NHL Brass Discuss Impact on Upcoming Hockey Season of Imminent Self-Destruction of USA

Originally Published: June 30, 2018

A week of ideologically-driven Supreme Court decisions, followed by the retirement of the only centrist on that court, combined with the stunning victory of an avowed socialist over a high-ranking liberal Democrat in a New York primary and the open public hostility demonstrated towards Trump administration officials at a couple of restaurants, all have left the neighbouring republic to the south and its fragile democracy reeling.

And the announcement by President Trump that he would be replacing the retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy with a young solidly right-wing judge has made it clear that the stampede overrunning human rights, the disinterest in the fairness of elections, the assault on women’s rights that will escalate with the even more right-leaning Supreme Court, will not just continue but rather accelerate. So as armed insurrection becomes the only reasonable check on fascist tyranny, the main question for Canadians looking southward in disbelief is of course, how will this impact on the future of the National Hockey League?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t have an immediate answer to that question when asked yesterday (Wednesday), but he clearly recognized the validity of the inquiry. For that reason he called last night for an immediate meeting of the 31 league governors which began this morning. The small cadre of reporters on hand had to pledge not disclose the location of the confab, being allowed to describe it only as “a secure location a safe distance north of the Canadian-American border”.

As the NHL owners began arriving today for the emergency meeting, they looked ragged, dishevelled, like men who hadn’t slept much in the previous few days. They were generally tight-lipped before entering the hastily re-appointed warehouse being used as a board room of sorts. The few comments heard mostly ranged from the pessimistic to the fatalistic. The most optimistic remark, if you can call it that, was from one owner, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said “European soccer ultimately rebounded from the devastation of World War II. That may be the model we’ll have to follow.”

The last owner arrived shortly after 11 AM this morning, and the meeting began immediately thereafter. Before any serious business was discussed, there was concern expressed by several owners about the presence of the press at the meeting, causing Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell to solemnly intone “we’re all on the same side now, lads”, and the issue did not rise again.

As the discussion began in earnest, there was a wide range of opinion among the owners, as one would expect from any similarly diverse group consisting of both extremely wealthy old white men and extremely wealthy younger white men. But all in all, the pressing matter at hand kept the discourse relatively civil.

The issues discussed were as wide-ranging as the opinions each issue evinced. On the issue of security, for example, the New York Rangers advocated that they had special concerns as the high population density around Madison Square Garden meant that the expected looting and rioting would be more intense than it would be elsewhere, and therefore more funds for a private army to dispense with disruptive combatants loyal to either Trump or Resistance forces would be needed.

This line of argument angered several owners, who countered that in staunchly Democratic New York, the Resistance can be expected to achieve a quick and crushing victory over the Trumpists, and once the broken blood-drenched bodies of the vanquished have been disposed of, fans of the blueshirts should be able root for their club’s first Stanley Cup since 1994 in relative safety.

A second group of owners suggested that funds to recruit, train, and arm security personnel should be increased for franchises in so-called “purple” cities, where the red and blue forces (Trump and Resistance, respectively) are roughly equal in number. Columbus Blue Jackets owner John P. McConnell, said that he expected a “WW I, trench warfare kind of thing” in these cities that would in no way result in a quick decisive victory for either side, warfare which would extend through the 2018-19 season, including the playoffs.

One of the owners from one such American city was extremely pessimistic. Speaking during a break in the meeting, and doing so on the condition of anonymity in order not to increase the level of panic currently being experienced in his team’s city, he told ST: “I can see [my city] looking like Leningrad in 1944 by next year at this time. You know, millions dead, packs of wild animals feeding on the human flesh that lies rotting in the streets. And in a scenario like that, how are we supposed to lure any top flight free agents to play here?”

They say it’s an ill wind that blows no one good, and one would think the beneficiaries of the upcoming apocalypse in the ironically named Land of the Free would be the seven Canadian NHL franchises. And while these cities feel safely distant from the imminent American carnage, having the American experiment in democracy collapse and sink into a flaming hellhole of primal fury is not necessarily a boon for any of the north-of-the-49th professional puckchasers.

In a statement prepared beforehand by the Canadian contingent and read at the meeting, this new Group of Seven said: “As Canadians, we cannot feel anything but horror and regret at the inevitable carnage that will result from the unimaginable destruction and slaughter that awaits every corner of that formerly great nation on our southern border. But we recognize that we must not let our emotions influence the serious decisions we must make in the interest of protecting our citizens, and our fans. Just as our government will have to make the terrible decision to turn away many of the desperate, hollow-eyed and emaciated refugees that will storm our border crossings and otherwise overrun our ability to look after them, we Canadian team owners will have to make the cruel decision to turn away the majority of US-based players who will be begging for asylum on a Canadian roster. We simply can’t handle all of them.”

Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman was one who has had to make that “cruel decision” already. He told ST about the experience of breaking the bad news to a player he declined to name: “I told him the bad news, and the guy was pleading, he was almost crying, ‘Please let me come to Winnipeg, don’t make me go back to LA’. It was heartbreaking.”

But a surplus of NHL players fleeing their soon-to-be war torn republic is just one aspect of the problem. Entire teams desperate for a new home in unclaimed territory in the Great White North are another issue entirely.

Regis Labeaume, mayor of Quebec City, announced this morning that 19 applications to re-locate various American NHL teams to his city had been received in the 24 hours after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a joint announcement with NHL officials, the mayor assured those concerned that all of those applications, will be given serious consideration and a decision to relocate one American team will be announced shortly.

Questioned afterwards, the mayor said: “I regret that we are but one small city, and can only do so much. I offer my prayers that these other poor wanderers will be taken in by others who can offer food, shelter and an economically self-sustaining fan base.”

The nineteen Quebec City applicants were not specified, and the same secrecy surrounds another group of five US-based squads, which may or may not be part of the Quebec nineteen, a group which ST has learned has been quietly using back channels and covert meetings to curry favour with a number of Canadian communities in the hopes of finding safe haven. This group, which calls itself the HSA Alliance, an acronym for “Hamilton, Saskatoon, or Wherever”, has been meeting with mayors and premiers across Canada since Wednesday to try and secure a package deal whereby all five teams would be given new homes as part of a single negotiation. According to several reliable sources, this hastily convened group actually was close to success at one point today, but a tentative agreement fell apart at the last moment when a dispute over the distribution of income from stadium concessions torpedoed the proposed move of the Florida Panthers to Orangeville, Ontario, and that caused this house of cards to tumble and left the five teams among the ranks of the homeless.

While many American owners hoped to flee to Canada, some were investigating other options. The respective owners of the perennial rival Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues issued a joint statement Thursday evening stating they “still believe in America despite the impending calamity, and refuse to abandon this sinking ship for another country.” Local fans of the two franchises who hadn’t gone into hiding applauded the owners patriotic resolve, but were disheartened when a later story began to circulate that the two clubs, while sincere in saying they wouldn’t leave the States, as in United, were both quite willing to leave the states, as in Illinois and Missouri, where they had resided for a combined century and a half. In a story broken by The Hockey News, it was learned the two clubs were actually planning a joint move to “the more easily defendable” Alaskan cities of Anchorage and Juneau, which according to a source close the situation, “allow for less opportunity for incendiary violence during the bitterly cold winter, while maintaining the glorious rivalry between these two proud organizations.”

In addition to this North to Alaska movement, there was also interest expressed from within various Scandinavian countries to have certain urban centres serve as “foster cities” for as long as needed. As a result, by the end of today’s meeting, it appeared a consensus was appearing to attempt to relocate as many as 12 franchises, and provide paramilitary and medical support to teams with stadiums in relatively less volatile or at least more easily defended locations. And while it was conceded that some franchises would have to suspend operations for the duration, the owners generally left the meeting feeling more hopeful than when they arrived.

One American owner probably summed up this modest optimism, when he said: “Someday this war’s going to end. And when it does, I firmly believe the NHL will be one of those institutions that will be ready to hit the ground running, establish our brand in the populated areas of the USA that remain habitable, and in doing so we’ll be well-positioned America-wide to finally catch poker and bowling in the TV ratings.”



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