The narrative has been interrupted. That is the problem the National Hockey League has to face now. The book that we all started to read a long while ago was misplaced -- OK, hidden away by a bunch of lawyers and cost accountants, and now we have forgotten the characters and the plot lines involved in the big story, can’t remember the heroes and villains, the building drama that attracted us in the first place.
Who wrote that purloined letter?
Who was wearing that pair of Bruno Magli shoes on the night of the murder?
Who won the Stanley Cup to finish the 2011-2012 season?
The natural progression of events has been knocked out of kilter by the 113 recorded days of the lockout. The idea that we can return to the story, pick up where we left off, simply because the owners and the players' association have finally finished their little dance around a sports-page version of the fiscal cliff is a bit misguided. Listen up boys: We haven’t been paying full attention while everybody has been away.
Gretzky still is retired, right?
The Winnipeg Jets still are in…Winnipeg?
The Hanson brothers still are…fiction?
There have been other things to do, other attractions to see. The last NHL game was almost seven months ago when the Los Angeles Kings -- I looked it up -- finished off the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the Cup. The last regular-season game was more than nine months ago. A President of the United States has been elected, a Miss Universe has been crowned, Tim Tebow has been lost and stranded in a parking lot in New Jersey. Time passes.
We have missed training camp. We have missed at least 32 games of the 82-game regular season. We have missed the All-Star Game, the Winter Classic (which was supposed to draw 105,000 people to the University of Michigan on New Year’s Day) and, most of all, we have missed the daily buzz of who was going to be fired, who was going to be hired, who was going to undergo surgery, who was going to be disciplined for that prolonged residence the other night in the sin bin. We have missed the gossip.
The gossip is the fuel to our interest. Who is the newest phenom, primed and ready to make us rub our eyes in amazement? We don’t know. What were the trades that were made during the off-season? We can’t remember. What trades will be made now? Hard to say. What were the holes on the roster that had to be plugged? There had to be holes. What were they?
When we look back at last season -- when we Google the trophy winners from 2011-2012 -- everything seems like it happened a long, long time ago. Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the Hart Trophy winner, the most valuable player? OK, he led the league in scoring with 109 points. Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers was the Vezina Trophy winner? OK. Jonathan Quick, goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings, was the Conn Smythe winner, MVP of the playoffs? Right. The Vancouver Canucks were the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy for best regular-season record? Yes. Then they went bust in the playoffs. Right.
Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay was the leading goal scorer with 60. Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators was the most valuable defenseman. Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues was the Coach of the Year. Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche was the Rookie of the Year. The Montreal Canadiens finished 15th and last in the Eastern Conference. The Montreal Canadiens! The Columbus Blue Jackets, of course, finished last in the entire league.
The names, the numbers bring pictures. Half pictures. Memories. Questions. Again, they all seem to come from long, long ago. The Montreal Canadiens finished last? Wasn’t there something about the coach? Didn’t someone want a coach who spoke French? Long, long ago. Other pictures. Other memories.
Tim Thomas, the Bruins goaltender. Didn’t he retire? Or did he? Roberto Luongo, the Canucks goalie. Wasn’t he going to be traded after the playoffs? Did it ever happen?
What about Sidney Crosby? Sid the Kid. Did he recover fully from those concussions? Is he still bothered? Don’t know.
Wait, what about the coach of the Rangers? Wasn’t he a big pain in the playoffs? Wouldn’t answer questions? What was his name? Tortorella. John Tortorella. Is he still there?
The NHL would like us to move straight from that last season into this new truncated season that apparently will be started in the next couple of weeks. Pick right up where we left off. Hockey is hockey. Hockey is back. Let us all take out our charge cards and celebrate. It is not that easy.
Hockey has always been the Russian novel of our professional sports interest, populated by wheat farmers from Saskatoon and acrobats from Quebec and European skaters whose names are a jumble of consonants spread across the back of a team sweater. Everyone wears a helmet, often with a visor, making games look at first blush like contests between wind-up robots, aggressive wind-up robots, everyone flailing around the ice surface at high speed. Time and study are needed to notice the subtitles, the differences between the robots, and to remember the confusing names.
Is the red line still red?
Are the blue lines still blue?
We’ll be back, but it may take a while.