Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Living and dying by the stick.

It has been a hard fought, seven game Stanley Cup Final series.  Fans of both teams have watched for what feels like forever to get to this moment.  It stretches back father than a season, usually.  Sure, Chicago fans watched that squad all year last year.  But how many of them had been waiting since '61 - probably before the Kanes or Keiths ever met - just waiting for that run.  The run.

I was thinking about the emotional roller coaster -nay!  Journey - of a season, never causing any less emotion or stress or joy than the year before and the effect it can have on your day to day life.

Such is the power of sports.

Then I kept thinking.  There are Perennials.  Teams that you more or less expect to see in the top 8 of each conference every year.  Detroit.  New Jersey.  Pittsburgh.  Washington.  Chicago.  These are outstanding teams with a great mix of youth and experience and talent and personality and they make it.  They get it.  And fans flock to these teams.  Check out yearly jersey sales.  Ticket sales.  The stands, whenever local economies aren't crashing all over the place.  These are staple and model franchises (ignoring the recent decline of the Devils.  I think it is a bit early to cast them into the dead spout.)

But what is it like on the other end of the spectrum.

I was watching something (I honestly don't remember what it was) on the NHL Network and I saw a short clip of a Panthers fan going crazy with his face panted masterfully and a cape and...  well, you know the type.  And I couldn't help but say out loud...

Really??  They still do that in Florida??

And I don't mean any disrespect by that, but the last time the Panthers had any kind of real success was the first year they were a team and they ran all the way to the Finals, only to run into a juggernaut Avalanche team.

So how do teams like the Panthers keep putting fans in the seats?  And, more so, what is it like to be a honest-to-God, diehard fan of a terrible, terrible team that makes terrible, terrible choices and is terrible, terrible year in and year out?

(Sidenote:  I am not saying that the Panthers are bad.  They got the youth movement thing going..  still..  and they have some good pieces.  David Booth is one of my favorite canadates this year to have a break out season and I really always wanted Horton to break out for them...  kind of like how he is for the Bruins this year.)

Hockey fans are pretty intense.  What kind of toll does it take on your sports soul to roll your eyes every time you general manager calls a name at the draft?  Or makes a "splash" during free agency only to have it backfire in a huge way.  That the guy running your team apparently was the only one who didn't know about this players reputation for being lazy.  How does Steve Yzerman turn Tampa around in three months and do what they have been trying to do for a decade in Columbus?  What kind of blinders are we talking about here?

It seems pretty simple:  There are a lot of rich businessmen running hockey teams that aren't hockey people.  They don't get it.  And that has to be aggravating to fans of those franchises. 

People always complain about places like Phoenix having hockey teams, and they rant about how people don't even show up even when there is a good team on the ice.  But I don't think team placement is really an issue in the league any more.  It's a great game - build the arenas and they will come.

I think the issue is that there aren't enough good hockey minds in the higher-up levels of management to keep these teams decent and well ran for too long.  After all, it wasn't the players that spent the League into the ground before the lockout.

You tell me, in what other profession would Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames still be employed?  These guys are pulling the trigger on trades I wouldn't even make in a video game.

So I suppose fans of the rich-getting-richer teams should be thankful for the brains that run their teams.  And we should all appreciate the Atlanta Thrashers fan who is now buying his third team jersey, still going to the games, and still cheering his guts out and still hoping.


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