no one pays me to do so. It's a choice I make because I want to.
I find NHL hockey to be a great bargain, considering that I can't actually run a hockey league on my own. But that's me. That's my choice. I don't believe there's anything I or any group of fans can do to force the league or the players to do anything that they weren't already willing to do. Again, that's me. I have reasons for that position. I'm not selling out for the sake of convenience or a false sense normality. I'm making a calculated decision about how to get what I want with the resources I have.
And that's the issue for me. If you don't want to buy the NHL's product, no one is making you do so. Be thoughtful about how you spend your money. Decide what's the best use of your time. Weigh your explicit support of your local franchise against your implicit support of the league. Decide how far you're willing to support certain business practices. That's what you're supposed to do. Because you're a consumer.
Just don't let anyone--not me or anyone else--make you feel bad about the decision you make. Be excited, be angry, be indifferent. Come back or stay away, whichever decision is right for you. Just do it honestly and not because you're afraid of what people will think about you or what kind of fan you'll be otherwise.