Dear NBA fan,

Hello! Sorry about the lockout. You might miss a full season because millionaires are upset they promised other millionaires too many millions, but there's good news—the National Hockey League season starts today! Here are a few helpful tips to help you pretend to be paying attention to professional hockey while you wait for the lockout to end.

Hockey, as you may or may not know, is a very popular sport in some colder, appropriately economically downtrodden parts of North America. The National Hockey League is a collection of approximately 30 teams of the sport's best players. The season begins tonight, with a doubleheader on Versus at 7 p.m. The Philadelphia Flyers will play the Boston Bruins, followed by the PIttsburgh Penguins playing the Vancouver Canucks. When will your NBA season start? You have no idea. So embrace the certainty. It's that or watch the baseball playoffs. Some guidance for following your new, temporary favorite sport.

Handy player analogues:

Where you would say "Dwight Howard," say "Ilya Kovalchuk."
e.g. "Ilya Kovalchuk scores a lot, but he takes up too much of his team's cap to justify not playing better defense."


Where you would say "Kobe Bryant," say "Henrik Zetterberg."
e.g. "I know Henrik Zetterberg's old, but he can still score with the best of 'em."

Where you would say "LeBron James," say "Sidney Crosby."
e.g. "He's the best all-around player in the game, and he's still young, but can Sidney Crosby really come back from that?"

Where you would say "Dirk Nowitzki," say "Zdeno Chara."
e.g. "They said he couldn't win a championship, but Chara, that big, goofy European turned out to have the heart of a winner."


Handy team analogues:

Where you would say "Miami Heat," say "Washington Capitals," and substitute "goalie" for "center."
e.g. "The Washington Capitals have great scorers, but no great goalie. Do you really think they won't come up short in the playoffs?"

Where you would say "Boston Celtics," say "Detroit Red Wings."
e.g. "The Detroit Red Wings are battle-tested, sure, but they're too old to win it again."


Where you would say "Oklahoma City Thunder," say "Tampa Bay Lightning."
e.g. "What great young scorers the Lightning have! They're gonna make another run this year."

Where you would say "New York Knicks," say "New York Rangers."
e.g. "Fucking Dolan!"

Other things you can say to sound engaged:

"Brendan Shanahan is a huge improvement over Colin Campbell as the league's discipline czar."
Why? All hockey fans despise Colin Campbell. It's true. This is a funny internet thing explaining why. Just be sure to pronounce Colin like you would "colon." (I think it's a Canadian thing).


"Guys, Corey Perry might be the best player in the league."
Why? The Anaheim Ducks winner won the Hart Trophy (that's the NHL MVP) last year. It's conceivable that he could be the best player in the league.

"Anze Kopitar finally has enough talent around him for the Kings to thrive."
Why? It's true, at least until it isn't.

What you CANNOT say:

• Do not ask what icing is. It has a stupid name, but it's awfully intuitive. You can ask about offsides, though I'll tell you it's like the same rule in soccer, a sport you probably started watching within the last two years.


• Do not make jokes referring to the Mighty Ducks series of films. They suck, and hockey fans will think you are an idiot if you bring them up. How would you like it if I didn't shut up about Teen Wolf and Hoosiers? I would be out of the writing biz within weeks.

[Ed. note: At least there isn't a team in the NBA named after Teen Wolf.]

• Do not think you are saying anything smart or new by complaining about the presence of franchises in Tampa or Phoenix. What are you, a McKinsey consultant? Just enjoy the games, and worry less about macroeconomics.


Okay, basketball fans, that's all I have. With any luck, you'll watch so much hockey that you'll know every tuft of Brian Engblom's mullet, and you'll have nicknames for all your favorite players. (Here's a hint: Almost all hockey nicknames take the first syllable of a player's last name and add a "y" to it.) If not, there's always big-time regular-season college basketball!