"What a game! I almost felt sorry for the Red Wings, but then I remembered that they suck!" -Greg's Dad, after some past Avalanche-Wings playoff game
Haven't taken much note of the hockey world since I've been out here -- I've been out most nights, and the Avalanche have pulled their usual "Greg's back, let's blow a few games" routine. Back in Atlanta, apparently, the Thrashers' new habit of giving up five goals a game stopped working last night, and they find themselves just out of a playoff spot, once again.
Having lived in Colorado (the second time around) from 1996 through 1999, there's one obvious thing that Thrashers fandom misses out on: a suitable villain, a rival, an antagonist, a team that breeds hate. The Avalanche had Detroit, and man, did that make a big difference.
When the Thrashers play their division rivals, the teams produce either healthy respect (Hurricanes and Lightning), "eh" (Panthers), or "I hope they hold Ovechkin to two goals" (Capitals). There's no one to hate on those teams; they all seem to be upstanding citizens. Carolina would seem to be the most natural rival, due to physical proximity and being really good, but ... there's just no hate there, yet. The players are the type I like. The fans are pretty entertaining sorts. If they were to advance to the Cup, I'd be likely to root for them.
Compare that to the Red Wings -- if they advance to the finals, even now, I don't root for them to do anything except fire the puck into their own net (a la Paul Coffey in 1996, har har). While they've had a FEW (Yzerman, Fischer, Fetisov) players I've respected, the majority of them are recruited from the dregs of society. If Kirk Maltby were to get some sort of brain-destroying gonorrhea, the only personal pain I'd feel would be from laughing myself into a hernia. The presence of Chris Chelios on the USA hockey team is enough to make me root for Kazakhstan. It's taken me until this year to forgive Slava Kozlov for cheapshotting Adam Foote. I still giggle silently to myself at night, thinking of Dino Ciccarelli and "I can't believe I shook his freakin' hand."
The Thrashers don't have an opposite number like that, yet. Sure, there's some tensions with Toronto -- a team with Darcy Tucker and Tie Domi whining about cheap shots -- but who doesn't hate the Leafs? There's a bit of bitterness toward Dany Heatley and the Senators, but I can't imagine that lasting.
So there's no one. Perhaps Atlanta will creep into the playoffs and wind up in an intense, cheap series such as the Avalanche-Wings in '96, and that'll finally do it. In the meantime, any 'Canes fans out there -- can't you persuade Staal or Williams to take a run at a Thrasher? Nothing too serious (and no one too important), just enough to raise the stakes a bit. We'll all benefit.