Living without the NHL

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

It has only been a week without the NHL and if you're like me, the effects are already obvious: I can name several of my children on the first try.

Turns out I have three.

Who knew the lockout would bring so many advantages? Ten dollar parking at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday nights. Left-over face paint should you need to touch-up the Escort and no need to go into hock for personalized hockey licence plates. The line forms on the right for Lkd-Out-Dmmit.

You can use the dough you set aside for season's tickets for a week's vacation for you and your family. On Mars.

The best thing about the lockout? It has driven NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHLPA counterpart Bob Goodenow into hiding. You have a better chance of seeing J.D. Salinger in public than either one of these two.

These must be great times for both men, ripe, full days spent accepting congratulatory phone calls from friends and admirers impressed beyond all bearing by the inability of these two dough-heads to divide $4 billion. But I digress.

Were it not for the fact that the hockey season is two months too long, that the sport has been expanded beyond all understanding and that the game is, on many nights, virtually unwatchable and addicted to mindless violence, this whole lockout thing could get kind of tough.

It is easy to romanticize. As we like to say here at the Hamilton Home Office, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. An affection for the Maple Leafs, often one of the few touchstones between generations is a worthy, lovely thing.

I can see missing the game. For the life of me, I can't understand missing the NHL.

Had the season gone off as scheduled, we would already be knee-deep in stories detailing the league's chronic lack of scoring. Someone would have crunched the numbers and worked up a projection that Jarome Iginla could win the league scoring title with 11 goals.

That would have parlayed into a couple of week's worth of rule-change stories which make for interesting material if the tax codes and ingredient lists from soup cans aren't available. Here's some salve for the hockey deprived. The very coaches who brought you three goals a game are unshaven and alone in their offices playing NHL 2005. The bad news? They're still getting paid.

In an ordinary season, we'd be well into the annual obstruction penalty campaign. To make the whole thing easier to understand, the NHL circulates a video to illustrate exactly how it plans to hold down hooking and obstruction, at least until the first general manager complains or Christmas, whichever comes first. If you slip the video into the VCR, you will see it's of Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown just as he goes to kick ... again and again and again.

Right about now would have been a good time for the annual Don Cherry politically incorrect gaffe about French guys and goalies or Finns and hermaphrodites.

That would have been good for weeks of speculation about Cherry's future with the Corp and the usual complaints about the high-collared one's right to free speech. Never mind the the genuinely disadvantaged. We should all get worked up over a millionaire's ability to blather unimpeded for six minutes every Saturday night across the national airwaves.

One final thought. Like a power outage that results in a skip in the birthrate nine months later, the lack of Saturday night hockey can provide the opportunity for a new level of intimacy and romance.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


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