Over the past 10 days, Winnipeg hockey fans have been following every tiny snippet of NHL news with an obsessive fervour rivalled only by creepers who stalk their former boyfriends and girlfriends on Facebook.
Every Gary Bettman utterance about the NHL's return to Winnipeg has been analyzed and re-analyzed. Every denial by True North Sports & Entertainment and their sad-sack counterparts in Atlanta has been held up against the light of plausibility by ever-hopeful fans.
And every print, broadcast and blog report about any of these utterances has bounced back and forth across a Twitterverse that has started functioning more like a psychotic echo chamber, where the number of times an alleged fact is repeated seems to be more important than the quality of the information itself.
As a kid who grew up watching NHL hockey in Winnipeg, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't drawn to the flame, just like all the other moth-like Jets fans who can not help themselves.
On an emotional level, I want nothing more than to see the NHL return. But on an intellectual level, I'm pretty much disgusted with my own emotions, especially given the way they've been manipulated over the past 10 days.
Since the end of this circus is drawing near, most fans will be able to maintain their sanity. But just in case you are about to lose it, here are a few thoughts about the NHL's return that will hopefully soothe your unsettled soul:
1. It's OK to ignore Sam Katz and Greg Selinger
In a series of increasingly outrageous displays of shameless opportunism over the past 10 days, our ever-pandering political leaders could not help but pretend they have some significant role to play in the NHL's return.
Newsflash: They do not. Not in the bloody least. Neither man has any more influence over the process than Darren Ford, Dancin' Gabe or Epic Puck Bunny.
The only man who matters in this game is a Bettman or a Chipman. Until Gary or Mark says there's a deal, there is no NHL deal, not matter how many times Selinger hints an announcement is in the offing or Katz talks about leading a conga line.
If I were Selinger, I'd worry about finding a way out of the Manitoba Hydro mess and getting his long-in-the-tooth government re-elected. And if I were Katz, I would just simply shut my yap, as the mayor has now made more proclamations about the NHL returning than he has about economic development plans for Winnipeg.
Earth to politicians: Get your priorities straight.
2. It's OK to ignore the national media
OK, so people in Toronto sometimes have trouble understanding what life is like beyond the 401. But if another well-intentioned national media outlet publishes or broadcasts another story about how Winnipeg "deserves" an NHL franchise, I might just have to start getting my national news from Radio Slovakia.
Listen, Torontonians: Winnipeg does not "deserve" an NHL team now any more than we "deserved" to lose one 15 years ago.
Cities don't deserve anything. NHL owners buy or sell hockey teams.
In 1996, Winnipeg lost a hockey team because the current owner could not afford to run one out of Winnipeg Arena. In 2011, Winnipeg will receive one because an owner can afford one at the MTS Centre.
There have always been hockey fans in Winnipeg. That has not changed, so please, spare me your condescending little tales about how well the city has performed over the past 15 years, because it's bloody irrelevant to Mark Chipman's ability to write a cheque for $170 million.
The only thing Winnipeg deserves is to be treated on its own merits, minus all the sentimental nonsense about its rightful place in the hockey world.
3. It's OK to ignore a lot of Winnipeggers, too
Over the past 10 days, a lot of nonsense has been spewed about the importance of the NHL's return to Winnipeg.
Yes, hockey fans here will be happy and I will be among them.
But the reality is, Winnipeg wasn't hurt by the NHL's departure, in cold, hard economic terms. And it will not be saved by the NHL's return, either.
Anyone claiming the NHL will be an economic panacea hasn't paid attention to the inability of sports franchises to stimulate growth elsewhere.
Likewise, anyone claiming the NHL won't siphon away cash from other enterprises ---- the arts, philanthropy and other professional clubs, most notably the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ---- is simply lying to themselves about the amount of disposable income floating around a city of 700,000.
Winnipeg can support the NHL, but when ordinary fans fork over big bucks for tickets, they won't be spending some of that cash in other places.
Much more significantly, the NHL's return won't even improve Winnipeg's self-image.
But that's because our self-esteem has already improved.
As I've written many times over the years, a lot of great things happened to Winnipeg after the Jets left town. Primarily, we got over it.
This city stopped trying to pretend it was one of North America's premier cities and grew comfortable in its medium-sized skin.
After we stopped comparing ourselves to Vancouver or even Calgary, we started embracing our own identity as a quirky, creative and yes, gritty mid-sized city capable of surviving almost anything that comes.
Winnipeg has already redefined itself. We no longer need any external injection of self-esteem.
So welcome back, NHL. We're happy to have you.
Just be aware we do not need you to define ourselves.