But that's not why the NHL is a joke. Or at least that's not when it became obvious to us that it is becoming one. It just reinforced the issue.
The NHL, under Gary Bettman's tenure, has turned into an organization that is destroying our love of the game of hockey.
(Thanks to...well, you can find this picture EVERYWHERE)
The Stanley Cup Finals just showed a spotlight on everything that we're growing to hate about it.
It's becoming a league where thuggery is not only being allowed, but encouraged.
Now, I'm not one of those "ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, get fighting out of the game!" type people. I love a good fight between two willing combatants, when one guy comes to the defense of a teammate. I love me a good body check, and even more so a good hip check.
That, along with the goal-scoring, is what hockey is to me.
It's not cheap shots after the whistle, or even during play.
It's not slashing somebody to the point where two of their fingers are broken (like the slash Alex Edler received in Game 6 of the Finals, making him largely ineffective in Game 7). The organized, post-whistle activities were just sickening to see.
But again, this isn't just about the Finals, and it's not a whine-fest about the Canucks losing. This sort of thing has been going on for a while now.
There's the inconsistent standards of officiating, where what a penalty is doesn't just change from game to game, but from period to period. It's gotten to the point where the players don't even know what a penalty is anymore. Is it any wonder that there's an epidemic of diving going on? When somebody gets cross-checked in the back ten times, with no penalty called, I wouldn't blame somebody for thinking they have to dive to make sure the ref sees the play.
It's not just the penalties, but the supplementary discipline as well. There were two horrible hits in the Stanley Cup Finals. First, Aaron Rome knocked Nathan Horton out of the series with a huge open-ice hit that was late. It was a hockey-play gone wrong (it was definitely late and should have been a penalty for that), but it earned him an unprecedented 4-game suspension. Playoff games are widely considered to be worth double a regular season game, so it would have been 8 games.
The reasoning for this was given, among other things, as the lateness of the hit and the severity of the injury. Yet in Game 6, Mason Raymond gets a compressed vertebrae after being crunched into the boards by an extremely late hit. No penalty on the play, and no suspension.
What the hell?
Personally, I don't think either should have been suspended, because they were hockey plays gone wrong. But if you use that reasoning to suspend Rome, you have to be consistent and suspend the Bruin player too.
Suspensions during the regular season have been just as questionable, mostly on the "way too low" side. Somebody gets run into a stanchion and almost breaks his neck, and there's no suspension for it. Vicious slashes and cross-checks to the head get a game or two at most.
The on-ice product has deteriorated markedly since the NHL lock-out supposedly "fixed" things by calling the rulebook as it is. There would be no more hooking and holding to slow the game down. It would be called no matter when it happened.
Over the years, that standard has slowly disappeared. It's not completely gone, and fast teams can still play well in the regular season. But it's now inconsistent. What's called in the 1st period probably won't be called in the 3rd.
These issues have made it a lot less fun to watch hockey.
I'm a Canucks fan through and through. I bleed blue and green. I will never stop supporting the Canucks.
We have season tickets, but we have seriously considered dropping them because of what a gong show the NHL has become. Every year, we have to make that decision to renew, and every year, we come close to saying "no more."
But we keep coming back. Because these are the Canucks. Would dropping them be cutting off our noses to spite our faces? While the Canucks do have to give a cut of the money to the NHL, we would be hurting the Canucks by abandoning them more than we would be hurting the NHL.
The Canucks players, to a man, talk about the wonderful fanbase in this city, and how well they're treated (despite the intense scrutiny that they receive, and the sometimes unwarranted criticism by fans who get on players way too easily). They talk about taking less money to play here because they love the organization and they love us, the fans who support them. How can you turn your back on that?
Our compromise is to never buy any merchandising, as the NHL gets reams of money off of that. We will not be getting NHL Centre Ice this year (NHL Centre Ice is a package for your digital cable TV package where you can watch almost any hockey game that's on, rather than depending on what your local stations are showing). We will not be spending a cent on any kind of merchandise with the NHL logo on it. It's sad that the Canucks can't sell anything without that logo, as we'd love to give our money to the Canucks. But we just can't do it.
The NHL (and the Canucks, admittedly) made a mint during this Stanley Cup run, with Canucks merchandise flying off of the shelves. I wonder how many people who were buying stuff are bandwagon fans, not even caring about any of these issues.
(Thanks to Hockey-Jerseys.ca)
And I wonder if the true fans who continue to buy the products have thought about how much of that money is going to an organization that is running hockey into the ground.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy anything. That's a personal decision, because the Canucks (or the other teams, if it's their stuff) are getting a big cut of that as well.
But it's not something that we can support. The Canucks will get our ticket money. Their TV broadcasts will get our viewership (not that we're a Nielsen family anyway). They will get the one Diet Coke that we buy at the game every time we go.
But the NHL will not be getting any of our money directly.
And if we ever discover that Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini voted to keep Gary Bettman in place as Commissioner of the NHL, we might abandon the team as well.