We’ve had the Asterisk since caveman times.
The word comes from the greek Asteriskos, which means little star. It’s been used in literature for centuries primarily to denote a footnote or highlight additional information as important. In the 60’s, due to a rounding error in Baseball made by a writer, it became something new.
Something terrible. A moment where clear results and information are given extenuating circumstances. Doubt.
And let me get this out of the way: there is nothing more obnoxious than an asterisk, or even the insinuation of an asterisk in sports. Sometimes it’s deserved, like a player being found to have done something improper or caught cheating in an egregious way. Most of the time however, it’s done in the same way someone might attempt to correct an opinion of a Star Trek DS9 episode. The “Well, Actually...” of a record, a milestone, a decision.
The NHL has a long, arduous, imperfectly seeded, enormously exhausting playoffs that are the very best thing about it. An endurance test that only comes after 82 regular season games and after months of struggle and turmoil, the most impressive trophy in all the world is awarded to it’s beaten, battered, and ultimately victorious last team standing. We should be discussing how Boston compares to Columbus or Carolina or the Islanders or Rangers or the Leafs or whoever it would’ve been, the first step on what is assuredly supposed to be an exciting race to the Cup final. Everything that makes a cup run terrifying and fun should be welling up in all of us.
Instead, we’re not. COVID happened, and punched the stop button on society so hard there’s a non-zero chance it broke the button for good. Everybody that cares to is social distancing, wearing gloves and masks, dealing with the possibility of unemployment, dealing with the uncertainties of a new, crushing reality that things aren’t gonna be as they were back in the first two weeks of March. They may not be back to the way things are back in March of last year. It’s as Zdeno Chara said: “Right now, Hockey is secondary.”
The NHL, for it’s part, has tried to remain optimistic; coming up with all sorts of plans in order to award a cup for this season. Tossing out the idea of bringing the postseason to the University of North Dakota or Manchester, New Hampshire. The most annoying recent report is that the GMs and the league, for whatever reason, are attempting to keep the hope for finishing the regular season before playing whatever iteration of the playoffs the GMs decide on. Gary Bettman has joined the president in a grand alliance of league figureheads to see if they can come back soon enough. Most of them want some form of playoffs, others want it to be more fair. The typical jockeying of the people in power who cannot have hockey decide how much extra revenue they get from tickets sold. The simplest solution, is of course that of the one they all don’t want to make.
Just pull the plug.
Stop attempting to bargain with something that we all know is already tainted, and becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. Let the 2019-20 season go. It’s not worth reviving if it means the stated goal of not causing issues with next season is still on the table. Because we’re already cutting into the part you know is your moneymaker, and the parts that will keep shortening and shortening the window of time you have left to make awarding the cup feel “normal” or balanced in any way: The Playoffs. And the offseason, where the battered bodies of your players heal. And rehabilitate. Fear the Fin went and took a look at what happened to teams just after the World Cup of Hockey in order to demonstrate the effects on a player’s body, and the results aren’t encouraging.
Oh yeah, a lot of players have to actually come back to North America. Boston has a number of NHLers who are more than likely already back in Sweden, the Czech Republic, and other parts of the world. Open the league back up, and find yourself waiting on several dozen flights from across Europe to make it to the US and Canada, assuming they’re even running that is. And then more than likely a whole other training camp or set of exhibition games before doing whatever insane plan the GMs decide on. More time wasted in trying to chase a mad deadline.
Filling these arenas with personnel to keep the lights on, the ice clean, the skates sharpened, the bags of those low hundred numbers of hockey players moved around. Dozens and Dozens of medical personnel that know how to give medication and test for Coronavirus, and the ability to keep the risk of infection of the ‘Rona from spreading getting harder...and harder...and harder to implement. Even in North Dakota.
The bug lives inside you, after all. Only one person needs to get it for this whole mad enterprise to come crashing down.
Further, the idea of any hockey taking place when the sport is at it’s heart a bunch of dirty, sweaty, mostly half-naked dudes occasionally putting on armor and crashing into each other for 60 minutes, with almost 10 confirmed cases in the NHL already (though thankfully most have recovered), namely many from a playoff team...things get complicated dramatically. On the pragmatic sense, it pushes that already deeply pushed back date even farther. On the moral, dumb emotionality sense...it’s awful. And stupid. Awfully stupid.
It taints something that so many of us dream about seeing our favorite athlete raise. It taints this beautiful time of year because we suffer through NBCSN’s dismal coverage and people tuning in just now to get really mad at players we’ve been watching all year and the agony of overtime hockey to get the chance for our team to make a shot at winning the cup. It taints the jubilation of a comeback win, the last second save, the pregame ceremonies, the screaming crowds, the tensions boiling over. It taints all of that. Because a day later several players could just...disappear to the nearest hospital. Because trying to fix something that needed this time way too late is just selling false hope. It’s pointless. Because no matter what, the players know. The fans will squawk about it forever. Even commentators might get in on the action. It will not create a normal playoffs.
It will turn the 2019-20 Stanley Cup into an asterisk.
Something that only the truly lucky could possibly win. Something that those who didn’t have delayed flights or sick players could achieve. Something that teams that caught another woefully unprepared because not all their stars were able to make it due to in-state restrictions on travel. It will turn something exhilarating and fun into a massive cluster and forever stain a potentially greatest moment in a player or franchise’s career. And unlike other times where an asterisk could mostly be just the pedantic whining, there really isn’t much you can say against it. The season got put on hold, and then everything had to be made up, fast. The players would know it, too. Chris Johnson went on that Former PPP guy’s podcast and made it known that the players aren’t wild about this. It’s hard to get back into that zen of playerdom once it’s been snapped. At least during the most recent lockout, players never exactly started, so they could still build up momentum for the playoffs.
Not this time.
The NHL will make it’s proclamations, it can say whether or not it’ll be coming up with all sorts of plans or contingencies, but it’s marketing, as any front office should be doing. It’s not helping, but it’s keeping the flames of hope alive.
But the flames of hope aren’t what we’re worried about right now. We’re worried about the people who could be seriously harmed by this pandemic that has gripped the world. As much as we’d all love the cup being awarded, no cup is worth a hospitalized equipment manager. Or ice crew personnel. Or zamboni driver. Or Coach.
Some things are bigger than sports. So let’s let the one very big thing bigger than sports pass, then make the next pass at winning a cup.
Let 2019 join 1919 in the realm of curiosity and trivia. Let the season be a wash. And start fresh with a new season and a new outlook. Another fresh chance at the cup.
Without an Asterisk.