Maybe I'm just getting older, but hockey is no longer the kid's game that it used to be.
I grew up smack dab in the middle of the Young Guns era, where futility was simply accepted as normalcy. Such is what happens when the circumstances conspired the way they did in the late 90's and early oughts. The Canadian dollar was losing value rapidly, the franchise was struggling to keep stars like Joe Nieuwendyk and Theo Fleury, the drafting philosophy became extremely outdated and the scouts outmoded, and as such the on-ice product suffered. As the years went by, people simply stopped wanting to see the Flames lose yet another game on home ice, and in 2000 losing the team seemed like such an inevitability kids around me switched their allegiances to more successful teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs (heh) or Detroit Red Wings.
I attended Day One of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft when it was held in the Saddledome. Two things still stand out for me: one, when the Flames drafted Brent Krahn in the first round, the greater population was actually excited about the selection for the first time in forever. Sure, it may have been for the wrong reasons, both then ("we're keeping it local!") and now (obviously drafting goalies in the first is a bad idea most of the time); but it really did give the tired fanbase something.
The second was a marketing strategy called "Flames Forever", which used images of the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques to illustrate the dire financial straits the Flames were in. Surely, if the Flames did not hit the 13000 season ticket mark they'd be done for; moved to some far-off city, likely in the United States. As we all know, the jingoism and fear-mongering worked and the Flames sold their tickets - keeping them here.
But I was young then, unblemished by the world at large and I was able to enjoy whatever was on the ice because I wanted to grow up to be like the guys out there.
But now I'm older, more cynical and I have no chance of being out there and I see the game for what it is - a fucking game, played by millionaires who are paid by billionaires and - surprise! - people are treating the absence of a simple game, a distraction from our daily, normal lives, as something as big as a death in the family.
I am finding it hard to care about the games themselves being missed. I actually miss writing about the game more than I do the game itself. There's a variety of factors contributing to this: I'm busy with school and my personal life, adult worries like money and insurance are starting to take over my thinking and to an extent I'm starting to legitimately resent those in charge of the team.
The way I see it is like this: either there's a lockout and I'm spared of a year (or shorter) full of shit hockey, stress, anger and wasted time or there isn't and I have to watch 70+ games of players who are old, uncreative and lose a lot while hearing bullshit justifications about the losses. Meanwhile, blowhards will write awful, misleading articles about why the team sucks and attempt to construct narratives that I'll have to hear about for months on end.
Neither of those possibilities are what we would call "good".
These past few years of watching the team make horrific move after horrific move in a vain attempt to stay relevant has weighed on everyone on this fanbase, and people have dealt with it in different ways. Me? It's been beer and laughter (and I guess if you're reading this, it's probably the same for you). Hanging out with my friends and watching the game, though, has become more about the friends than the game.
Like I said, maybe I'm just getting older. Maybe this is a natural progression and in 5 years time I'll be back to the way I was when I first started following the blogs. But right now, it's the overwhelming apathy that scares me the most. I want to be a fan of this team, but in order for me to justify spending any of my time or money - things that are both in short supply - I need to see direction. There has to eventually be some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
Right now? There isn't.