So you're a new fan of the NHL? There's lots of room on the bandwagon but there are a few ground rules you must know before you can fully comprehend the "League That Everyone Loves To Hate".
For if you take on this challenge, it's important to remember that, unlike other leagues, the NHL's biggest "fans" are those that scream the loudest that the product is crap, the people running it are crap, the players are crap, the owners are crap and most of all, that it's the most dangerous game in the world and it poses an immediate threat to all those in its immediate vicinity (ie. the taxpaying, hard-working, conservative, Tim Horton's guzzling, hockey elitists that comprise the nation of Canada.)
Here are the basics:
Rule 1: You shall never utter an opinion that shows even mild praise for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. It is of utmost importance to disregard all relevant facts that seem to prove the NHL has grown into a legitimate top-four sports league and a profitable venture with an improved entertainment value and a brand new television contract once thought impossible. Mr. Bettman is to be referred to at all times as that "New York lawyer", which serves to cast him as the classic "outsider" (ie. not Canadian) which easily enables us elitists to sneer at his accomplishments and embellish his faults into a satisfactory bogeyman, convenient for our shallow and boring water-cooler conversations which are exercises in confirming each other's biases about the game we all pretend to be experts at simply because of our birth certificates.
Rule 2: You shall never admit that the game itself is good. There should always be a preference for new rules to either slow or speed up the game, to take away shootouts, to ban hitting and fighting, to make the rinks bigger, to change the size of the zones or to allow goalies to play the puck. This is important because to express satisfaction with the game or to simply enjoy it for what it is should be considered heresy for the modern hockey fan. To do this would immediately put you in violation of Rule 1, which is never to praise Gary Bettman. Also, it would jeopardize the vast majority of hockey blogs dedicated to hating the game and as we all know, bloggers are never wrong and accredited journalists are never right (unless they too despise the game, and in that case they are merely tolerated). It is of vital importance to express continual dissatisfaction with the new rules put in after the lockout, such as the shootout, the delay of game rule, the crackdown on obstruction and the trapezoid, even though all have contributed to a better product for the fans. These rules are to be seen as an insult to the hardcore hockey fan who love tie- games more than life itself and who frown upon such a naked display of skill that the shootout provides. We don't really trust those uppity skilled players and the shootout is a bit too exciting for our tastes. The only solution is to get rid of it. Get rid of it all.
Rule 3: You shall claim to have the best interests of the players at heart when you demand hitting and fighting be severely curtailed or even banished (after all, the poor dumb hockey player can't think for himself or be relied upon to act in his own best interests health-wise), but when any labour stoppage happens, you are to demonize those same players as greedy, claim they are ruining the game with their cushy guaranteed contracts and their sense of self-entitlement. You will pine for the days of the poor dumb hockey player who was willing to work for peanuts to line the pockets of their rich but benevolent owners. When the work stoppage ends, you are to revert back to your stance of protecting the players from themselves and to blame concussions for all of society's ills, including riots in cities that lose Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. Hell, just blame the NHL itself for not having its own police force to personally go in and stop the rioting. There is nothing you cannot blame the NHL for. Got a flat tire? Blame fighting. Dog bit you? Blame Gary Bettman. Can't get laid? Blame the trapezoid.
Rule 4: You are to consider trade rumours the real "hockey news" and you are to ignore the more boring, researched to death articles by reporters with actual access to players and general managers. This is an obvious one and we don't need to expand any further.
Rule 5: See Rule 1.
Rule 6: Never talk about Fight Club. Only talk about what a garbage league the NHL is to everyone you know and then spend all winter ignoring your family so you can watch every second of it that you can, including the fights, the hits and the shootouts. Then pretend you are disgusted by the barbarity of it all.
In short, as a new fan, your main responsibility is to be the NHL's worst enemy. Or perhaps, to use the modern lingo, a "frenemy". It doesn't take much knowledge of the league and its rich history to become an immediate expert on the game. Open a blogspot account and start throwing haymakers at every convenient target. This will make you a hero amongst your friends and give you a real sense of accomplishment as you are now able to dismiss a century of tradition and history with a well-timed sarcastic tweet in 140 characters or less (preferably less).
Congratulations. You are now a hockey expert (never mind what Andy Sutton says – after all he's just a poor dumb hockey player who knows much less about the sport than what you learned by sitting on your couch eating corn chips).