By all accounts -- I haven't caught as much as I'd like -- the NHL playoffs have been pretty spectacular this year. What I've seen backs that up; when I've caught a game, almost without fail and regardless of what teams are playing, I've been drawn in heavily. The intensity seems higher this year. That's probably my imagination, but having suffered through some drab playoff seasons in the past (2004, just for one) this has been great.
And it's left me almost completely cold, and I'm struggling with that. Yeah, none of my teams are a factor, but none of my teams have been a factor for some years and I've still got into it. So why? No joke, I'm paying more attention to soccer these days. Why is this?
A few things, I guess, and I think it stems more from your average hockey fan than from the game (which I still love above all others). One factor is that as the playoffs are heating up, the Jim Balsillie/Hamilton story has returned to the forefront, to the chagrin of all thinking humans. I'd just started reading Mirtle again, wondering why I'd stopped, and then the 24-7 coverage of every Balsillie utterance began and I remembered "oh yeah. That's why." Reading some of the blogs and message boards, it's good to know, I suppose, that Canadians are just as capable as knee-jerk humorless nationalism as us down here in the States, but holy Christ, reading the Canadian hockey press in the last month has become unbearable. Maybe hockey's the Canadian sport, but if your entire national self-esteem hinges on getting the freaking COYOTES, then good luck with life. You're about two steps away from eating the nation-state equivalent of a shotgun. I love hockey, I love hockey fans, but holy shit, no other sport's fans spend as much time complaining about the sport they purportedly love. I have no love for the Coyotes and it wouldn't make an iota of difference to me if they move, but God, this shit is tiresome. Seriously, does anyone who's had to watch the Calgary Flames lately think another Canadian team is desirable?
Also upsetting: the Red Wings look poised to take another Stanley Cup, and that's making me face some uncomfortable truths about myself. One: that my hockey fandom has become as much about denying a certain fan base joy as anything else, and that's what killed my baseball fandom in the first place. The big difference is Two: while the Yankees got to their lofty perch by wildly outspending all other teams, the Red Wings have done it... the right way. The way I'd want a team to be built. Nurturing young prospects, picking up the missing pieces. One of their centerpieces, picked up in part because they have such a good reputation, is Marian Hossa, who's in the top three of players that it's been a joy for me to watch up close (others: Sakic, Forsberg, natch). They're a good team. They're a cleaner team, even with that little shit Maltby and lifetime nemesis Chelios occasionally coming off the bench, than most teams. The Red Wings are the model for how a hockey team -- nay, any pro sports team -- should be run. They routinely convince elite players that they should live in the least-desirable American city, save Gary, Indiana. I can make fun of the Wings and Detroit all I want, but does that bug Chris Osgood and his three, soon to be four, Stanley Cup rings? CHRIS FUCKING OSGOOD?
Their fans are still human garbage, yes. Reading your average Wings blog and the comments is sort of like a combination of a Skrewdriver fan page, Craigslist's intimate encounters section, and the Special Olympics writing contest. An old friend of mine, who spent the latter part of the '90s and early part of the '00s rooting for the Wings and pointing out their relative success vis-a-vis the Avalanche, recently threw the team over in large part because of the boorish behavior of their fans. I still take a lot of joy from that. But in the end, they could have the National Front and Kid Rock as their fan base and it wouldn't change this: when you hear Red Wings, you assume they're a cut above the rest of the league. And they've earned that.
I don't want to be the person defining his hockey fandom by what he hates. I can take some happiness from knowing that I'm smarter and more attractive (rather dapper, really, I must say) than Wings fans. In the end, that doesn't change the fact that their team can beat the shit out of mine, and if they don't it's cause they ain't trying.
Still, fuck them. And go Liverpool FC!
(edited the sober morning after for a bit of clarity and removal of repetitive phrasing)