Monday, March 21, 2011

Please Do Not Flip the Pool


Sports fans go nuts when things don't make sense to them.

Have you looked at the Western Conference standings recently? If you're a Vancouver fan, you probably haven't, you smug bastard, so let me fill you in: there are 2 points separating the 5th-place team and the 10th-place team. This is where you gasp, or maybe here: of those six very good teams, only four will be making the playoffs.

If you didn't gasp, you obviously don't live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim, Dallas, or Calgary. For fans and players of those teams, it's a stressful time; every game in the Conference has meaning, even the ones in which your team doesn't play.

However, for the time being, Canucks fans are taking it easy. It's a pleasant feeling, this--a rare feeling. When it comes to these late-season clusters, the Canucks are regularly in the thick of things. This year, however, where Vancouver is nine points clear of second-place Detroit, and seventeen points clear of the aforementioned thick.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Canuck nation. In ten games, everyone starts back at zero.

Considering the Canucks are currently 103 points from zero--the furthest from zero of any team in the NHL--that's going to be pretty hard to stomach, but it's what happens. In truth, all the regular season does is determine where games will take place; what takes place during those games cannot be predicted.

Anything can happen in the playoffs. Couple that with the team's lofty expectations, and you have the potential for the largest letdown in the history of Vancouver sports.

Think about it: in past years, the Canucks have gone into the postseason no higher than the second seed in the West. They've lost every time, too, but really, what did we expect? They've never been the best. Year after year, we were effectively banking on the same chance that could bite us now, banking on the Canucks playing better than they reasonably should have. In each case, the eventual loss simply operated as a reality check. The annual ousting has always been begrudgingly received, justified by the sad truth that, despite our optimistic denial, the Canucks were never the best team.

In the history of Vancouver hockey, there was one instance when our expectations got out of control. Do you remember when it was? The year was 1994. In 1982, we could understand the loss, because it was the Islanders; In 1994, we couldn't justify anything. We seemed unstoppable, and despite that, we were stopped. It hardly made sense.

Sports fans go nuts when things don't make sense to them. 1994 didn't make sense. So we rioted. We flipped the pool.

This year's expectations may also be unreasonable. In fact, they may also be beyond reason. Considering the year we've seen, the unprecedented success, the broken records, a loss this year would hardly make sense.

It's going to be very hard to justify a playoff loss this year, to understand it, and there's really no guarantee that it's not coming. Granted, the Canucks are the best team, in theory: they lead almost every major statistical category and they've got elite goaltending, defense, scoring, special teams, depth and leadership. Sure, there are a lot of reasons they might win and a lot of reasons they should be predicted to do so.

But they still might just lose, for no other reason than because one out of every two teams has to, and, eventually, fifteen of sixteen. And we need to be able to accept that without breaking stuff.

Let's be clear: if it wasn't possible for the best team in theory to lose in reality, there'd be no point in staging the playoffs at all. It happens, often for no discernible reason. The pundits can point to a lack of some intangible, to a choke, a collapse, or even simply the perfect matchup for the underdog, but those are typically just ways for the experts to explain away the sad truth of their field: at its base, everything they say is worthless because hockey, like any game, can be completely random.

I say this not to be a downer, but rather, so that nobody flips the pool.

16 comments:

  1. Nice one. Thanks, H! This has been ever at the back of my mind since about mid-season. I do hope dignity will prevail, whichever way it goes.

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  2. No discernible reason? I don't agree with that.
    Everything pundits or experts say is worthless? I don't agree with that either. I think you can dissect a loss in hockey to several factors rather than just chalking it up mostly as random.

    I have high expectations for this team and will be pissed if they lose. But I can appreciate your sense of calm as a counterbalance.

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  3. Captain Wellwood, aka Cloney McStudentMarch 21, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    "DID YOU SEE THE POOL??? They FLIPPED the b*tch!"

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sean, you've got to think that Maggie the Monkey's annual success, especially juxtaposed with the experts/pundits, indicates how random everything can be.

    I'll agree that, in hindsight, you can point to some of the factors that led to the loss, but that's about it. A team can do everything right and still lose. Bounces, luck, and randomness determine more of this game than anybody's willing to admit.

    But, rather than cop to the unpredictable, we just call that a choke, or a collapse, or what have you, mainly because we're unwilling to admit that "experts" are often just informed guessers come playoff time.

    I'm just saying that there's a part of the playoffs that's a total crapshoot, and we need to be prepared for that, lest we lose, and then lose it.

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  5. IN PRAISE OF PREPARATION:

    FOR EARTHQUAKES WE MUST BE PREPARED!
    BUT FOR A CUP YOU MIGHT NOT WIN?
    IT SEEMS THAT YOU'RE ALREADY SCARED
    YOU'LL HEAR MY RAUNCHY VIOLIN,

    FUELING THE RIOTS ON ROBSON STREET
    AS CANUCK FANS THEIR RAGE PROCLAIM,
    UNABLE TO ACCEPT DEFEAT
    AND AFTER ALL IT'S JUST A GAME.

    IT IS INTRIGUING THAT YOU SEEM
    TO PRODUCE REASONS RIGHT ON CUE,
    TO JUST ACCEPT IT'S BUT A DREAM
    THAT'S MOST UNLIKELY TO COME TRUE.

    BECAUSE YOU FEAR AND CAN'T IGNORE
    THE TUESDAY NIGHT OF NINETY FOUR.

    CH

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  6. Ah, Chicken Hawk. I love to feed your poetic trolliness.

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  7. I both agree and disagree. While their certainly is an element of luck and randomness to hockey, teams certainly can choke. Markus Naslund admitted to it, after all. Sometimes a team with high expectations will actually perform poorly, not due to bad bounces or randomness. It's entirely possible that the Canucks will lose in the playoffs due to some players underperforming.

    Of course, it's also entirely possible that they will underperform and yet still win the Cup due to luck and randomness. But let's not judge the playoffs before they hatch.

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  8. I think choking is a bit of a cliche.

    I loved it when Naslund said it, but part of me has always felt like choking is kind of a fallback to explain an otherwise unexplainable string of poor play.

    That said, I guess it does happen.

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  9. Great perspective but I am sure most of us are trying to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, right? OK... maybe not! With that being said, I hope Mike Gillis' thinking has delved into the whole 'white towel' thing. I know it's an easy rally point and relatively inexpensive giveaway while driving extra space for advertising but it still is just a sarcastic surrender which is a horrible way to limp to any finish line.

    My idea... Blue Woo Wigs! We love the wigs and we love to Woo so not combine the 2 and at least have fun like the Chicago fans had last year.

    Any other good ideas for towel replacements? I really don't need any mote towels around my house... I'm sick of surrendering.

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  10. danielson

    " Sometimes a team with high expectations will actually perform poorly, not due to bad bounces or randomness. It's entirely possible that the Canucks will lose in the playoffs due to some players underperforming."

    Using "due to":

    Due to means "caused by." It should be used only if it can be substituted with "caused by."

    It does not mean the same as "because of."

    Incorrect: The game was postponed due to rain.
    Correct: The game was postponed because of rain.
    Correct: The game's postponement was due to rain.

    And don’t get me started on the empty phrase, “due to the fact that . . .” This phrase almost never adds anything to your sentence except three more words and a touch of pomposity.

    madwag

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  11. Good point. Good thing I didn't actually say "due to the fact that." Something was bugging me about that comment as I was writing it. Now I know what it was.

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  12. I think you make some good points in this post. We may play very well, the Sedins and Kesler may play like beasts, and yet we may still lose. I try to think of this any time I start to get too excited about our regular season success.

    But I hope and believe that the fan base has moved past this kind of behaviour. I think the city is different than it was 16 years ago...I don't think its just the aesthetics of Van that have changed. Look at the Olympics...biggest stage there is, and people didn't riot when we lost to the US.

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  13. Madwag ur owta line. The pitb journalism is firstclass. How about praise for the metaphors and allusions, not to mention the prescient hockey writing.

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  14. Harrison: Oh I agree that Maggie made monkeys of all the experts. I was just referring to post-series explanations.

    "Bounces, luck, and randomness determine more of this game than anybody's willing to admit."

    Yes and no, IMO. Over a 7 game series you're either good enough or not. You create your own luck. Yay cliches!!! Your team bonds and excels as a unit or it fails in the face of adversity. I think that is more the case than luck and bounces.

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  15. @nucks_realist

    the truth of the matter is danielson finds me totally in line when i correct his odd grammatical error. he is the first to acknowledge the need for pitb productions to be truly 'first class' and both he and harrison appreciate mistakes in english usage being indicated. i agree that the journalism on this blog is exceptionally good although it must be pointed out that one of danielson's recent similes was in rather poor taste. i think chicken chick did that for me in one of poetic endeavors for which pitb is the richer.

    madwag

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  16. @nucks_realist

    postscript: it's supposedly cute and clever creations like "ur owta" that contribute to the deterioration of a beautiful language.

    mw

    ReplyDelete

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