Monday, September 13, 2010

Why it's Been 17 Years

The most ridiculous thing I hear in hockey is that Gary Bettman's hatred of Canada has led him to rig the game against the six remaining Canadian teams. Why else would Canada have such a long cold streak? A Canadian team last hoisted the Cup in 1993. If it's not a conspiracy, what is it? A curse?

No, it's the fans.

With the many many ways the media now penetrate into the game, fans have a better look into every aspect of the game than they did in decades past. One can sit for hours straight at a computer and read page upon page of commentary, rumor and discussion about players. Fans wanting information have instant gratification, and that's a useful tool. I'm so glad that technology has propelled us this far, into an age where it is almost impossible to destroy information.

That said, it allows obsessives to easily obsess. Worse, in Canadian cities there's some sort of ridiculous sense of entitlement. We like hockey better than those American cities. In Canada, football worries about competing with hockey, and not vice versa. Why should a city with no natural snow, that isn't watching the game anyway, hoist the Cup?

That sense of entitlement turns nasty when they lose. It turns vicious. It gets stupid. Most of all, it gets distracting. Players who sign in Canadian cities sound excited about the added pressure, but they seem to expect it to be a lot more reasonable than it is. Canadian cities expect results, and whether that's fair or not, what isn't fair is that when their team doesn't win, they feel justified in treating the players like garbage. In every Canadian city is a ridiculous vitriol machine ready to tear its hockey team to shreds.

It happened in Ottawa, where Ray Emery, after some brilliant play taking over the starting position and helping his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, was ultimately run out of town, surrounded by questions of his attitude and stories of his coming late to practice. Instead of focusing on how far he'd carried his team, Ottawa focused on how he'd played poorly in the Cup Finals, and blamed their loss on him. It was their loss, as Emery is still a talented goaltender, who played well in the KHL and for the Flyers, before he was injured. The Senators have had question marks in goal ever since.

It happened in Montreal, where Carey Price was blamed for a series loss to Philadelphia in his rookie season. Despite showing flashes of brilliance in that series, a few flukey goals by Philly and a few ridiculous defensive breakdowns made his numbers in the series look bad, and the Canadiens' insistence on shooting the puck directly at Biron's logo made him look great in comparison. Canadiens fans haven't had faith in Price since, and unfortunately, Price lets that kind of stuff get to him.

It's happening in Calgary to Jarome Iginla. It happened in Edmonton to Joffrey Lupul. It's happening in Toronto to Phil Kessel.

But still, despite all the ridiculousness that goes on in the other five cities, Vancouverites are particularly good at it.

Markus Naslund spent the whole duration of his captaincy being blamed for the Canucks' not hoisting the Cup. Todd Bertuzzi... well never mind, he did screw up pretty big. Still, after coming back... he couldn't come back. Up until last season, the Sedin twins were criticized to no end as being second-line talent, not being true offensive stars, etc. Remember the old "Sedins for Jokinen" trade proposals? How about Kevin Bieksa? Even Trevor Linden -- oh sure, in 1994 he was our hero, but in his last couple seasons here, we couldn't give the guy a break. Canucks fans are already doing it to Cody Hodgson. How about Roberto Luongo? He's got to be my favorite example -- people yelling at him that he can't stand the pressure of their yelling at him.

These are issues that just don't exist in the American markets. Joe Sakic was a great leader, and Colorado fans knew it, but when the Avs missed the playoffs, no one threw things at Sakic, no one yelled at him in the street, and no one sat down next to him in a restaurant to offer HIS opinion on how Joe could improve his game. No one even questioned whether he was the right guy to wear the C. They just let Joe do his thing, and he brought them two Stanley Cups. Scott Stevens was never torn to shreds in New Jersey, and he presided over all three of their Cup victories. Steve Yzerman didn't have a whole lot of failure to be blamed for, but you can bet if his team missed a step, no one would be calling for Stevie Y's head.

It baffles me that no one questions whether these men could have accomplished the same things if they lived in cities that were completely unforgiving of every misstep. Cities where you can post a .913 save percentage and 40 wins and still be slagged all summer long. Cities where there are masses of vitriolic pessimists waiting for a single slip-up so they can call for your head in blogs, newspapers, on the radio and on television.

So, yeah, it's like Skeeter said -- "it wasn't a necessary change from the team's standpoint, but it may have been a necessary change from a PR standpoint." Thanks, fans. Once again, a good man and a great hockey player have been torn down because you feel entitled. Because anything less than a Cup victory is a disappointment, and someone needs to lose his job.

If Vancouver doesn't go another 40 years without winning a Cup, it won't be because they didn't try.


  1. Another good article, Qris.

    Let's not entirely blame the fans, though: the Vancouver media is just as bad. My favourite line: "people yelling at him that he can't stand the pressure of their yelling at him." Substitute "people" with "media" and it's the same thing. I remember when Luongo said he wouldn't speak to the media on game days. The media decried it as an example of how he couldn't handle the media pressure. Seems to me like that's exactly what he did.

    That's when the media really soured on him as captain, and it makes me wonder if it wasn't a little more mean-spirited than we've considered. Looks to me like they felt slighted by being shut out, and they slighted him back. One could argue it's effectively the same thing they've done in this Cody Hodgson saga: create mean-spirited gossip because they haven't been gifted access to the full story. It's destructive, and it seems to me like tantrum-throwing borne of the entitlement you discuss in this article.

  2. Oh absolutely, but the media do what sells. While I'm more than willing to go after the media, it seems a little ridiculous to see some fans complain about the media in one breath and then rant against Luongo in the next.

    The media need to be held accountable, but I've read too many forum posts from Vancouver residents cheerfully telling stories about how they told Ryan Kesler that Alain Vigneault should be fired for using him wrong. Accountability starts at home.

  3. Oh for sure, the scrutiny from fans AND THE MEDIA goes too far.

    But as a Senators fan I can honestly say that Emery was a nutcase.

    But Sens fans/media did run Wade Redden out of town, and almost did the same to Spezza. Those would be better examples.

  4. While I agree with you, the cases you pointed to don't back up your point. Ray Emery had a well-documented drug problem. I'm from Montreal, and Carey Price was treated like a god out here. He got a sense of entitlement and spent every night out late partying, drinking, smoking and hooking up with ridiculously hot girls. Lupul hasn't lit it up - anywhere - after a good season in Edmonton. And yes, we've been hard on the Sedins. Way too hard. But Hank just came out and had a 113-point season. Wouldn't that mean the media scrutiny has motivated him to get better every year?

    I don't agree with the media's obsession either. But there's bright lights on the Lakers, who have just won two straight. The Yankees - and A-Rod - might have the most pressure on them in all of professional sports, but they just won the championship last year, and A-Rod had a great postseason (although their 200 million dollars worth of other players didn't hurt either). I think the media scrutiny is ridiculous, but in time players can adapt to it and I think it has less of an impact than we sometimes think. IMO, most players (especially in hockey) feel way more dedicated to their coaches and keeping their jobs then the feelings of the media scrum.


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