Monthly Archives: May 2011

Winning in Winnipeg again?

I could write for NHL.com with puns like that!

After much talk and speculation, it looks like the Atlanta Thrashers, who have struggled to put butts in the seats, will not exist for the 2011-12 NHL season.

According to CBC, an official announcement for the moving of the Thrashers to Winnipeg is imminent and could take place as early as tomorrow.

Teams get relocated on occasion, and it’s no surprise that the Thrashers, who reportedly lost $130 million in just six years, were chosen amongst the struggling franchises as the one to move.

But this case is different. If the Thrashers are indeed relocated, it will be the second time in 31 years in which an NHL team based in Atlanta was relocated to Canada; the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1980, where they became, and currently are today, the Calgary Flames.

Of course, Winnipeg had a team back in the day; a team that moved to the NHL in 1979 (played in the World Hockey Association from 1972-79)  and was moved, due to financial struggles, to Phoenix in 1996 where they became the Phoenix Coyotes (despite team success, also struggling to get enough fans to games).

Over the past few years, several markets have lobbied for one of the struggling teams (Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders, and Thrashers) to move to their location, most notably, Quebec and Winnipeg.

In their 12-NHL season existence, the Thrashers succeeded in making the playoffs just once (2006-07), where, unfortunately for the franchise, they were swept by the New York Rangers (who, coincidentally, broke a nine-season drought of winning a playoff series); they only had one winning season — even when factoring out overtime losses as losses — and only won the typically-weak Southeast Division once (both occurred during the 06-07 season). While other franchises may experience similar periods of poor records, the Thrashers were unable to obtain enough revenue to keep the financial gain at a positive, or, in the case, financial loss at a minimum.

Some will say, “Good riddance!” to the Thrashers and their many years of failure; “It’s about time” some may say. It’s true: the Thrashers have been a non-factor for most of their existence, and the only real attention they got was because of the doings and highlights of star forward Ilya Kovalchuck (now with the New Jersey Devils) or for how terrible they were. Still, that brings no solace to the Atlanta fans (yes, there are few) who lost their team after having only 12 years to cheer for them. But maybe the NHL is doing them a favor by taking away a failing team (assuming the team does move to Winnipeg). You have to feel bad for the fans that put their heart and soul into the team (yes, they have real fans just like you and me), only to have it crushed year after year, culminating to the team’s disperse from the state of Georgia.

So, is Winnipeg worthy of a team? Will they be able to financially support the franchise for more than 13 years? Will they be able to have a winning season more frequently than once every 12 seasons? Can they actually make a playoff run? As a whole, will the team be run better than it was in Atlanta? Will the team actually have a solid fanbase that can average a showing of more than 12,000 fans per home game? Will the city welcome a new team that, mostly likely as it stands, will struggle to make the playoffs next season? At least one fan is showing his support. If the team does move back, will they retain the Thrashers name tag and become the Winnipeg Thrashers (has a decent ring to it)? Will they bring back the Winnipeg Jets? Or will they be donned with an entirely new tag? In what division will the team play; will they remain a part of the Southeast Division and, in turn, be handed a rough travel schedule, or will the divisions have to be reworked? So many variables, and you have to hope that the NHL and city of Winnipeg know what they’re doing, and that the franchise is successful (again, assuming the move actually takes place).

One thing is for certain, though: we won’t have to witness anymore embarrassing attempts from the organization to get fans to come to games, like they did in Dec. 2010 when they pulled an elaborate publicity stunt that centered on the team’s mascot, Thrash, and his escapades down I-85 in a Zamboni and his inevitable arrest. If an organization has to try that hard just to get fans to show up to the greatest game on the planet, I think we can all agree that the city, as a whole, isn’t worthy of an NHL franchise.  Sorry, Thrashers die-hards.

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Make the call

Zero.

The amount of goals that Tampa Bay scored in Game 7 of the ECF. More significantly, the number of penalties called in the entire game.

I don’t think anyone could deny the excitement factor of that game: there were big hits, good saves, good chances, great defensive plays, lots of sacrificing the body, and one player showing us why hockey players are total badasses and why we love the game. But the final was 1-0; only one goal was scored all game. Yet it was an exciting match. In what sport can you have 1 score and have it be one of the most exciting games of the playoffs?

A 2-0, 3-0, or 7-0 football game? The game needs offense and scoring. Soccer? 1-0 is pretty much the final of every game that doesn’t result in a tie. But more importantly, it’s soccer. Baseball? I suppose you could have a great pitchers duel that ends 1-0, but the sport lacks action as it is, I can’t see a nearly-scoreless game having a lot of excitement factor. Lacrosse? Again, the game needs scoring. Basketball? Forget about it.

The great thing about hockey is that it really doesn’t matter what the final score is, you can have a very exciting game as long as it’s played right (I’m looking at you, Jacques Lemaire and the ’95-’01 New Jersey Devils). If the game has flow, both with the style of play and amount of stoppages, the actions keeps you in your seat. But what’s a great way to ruin flow?

Penalties. And not the fighting majors or matching roughing minors, it’s the little hooks, holds and trips that have been made so popular since the lockout. On one side, it was a good idea by the league to call the infractions that slow a player up; why should a defender be rewarded for bending the rules to slow up their check instead of doing it with skill? But on the other side, do all the little taps need to be called? Both the whistles and nature of the powerplay slow the game down.

It’s gotten to the point where when we see a game with very few or no penalties called in a game, we, typically, automatically assume that the refs did a good job, because they “let the boys play” or didn’t screw a team over with a bad call. When lots of calls are made, we usually assume the refs did a poor job and can usually pinpoint one call that “cost a team the game” or altered the momentum enough to change the game. “Just let them play!” we will shout at the TV after our local boys get “hosed” by a questionable hooking penalty where, even in the replay, is hard to tell if the stick actually touched a player.

Not a single call was made in tonight’s game, and it seems like that’s enough for everyone to leave the refs alone; they didn’t make that call that all the critics and fans are going to question and think determined the outcome of the game. They’re off the hook, a non-factor. But can’t it be argued that the lack of calls can be just as influential as determining the outcome of a game? It’s easy to analyze what penalties the refs called; there are replays, the announcers will comment on the call and give you their take, and just the fact that play was stopped is enough for the average fan to take a minute and analyze the call. But how often does that happen on a missed call? We don’t see all the potential calls that never were and have the opportunity to analyze them. Missed calls just don’t seem to have the same relevance as questionable calls.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that there should have been some calls in tonight’s game (the only thing I recall that looked like should have been called was interference by Hedman on Seguin). I will say that the absence of calls benefitted the Bruins much more than it did the Lightning. The Bruins powerplay this playoffs has been borderline embarrassing: an atrocious 5/61 (8.2%, plus a shortie against). Meanwhile, the Lightning have gone an impressive 17/67 (25.4%) and has been a weapon all season; in fact, they scored three PPGs in the nail-biting Game 6. In addition, the Bruins penalty kill has struggled a bit (79.4%), while the Lightning have been lockdown at 92.3% (granted, some of those opportunities came against the Bruins’ troubled PP). Special teams edge? Lightning, and it’s not even close.

Would a few penalty calls have altered the balance of the game? Stats would say “yes.” Power plays for either team could have altered the momentum, most likely in favor of the Lightning. But, as hockey fans, do we want to see hockey slowed down by penalty calls? Do we want players to play less than 100% in fear of having a weak call go against them?

So, when it comes to playoff hockey, let me ask you…do you let the boys play, or do you call ’em like you see ’em?

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What would a good fan do?

Stupid people have a tendency to make menial decisions look like terrible ideas; they take an idea or object and turn it into something completely different than what it was originally intended for. Those things that stupid people do make us ask ourselves, “What could I have done differently to prevent this ridiculous action from have taken place?” And I’m not talking about lack-of-book-smarts-stupid people; I’m talking about douchebags who ruin everything for those who choose to be respectful.

That’s exactly what happened in last night’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. No, I’m not talking about Ryan Malone’s head-scratching decision to trip up Patrice Bergeron, who was way behind the play, for no reason midway through the first after Milan Lucic tied the game at 1. I’m not talking about the Bruins powerplay (sorry Bruins fans, but it’s terrible). I’m not talking about a few of the Bruins players who decided to goon it up at the end of the game after they failed to tie it. I’m not even talking about what any of the players, refs, coaches, training staff memebers, announcers, mascots, or anybody employed by the Tampa Bay organization (although they themself had much to do with it) or Boston organization did that night. I’m talking about what a few of the Lightning fans did, whos’ single action makes all Lightning fans by association look like schmucks. The douchey fans that make all hockey fans look like hoolagins. The classless fans that make me question why I put so much stock into being a hockey fan, or even a sports fan for that matter, if it might put me in the same category.

For those of you that haven’t heard, Nathan Horton of the Bruins grabbed a water bottle from a bench, squirted it at a fan who was leaning a little too far over the bleachers and then threw it at him (scroll to around the 1:30 mark). That action within itself looks very mischiveous and irresponsible. But let’s look at this escapade further: what would cause one to lose their self-control and attack a fan who did not directly play a role into a team’s loss, a loss that could have eliminated a team from contention and moved one’s team to the next round?

Let’s take that one step further: what could a fan, or a fanbase, do to agitate a player so intensely that he physically engaged the crowd? The blame starts with the Tampa Bay organization, who thought it would be a good idea to hand out free clappers (I don’t know what the hell you would even call them) to all fans in attendance. First of all (unrelated to the issue at hand), what the eff are those things? From what I’ve gathered, the giveaways were noise-makers that simulated some kind of clapping noise. Does the Lightning front office assume the common Lightning fan does not know, or is unwilling to, give applause to their team? Just a terrible thing to hand out, and I would be offended if someone gave me this monstrosity at the front gates and told me, “Hey guy, when you like something you see, wave this thing around like a madman! Show your team support by engaging in this crazy new technique called ‘clapping’! It’s the new craze in the NHL!” Next time you give something out, Tampa Bay Lightning organization, make it…(I have no words) not terrible.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Most fan giveaways are something simple, like a towel, poster, scorecard, hat, shirt, thundersticks (another stupid giveaway) or program: all light objects that one would have a difficult time inflicting harm upon another person. But Tampa decides to be different and hand out solid, aerodynamic clapper things that can be thrown with decent accuracy and can actually have an impact on the target. Of course, the fact that the object can be thrown easily and inflict moderate damage should not need to be taken into consideration when giving something away to fans. Then again, these are sports fans — specifically, hockey fans — that were talking about, so maybe these factors should be considered?

You see where I’m going with this. A few moronic fans thought it would be clever to throw this stupid clap-clap crap at the Boston Bruins players as they were leaving the ice after an emotional loss that really heated up at the end of the game (see: playoff hockey). Horton would have none of it. Now, I don’t know if the fan that Horton went after actually threw his clapper at the Bruins, nor do I know if Horton actually got hit with one of those things or went after the fan solely because of the incoming objects; what I do know is that the Tampa Bay Lightning fans (not all of them, I know it was a small minority) were way out of line in throwing their free junk at the players, let alone any stranger at all. That being said, Horton is not entirely justified in going after the fan (who was really asking for it by leaning so far over to taunt the Bruins while the adrenaline was still pumping, which also raises questions about the competency of Lightning security) and engaging him physically. Honestly, I may have done something similar; I would have at least considered it, that’s for sure, and I’m sure people who play sports or have been exposed to intense situations would agree. However, Horton should have done everything he could to not touch the fan in any tangible way; professional athletes are paid not only to play the game at a high level, but also to exert a level of, well, professionalism on a daily basis.

So who is really at fault for this entire water bottle-throwing fiasco? It can easily be narrowed down to three suspects: the Tampa Bay organization, for handing out something so stupid and embarassing; Nathan Horton, for losing his cool and going after the provoking fan; or the few Lightning fans who hurled their crap at the players. While all three are at fault, the blame can mostly be attributed to the moronic crappler-hurling fans; they have no reason to act that way and need to show a level of respect to other human beings.

 But it’s deeper than that. As tough-guy sports fans, we are taught that being loud and obnoxious and verbally going after the other team and their players — directly or indirectly — makes you a true, loyal fan. Furthermore, there’s this idea of a one-way barrier that allows fans to harass opposing players, but should a player or other team personel go after a fan, it’s a huge issue and unacceptable (New York Rangers coach John Tortorella was suspended one game in the 2008 playoffs against the Washington Capitals for squirting water at a fan who was verbally tormenting him most of the game). We can yell at, scream at, taunt, and mock other players like absolute fools, and they’re supposed to just take it. We sit in clustered rows of uncomfortable seats, stained with beer depending on how far you go up, and that enables us the right to criticize players’ performances and attempt to make them feel terrible about themselves. Fans are not taught respect. Fans don’t show respect, and, under the current circumstances, why should they? There’s no repurcussions for a portion of a fanbase throwing objects at players; how is an organization (or law-enforcing agency) going to single out each and every fan and punish them accordingly? You can’t stop fans from verbally engaging with the players. And if these types of actions have the potential to get players off their games, or possibly even SUSPENDED during a playoff series, why shouldn’t you do it? Isn’t that what a good fan would do?

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