Thursday, December 20, 2007

NHL Blogging: Interesting Tidbit

You know who's the number one team in the league right now?

That's right, the Detroit Red Wings. Three One Three, motherfuckers. We ride the Winged Wheel all night long. Just like your mother.

Which reminds me, I forgot to pay her last time. You got change for a quarter?

Sorry to remind you that your mother is, in fact, a disease ridden whore who, literally, works for pennies on the dollar but having banished all thoughts of the Lions from my mind, the professional sports scene in Detroit is giving me reason to boast.

The Pistons are headed for another epic postseason run studded with great series even if they don't make it back to the Finals this year, again. Likewise for the Tigers whose amazing trade has been unfairly overshadowed by the fallout from the Mitchell report (About which, all I have to say is, you're surprised? Maybe now all the reporters who've been telling us for years how this isn't a problem can stop talking about how it isn't a problem and, you know, actually investigate the problem and bring their findings to light so it won't be as much of a problem any more? Ha! Oh man, what the hell have I been smoking, huh? Besides your momm--ah, shit, um, that didn't come out right. Like you. When you slid out of that roast beef sandwich between your mom's---okay, you know what? I'm putting a stop to this image because I'd like to have sex again some time this decade. Instead, let me just express relief that it seems to have largely passed by the Tigers. Now, that just means none of them got caught in the witchhunt, not that any of them weren't cheating but at least we get things like this now instead of articles about what Sheffield knew and when.). Even the Wolverines (And, yes, don't kid yourself, they're at least as professional as the Lions.) are on the right track, having landed the kind of coach to make you forget about what a mess that job search was.

But, of all the teams around town, it's the Red Wings who are doing the best. It's the Red Wings who've done the best, year in and year out, for more than a decade now. There really is no overstating just what a remarkable accomplishment their continued excellence has been. Different players, changing rules, a completely altered competitive landscape, nothing has stopped the big red machine from rolling.

Except, apparently, St. Louis. Dammit, I was watching tonight's game and they just lost it on a late goal in the third. Was really looking good after they went ahead in the span of thirty seconds in the second and even as the Blues pulled even. Osgood was playing out of his mind.

But this is exactly what I'm talking about. This is only Osgood's second loss. This season. He went more than a month, since a game against Nashville, without losing. And even splitting time with Hasek, that's impressive.

In that time, they've opened up a 17 point lead against the number two team in their division. Which is St. Louis, actually. They'd better be careful, drop nine more games and now the Blues might have the edge in a tiebreaker scenario. They've also got a 10 point lead over the closest teams - Dallas and Minnesota, in the conference. And they've vaulted past the same Ottawa team which started the year so well. With two games in the bank, the Senators are a full 6 points in the Wings dust. In other words, they've got some catching up to do if they want that President's Trophy back.

So, you might well ask, why is the Joe half-empty? Why has the sellout streak that dates back to the end of the Dead Wings years been snapped to be replaced by apathy and inattention? The Wings are doing great, their displaced fans still pack the bleachers on road games, like tonight where I had a hard time telling if the game was in St. Louis or Detroit (Until, you know, I looked at the uniforms. Colors on the road, guys.), but where have the hometown crowds gone? Has the city somehow finally cooled on its beloved Wings?

I don't think so. At least, not as much as the pundits and barstool philosophers would have it. The sell-out streak is over and there are more empty seats at Joe Louis than there have been in a while but we're not at the point where they need to start giving away cars to get people in the door (Sigh, I miss those days... You'd get maybe two, three thousand a night. When my father worked downtown we had season tickets and my first hockey memories involve watching a bad team play worse in church-like quiet.). So a few less people are walking up to buy tickets on gameday. So it's a bit harder to move your tickets in the secondary market when you can't come to the game yourself. It's not exactly at crisis point. But, still, there's no denying that something is keeping people away. I think there's a lot of elements at work here and while none of them is precisely to blame, it all adds up to the semblance of fatigue.

One thought is that the team just isn't interesting any more. That because there's no Yzerman, there's no Shanahan, there's no McCarty, and the other names and faces that people like me remember. The players we grew up alongside, whose heartache and suffering and trials we shared alongside as the team went from worst to the first, in oh so long, to bring that Cup home. Now that they're gone it's just not the same. And the team lacks a face, a personality of its own beyond, you know, having been so good for so long. But that rings a little false to me because while Stevie Wonder is gone there's still some links to the past. Players like Lidstrom, the lynchpin of the defense for years now and every bit as much a part of those titles, and Draper, the catalyst of the whole feud with Colorado, and even Holmstrom, the plucky grinder to resonate with the blue-collar ethic of the city, they're all still there. Their stories are still playing out, their accomplishments to the city's lore still incomplete, and while they might not be personalities as large, as commanding, as the ones the teams have lost, they're still captivating.

The other is that the city and, indeed, the entire region, is mired in an economic slump that threatens - if it isn't already - to become an irreversible decline. Newspapers full of page after page of foreclosure notices, constant fears of yet another round of layoffs, the ever-stumbling fortunes of the auto-industry, the list of woes goes on and on. The number of reasons that people might decide to save their money, to stay home, rather than spend it on a frivolous expense like a night at the game grows daily. But that, too, rings slightly wrong in my ear. For one thing, the Red Wings haven't raised their ticket prices in years now. Oh, sure, they'll gouge you when the playoffs roll around - that's when they make their money anyway - but since well before the lockout the regular season costs have been kept at the same amount. Meaning, with inflation and all, it's actually cheaper to go to the rink than ever before. And if money's so tight and sporting events are where people are cutting back then why are Tigers and Pistons games selling out, too? Lions games are always jam packed and the Universities are always big draws. And the sidesports and minor teams in the region aren't really feeling much of a pinch either, as far as I know. But if people were really cutting back on their sports dollar wouldn't it be more of a widespread phenomenon and not relegated to people trying to pawn off their season hockey tickets?

No, I think the reason people have lost a slight amount of interest is exactly the same as why I've, admittedly, not been paying as much attention this year as I have in the past. It's the regular season. And we're spoiled.

The team has made the playoffs so many times, we've been through the march through a winning so many times before and learned, the hard way, that making a lot of hay night in and night out doesn't always translate into postseason success. In short, it's hard to care about the regular season because I've learned that it doesn't matter. I won't actually start paying real attention until the playoffs start because, the way the team is playing, it's not even like their seeding is in doubt. And, frankly, I might not even be too enthused even then. Because, I'll tell you right now, although the team is playing well now, I've seen them win President's Trophies before and felt the bitter sting of disappointment as they've flamed out in the first few rounds. I'm not expecting much different this year. I, sadly, don't have the benefit of a prediction written down somewhere around here to prove it but, in person, in private, I've been saying all along that the team's headed for a second round defeat. And I won't change my mind until I actually see it not happening. And, even then, anything short of the Cup is going to be terribly disatisfying. It's going to take, in other words, the kind of memorable playoff run that I remember from the days of my youth - one full of drama as legends are made before my very eyes - to recharge not just my interests, I think, but that of the entire fanbase.

It may sound spoiled, it may sound like a problem than a dozen other clubs would like to have, but there it is. We're so used to winning that, now, we take it for ranted. And we need something we can rally around to remind us just how special it truly is.

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