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A Depressing Hockey Horoscope

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

By Mike Toth

Do I believe in horoscopes?


Not really.


But do I check out my Libra game plan whenever I pick up the local newspaper?


You bet.


It's always good for a laugh and sometimes the message in the stars (or Toronto Star) actually makes some sense.


"Negative programming, especially about economic issues, can seem discouraging. Cope by seeking to understand the force of fate and destiny."


Those were the words of wisdom under my sign in the Star's horoscope section on Tuesday, December 1st.


So, what was the deep meaning behind this personal prophecy from the mystical universe?


Well, let's not get too carried away. But when I flipped to the Star's sports section, it did make me stop and think.


"Everything seems to be at a standstill."


That was the headline of an article penned by the Star's talented hockey writer, Kevin McGran. In his piece, McGran outlined some of the "economic issues" involving owners and players that are throwing a hitch into the plans of launching a new NHL season; the ultimate example of "negative programming" and definitely "discouraging" news for hockey fans. (See? Maybe there's something to all this hairbrained horoscope nonsense after all.)


Meanwhile, major kudos to Kevin.


Like most hockey reporters, I'm sure he'd prefer analyzing the Toronto Maple Leafs power play (brutal, by the way, in the Bud's pandemic play-in loss to Columbus) as opposed to detailing the mind-numbing power struggle between billionaire NHL owners and multi-millionaire players. But duty calls, I guess, so in the December 1st edition of the Star, McGran was busy flinging money minutiae such as ""Article 5 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement" and "Paragraph 17 of the Standard Player's Contract".


Ick.


Or should I say "ic"?


Because when it comes to sports, I don't have a lot of time for any of the "ics".


Economics, analytics, politics - basically anything that sounds like it should appear in the business section of a newspaper holds little interest for me. Sports, in my humble opinion, is supposed to provide people with a comforting break from the rigors of real life. When my dad was dying from cancer a few years ago, one of the few things that gave him pleasure was viewing the Toronto Blue Jays on television. We'd watch the games together, and what do you think we talked about?


The average salary of a Major League shortstop, and whether they chose to drive a Ferrari or a Porsche?


The "Ultimate Zone Rating" analytics breakdown of the Jays leaky outfield?


The economic viability of the Jays building a new ball park, and whether there truly is a market for a $20 hot dog?


Forget about it.


Instead, (surprise, surprise) we talked pure and simple baseball.


Should the Jays slap on a "hit and run"?


Fastball or curve in this situation?


Why the heck don't more Big Leaguers learn how to lay down a bunt?


Of course, in the modern "Moneyball" era, lots of number nuts seem more interested in salary caps than the actual athletes who wear the ball caps. With that said, there's no debating that the economics of the world of fun and games have undergone a dramatic change over the years.


Back in the early-90's, I was a TV sportscaster in Calgary. During that period, Al MacInnis, the Calgary Flames hard-shooting d-man, became the first Flame to make a million dollars per season - a mind-blowing contract at the time. I recall appearing on a panel to discuss Al's huge pay day - a conversation that included the late, great Ed Whalen who was the legendary television voice of the Flames.


"Guys," said Ed, "If the time ever comes that the average NHL salary hits one million dollars, I don't think the league will be able to survive."


The rest of us nodded solemnly, still in shock that a hockey player could pull in the kind of coin that only movie stars were making.


Man, were we out to lunch.


Today, most NHL'ers wouldn't even snap on their jockstraps for a measly million a year. That's chump change to wealthy young guns such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Connor McDavid. (Total annual salary of that trio grande? Over thirty-three million bucks. Combined Stanley Cups? Absolutely zero - but that's a bit for another blog.)


With finances at the forefront of today's pro sports scene, fans have been forced to suffer through countless strikes, lockouts and labor wars. Now, who knows if the two sides in the latest NHL dispute will be able to bang out an agreement to play another round of "pandemic puck" sometime this winter.


Oh, and about that pandemic.


COVID-19 has shut down countless small businesses, cost a lot of people their homes, and left others wondering where their next meal is coming from. But you'll excuse NHL players and owners if they've been too busy to notice. After all, they've been busy racking their poor little brains over much more vital issues such as "memorandums of understanding", "pro-rated contracts" and "escrow funds".


Unfortunately, however, it sort of makes sense.


One of the common refrains players and owners often use to explain away their greed is that "sports is a business".


Sadly, maybe they're right.


But old-time sports fans like my dad and I?


We always viewed sports as a great escape from the pain and problems that real life can sometimes toss at you.


And if enterprises such as the NHL continue to get bogged down on the kind of news better suited for the business section, don't be surprised if more and more people skip the sports section altogether and head straight for the horoscopes.


Perhaps then the players and owners, wondering why more fans didn't return in the post-pandemic future, will finally understand the foolishness of messing around with "the force of fate and destiny".

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