Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
So let's talk about the C word: contraction.
Specifically, let's talk about the double-standard that gets used to determine which teams “deserve” contraction.
Buffalo goes bankrupt and was run by the League until a buyer could be found after the Rigas clan got pwnt by Johnny G-Man—the team was a mess, it was run into the ground, it probably would not have survived the season without a buyer. And yet they're allowed to stick around.
Ottawa goes bankrupt (again—the last time was in 1936 when they folded as a casualty of the Great Depression) and then-owner Rod Bryden's repeated pleas to buy season tickets or the team would fold (again) didn't bear a lot of fruit...except with fans of other teams who bought Sens tickets specifically so the folks in Ottawa could continue to have a team to cheer for. The team almost lost every last player on their roster when they couldn't make payroll, only managing to keep the team intact when Bryden took out a loan at the last minute. And yet they're allowed to stick around.
Nashville is financially stable, they play well and bring in an increasing number of fans thanks to their playoff run in 2004. They've made payroll, they haven't gone bankrupt, they haven't had any problems that would show that they might not be able to run. And yet the wags call for them to be contracted.
Carolina is financially stable with help from the non-hockey side of Gale Force Sports and Entertainment's management of the RBC Center. They play well and are bringing in an increasing number of fans thanks to their strong play and aggressive puck-pursuit game that can make even a loss exciting. They've made payroll, they haven't gone bankrupt, they haven't had any problems that would show that they might not be able to run. And yet the wags call for them to be contracted.
Why? Why are the teams in the southern US targeted for contraction, while teams that have been (or currently are) in serious trouble are given a free pass?
I'd really like to know.
Blaming us for watering down the talent pool? Please.
The theory of watered-down talent is complete and total bulldada, as is blaming all of us Southern teams for same. The average player today is far better than the average player from the 70s and 80s, when training camp was widely considered the time for most players to get in shape after a summer of nothing but hanging around the house watching reruns of “Gilligan's Island” in between golf games with their drinking buddies. Your average player these days hits the gym for several hours a day to stay in game shape, because his career depends on it. Craig Adams would be an All-Star if he were yanked back in time to the 70s. Kevyn Adams would be a legend. Andy freaking Delmore in all his cross-eyed defenseless vainglory would be considered a poor-man's Bobby Orr (please, people—do try to contain your laughter). Constant training, specialized goaltender training, and an unceasing dedication to the sport has given us a better player on the average. Tapping into Europe and (until they decided to not sign the latest IIHF transfer agreement) Russia has helped keep the talent pool from getting too thin.
For that matter, the explosion of hockey in the Southern US (as a direct result of NHL teams being there) has pretty much guaranteed that there'll be more southern boys coming into the NHL (so NC native Patrick O'Sullivan will have company). Boom-Boom Geoffrion's grandson Blake (born and raised just outside of Nashville, TN) becomes draft-eligible in 2006—look for him to be the first of quite a few more southern born-and-raised players to come.
Attendance? Excuse me?
You can scream at me until you are blue in the face about how Carolina is 23rd in attendance this season, but it won't change a thing. For several years, Carolina was beating the Blackhawks and the Bruins and even the Sabres at the gate—and yet those three teams get a free pass while Carolina gets pilloried as an example of everything that's wrong with the NHL.
Perennial playoff powerhouse New Jersey is currently 25th in the League, yet they're getting a free pass. The NY Islanders are getting a free pass, even though their attendance is 29th in the League because fans don't want to support a coach who doesn't want to win—and on top of that, their fans are somehow considered “good fans” who are being smart by voting with their wallets and refusing to show support for a bad team.
Yet when Caniacs stayed away in droves in 03-04 because they were tired of Paul Maurice's excusemaking and the team's overall lack of effort, they somehow became ign'ant rednecks who don't know shit about shit and don't care about hockey even after game-by-game attendance started to slowly creep back up after Peter Laviolette came in and started making his changes.
Vancouver supposedly has the best fans in the NHL, even though there were nights at GM Place (and the Pacific Coliseum before that) when you could fire off a shotgun in most sections and not hit anyone and tickets didn't start getting scarce until the Canucks started winning again. Yet when Nashville has a slack attendance night, apparently it's acceptable for the visiting team's radio guys to make cracks about how more people would come if they said that Bobby Labonte was in the house, slag Nashville as a crap market with shitty fans, and imply that the town doesn't deserve a team.
Fuck y'all haters, and fuck your double-standards too.
Here's hoping for a Carolina-Nashville Finals.