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The NHL: The Politics of the Game

Politics are found anywhere there is hierarchy or bureaucracy, and the NHL is certainly no exception. With the onset of the recent lockout, several dissatisfactions were voiced, with regards to the politicization of the game. Concentration of ownership, monopolistic practices, and preferential treatment all ruin the supposed equal rules of the game. When politics meddles with administration, corruption is bound to occur. Sports is one of those things were talent is supposed to supersede the bureaucratic functions, but sadly, the politics of the game are as clear as ever.

One of the primary issues of controversy in the NHL lies in the concentration of ownership. The NHL is starting to look like a real life game of Monopoly, rather than a game based on passion and ability. Monopoly, in its political sense, is defined as the domination of a market by a single individual. The forty space of the board, twenty-eight of which are property, can represent the 30 teams of the NHL, each varying in value. The Monopoly boardwalk is famously known in the game for its prestigious value, similar to the original six teams of the NHL; no one would turn over the chance to seize them. Similarly, just as there are more prestigious Monopoly teams, there are iconic, high profile players who are viewed as the elites of the league.

Owners of the teams are much more than financial pillars; they have an enormous amount of input in the management of the team. They have the authority to send away players who under-perform, for an unspecific duration. The ‘go to jail’ principle of the game of Monopoly is equivalent to a coach or team owner deciding to send a player to the farm team – an inferior league. Just like in Monopoly, competition, ranking, and team standing, in terms of the highest number of points accumulated, the highest amount of victories, or the number of Stanley cups amassed, are all significant measurements of a team’s capacity. Teams who have more power, have also more leverage, and tend to be more respected. Certain teams are powerhouses, never dethroned, never forfeiting power, having a long reign of influence within the game. Some are intimidated by their supremacy; others are discouraged by their superior capabilities.

Likewise, there exists a double standard in terms of  ‘rules of the game’ in the NHL, and a handful of players enjoy a greater power of persuasion and preferential treatment. The high worth players are in fact better protected by the league, who uses their iconic image to its benefit. These are the players who monopolize the scoring sheets, and amass the highest number of points.

In addition, there is an unbalance of power in terms of the geographic distribution of teams. There is a preponderance of American teams, overshadowing the number of Canadian teams. This unbalance is unfair to the Canadian audience, as their teams are outnumbered seven to twenty-three. For a national league, it is not very nationalistic. It does not represent fans across North America, but rather shows a polarization towards the United States.

With this being said, and regardless of how politicized the NHL is, the game is back.  After 113 days of ceaseless bargaining, a collective agreement was made concerning issues such as the management of extra revenue, the recurrence of avoidable injuries, and accountability concerns. The regular season began January 19th, in a home opener against the long rivaled Toronto Maple Leafs. With a fewer number of games on the regular calendar, fans have a lot of catching up to do. Hopefully, 48 games is enough to re-energize the city, and for Montrealers to proudly bleed red, white, and blue.

 – Chloe Giampaolo


(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Screen Door Slams Creative Commons, Flickr)

About Chloe Giampaolo

Student of Political Science at McGill University. Born and raised in Montreal, Chloe has just recently rediscovered her love for her hometown’s architecture, fashion, cafes, restaurants, and culture; but most of all, its riveting politics. Her fascination with words and adoration of quotes has ignited in her a passion for writing, which she hopes to share with her fellow writers. She would like to raise attention to Canadian politics, more specifically that of McGill’s surroundings.

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