STATE OF EMERGENCY - The State Of The Game

  Fan loyalty, game integrity - extinct.


"Nothing endures but change."

             - Heraclitus, 480 BC -


        I will be the first person to commend any hockey fan out there who has never changed their allegiance to their respective favorite team.  Bonus points if that team happens to be the Chicago Blackhawks!  I cannot say I have been loyal to one team since I've become a hockey fan, nor do I see the reason why this should be regarded as something noble, or the mark of a TRUE fan.  The game has changed so much in the past 10 years alone, how can one stay loyal to a single team anymore, when the team can't even make the same commitment to its fans ?  I am getting ahead of myself here, so a little bit of background first:


            On June 29, 1990, being a hockey fan as I knew it changed forever.  I did the unimaginable.  I did the unforgivable.  I abandoned ship.  I went from being a loyal Montreal Canadiens fan to a Chicago Blackhawks fan.  My favorite team had done the unthinkable: the Habs had traded away Chris Chelios, my favorite player of all time to his hometown of Chicago.  It was then when reality hit me.  I was not a fan of a specific team, but of its players, its makeup.  So what happens when something you believe in starts changing into something other than what you originally signed up for ?  What happens when the product no longer satisfies you ?  What happens when the bad times out-number the good, season after season ?  Abandon ship !  My relationship with the Blackhawks was a short-lived one.  In the few years I was a Chicago fan, I watched players such as Chelios, Roenick, Amonte, Belfour, Hackett, Suter, Thomas, Larmer, Marchment, Nichols all leave to join other teams. The Hawks were struggling more and more every year, management telling us all to be patient. They never turned the corner, and to this day, still remain as one of the weakest teams in the league.  Let's not forget throughout all of this they are also still turning a profit.  I don't mean to single out Chicago, because there are a number of teams guilty of this, but it's an experience I've had to endure.  It's an experience that's become too commonplace in the NHL.  Teams are not built for championships anymore, they are simply built to compete.  Teams no longer play a game, they play a system.  Is it any wonder why we can't sell the game when there is no game to sell ?


            Let's stop and examine the state of the game now... It's one thing to stick with a team thick and thin, and while for every team like Atlanta and Ottawa who show there's hope ahead, there's a counterpart, like Chicago and Pittsburgh, with no silver lining in sight.  It's one thing to be patient while a team rebuilds.  It's another to suffer through 5-10 years of agony and mediocrity, with no end in sight.  You can't expect fans to stay true to a team, when making a profit is more important than the quality of the product put forth on the ice ( yes this means you especially, BILL WIRTZ ).  Every team needs to rebuild, and every fan has to be patient through the rebuilding phase - that's not what this is about.  You have to lose before you can win (or insert any other cliché here).  It's where the true fans are made and emerge.  But how long are fans supposed to wait ?  I'm not talking about waiting for a Cup, but simply waiting for an exciting team that can compete.  Actually, not just compete - too many teams just compete.  To compete at a high level.  If players can't be loyal to a team, why do people expect their fans to be ?  There comes a breaking point where you have to say ENOUGH.  A point where it becomes embarrassing to be wearing this cap / jersey / shirt, etc when it comes to certain teams...

 There are lots of things this league needs to look at when the CBA expires.  For one thing, why has no one asked the fans for their input ?  While no one is bigger than the game, there's no game without fans - and a lot of us are fed up.  Owners and players have to stop taking us for granted.  Why should we suffer the aggravation of being loyal fans, when the teams can't be loyal to us and its players ?  Speaking of players, they can't even be loyal to us either !  The players have played a big role in the decline of the game.  The "Us against Them" attitude employed by the NHLPA has done a lot to help the players, and has done just as much to kill the game.  Something has gone awry when the players started to think of themselves first, ahead of the game and ahead of its fans !  No-trade clauses, for example, are a joke.  Is this just a tool to lull fans into believing a player is committed to a certain city ?  We all know this clause can be waived by the player at anytime, so why the smoke and mirrors ?  Fans have been showing their concerns for a while now, and it seems like the League just keeps on ignoring us, or sugarcoating everything.  Excuses have to stop, and some people need to be made accountable for the state the game is in.  Something is not being managed well somewhere, and it's time for a change.  There's a BIG problem when the guy in charge can't and won't even admit there is indeed, a problem !  The power needs to shift somewhere, and trust me Mr. Bettman, the fans have already begun to take the power back.  Remember when it was affordable to attend a hockey game ?  Remember when the 100 Level seats were sold out ?  The $200 seats aren't being sold because the NHL has successfully priced itself out of the market - not because the teams need to build new arenas downtown.  Can anyone honestly tell me how a new building will improve the AHL-level team they have in Pittsburgh ?  How can the Stanley Cup Champions from New Jersey be playing in front of an average 13000 fans, when the same building was full 10 years ago, when the team was still hunting for its first championship ?  Can anyone answer these questions ?  Is anyone listening to these questions ?  Does my opinion even matter ?


-                           Home Advantage ? (Ottawa Senators):  Ottawa fans are ... unexplainable.  I feel like I live in the worst hockey city in the world.  Why does everyone in Ottawa think the Cup is already engraved with SENS 2003-04 ?  The Sens aren't exactly playing their best hockey at the moment, but are still playing well enough to make the playoffs - and that's all it takes.  Fans here are jumping off and on the bandwagon as many times as Cujo gets recalled by Detroit !  If fans ran the team, the Sens would be minus Lalime, Bonk, Redden and Havlat at the moment.  Funny, these players all appear on the 2004 All-Star Fan Ballot.  Guess I won't hold my breath to see any of these guys get a hometown advantage in votes !


-                           A Big Plus ? (Scott Stevens):  On November 26th, NJ Devils' Scott Stevens passed Larry Murphy to become the all time leading defenseman in games played appearing in his 1616th game.  Two other great facts about the Devils captain 1) He's appeared in the post-season 20 out of 21 seasons and 2) Has never been a minus (+/-) player throughout his entire career.


-                           Star Still Rising ? (Martin Brodeur):  Brodeur is having another career year. Somehow, he keeps getting better. On December 18th, he earned his 8th shutout in just 29 games, 72nd career-wise. There's no doubt in my mind he'll surpass Terry Sawchuck. His career Average is 2.16, compared to Patrick Roy's 2.18. Brodeur could challenge the record for shutouts in a season, set by George Hainsworth who had 22 in the 44-game season of 1928-29. The post-expansion record is 15 set by Tony Esposito in 1969-70, and New Jersey has 52 games remaining.  Brodeur has four in his past seven games, and his career total is the highest by an active goaltender.  He's 31 short of Sawchuk's NHL record.   Oddly enough, he's also 31 years old.


-                           Statistics ? (Albert Einstein):  Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. 


-                           Quote of the Week (Bobby Hull, WHA Commissioner):  “We have to get families back in the game, back where Saturday night, everything stops.  A case of beer comes out and anyone who comes to the house, they better want to watch hockey.’”





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