The other day a colleague at work gave me a Christmas gift, and my lockout-fueled immediate reaction was not graciousness, but rather guilt.
The gift in question was a New York Islanders mug, marked with that silver (and practically unremoveable) "Official NHL Merchandise" sticker. I felt sorry that this well-meaning person sent any money the NHL's way this lockout season.
This backwards league has now canceled enough games to assure that it is an NHL-free holiday season. Outside analysts think the brand has been wounded on worse-than-oil-spill levels. So how do you please a diehard fan this holiday season without helping fund the NHL cartel?
I'm not sure you can -- other than, you know, socks and fruitcakes and the like. But I have some ideas that are at least a step removed from the NHL business.
There are tons of hockey books, though Americans usually have to search online or through Canadian book lists to find them. Of course, with that volume comes a wide range of quality. Read up on reviews because some have a nice cover but absurdly amateurish content.
Almost self-servingly, but certainly directed toward the Islanders fan, I can recommend two in particular:
"Cold A Long Time: An Alpine Mystery" by John Leake -- This is the heartbreaking story of what happened to former Islanders draft pick Duncan MacPherson, who disappeared in Austria, where it took his parents 14 years to find out the true story. Not really Islanders content at all, but a great book and interesting (and sad) to fans who remember that time. I wrote more about it here, and that's where you can find a link to buying it.
"Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders 1972-1984" by Greg Prato -- Prato has done oral histories like this in sports and in rock and roll, so he has the formula down and executes it quite well. As I mentioned in the intro to my review/interview with Prato, it's really the definitive history of that period from expansion to the NHL's last dynasty. Good details and good tales for old and new fans.
"Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders" by Alan Hahn -- This one is more focused on that first championship, and through the lens of former beatwriter Hahn. It's a solid read with good interviews, and before Prato's book this was probably the best history of how the dynasty was formed.
"The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever" by Jonathon Gatehouse -- This isn't Islanders-centric at all, and it's not exactly pleasant. But it is a very good, and fair, examination of Bettman's impact on the game. It sets the context for the last three NHL labor disputes (the player strike was before Bettman's tenure, but a major reason for his hiring), and at least gives you ideas about how the moves during the current lockout were planned. Again, somewhat depressing but informative.
"Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 "Rattlesnake" journals of O.W. Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson" by David R. Moore -- Whoops, wrong kind of Islander.
New York Islanders Ten Greatest Games -- This DVD set has been out for several years, and buying it certainly sends some money the NHL's way (unless you buy used, I guess), but it has some classics from across eras, from the dynasty to the Bates penalty shot and even through Ted Nolan (thanks to Al Arbour's return for his 1,500th game behind the bench). There's the John Tonelli comeback game against the Penguins -- without which, there would have been no dynasty -- and Ken Morrow driving a dagger through the Smurfs. Good times.
Some complaints about production and broadcast choice (e.g. a lot of national broadcasts instead of Jiggs and friends), but good stuff overall. And it's hockey, which is harder to come by these days.
There are all kinds of online or PDF downloadable publications these days, usually for the price of what you'd pay in the checkout aisle. This year is an odd one, what with there being no hockey, but here are two interesting one sout there:
The Dobber Hockey Fantasy Goalie Guide ($6.99) may turn out to be a guide for a season that never happens, but the discussion of goalie technique and placement within the depth chart makes for interesting reading even if you have no intention of using it for fantasy leagues. Dobber teamed with goalie observer Justin Goldman, founder of The Goalie Guild, to create this.
Goldman's analysis often tends too much toward the "90% mental" and "confidence" area for my tastes, but in this guide he focuses much more on the technical aspects of each goalie's style. (Not that I don't think goalies are headcases whose mental fortitude can be the difference when training and skills are so even; rather, I just think it's hard for the outside observer to gauge what's mentally going on with any goalie.)
On that note, Goldman's discussion from October with Islanders goaltending coach Steve Valiquettee is fantastic.
McKeen's Draft Guide and other publications -- There are many, many, many draft guides and McKeen's is one of them. That could be the only NHL hockey talk we have this year, but I mention McKeen's only because they have various in-season updates and publications that you can try to determine whether their pre-draft guide (not available until late spring, obviously) is worth your investment.
Well, if it's jerseys you seek but you'd rather not support anyone involved with the current NHL implosion, Custom Throwback Jerseys is a great (albeit pricey) source for jerseys of any era in Islanders history, with customization. So you can do early Billy Smith/Bobby Nystrom era, late Smith/Nystrom/Trottier era, Turgeon and Kasparaitis, Osgood and Simon, etc.
You'd still be sending licensing money the NHL's way, but you'd be doing it while celebrating happier times. (A solid source for this kind of stuff is also Sportsk.com, who have been around delivering solid products since way before there was a dot-com.)
And if you'd like to avoid the NHL's coffers entirely, there's always the aftermarket. Holy cow does eBay have some gems from throughout Islanders history, from Wendel Clark and Bryan Berard wavy era jerseys to hats and banners and collectibles from all over the map.
It's almost as if people are cleaning out their basements in preparation to abandon this league for good.