Thursday, September 29, 2011

Maybe I Will Take You Back, NHL

Photo: bridgetds, Flickr Creative Commons

I was not happy when the Atlanta Thrashers left for Winnipeg. I have nothing against Winnipeg, but I actually like watching hockey. I just have trouble watching games where I don't have a team in which I'm emotionally invested. Last year when it was announced that the Thrashers were going to be sold and move to Canada, I decided I was going to give up on hockey. After all, I've never played the sport myself and I live in a part of the world where ice doesn't actually exist in the natural world, but now that the preseason has begun I'm starting to miss the sport a little.

I wouldn't mind continuing to follow it. It's a great sport combining the physicality and roughness of football with the finesse and constant motion of soccer and basketball (without the flopping). I just still have that problem of not having a team to follow, so today, about thirty seconds after feeling the urge to pick a new team, I stopped doing anything of importance and focused in on this issue. The criteria for choosing my new team are as follows:
  1. The team cannot wear too much red. I'm okay, in general, with the color red. In fact, as I type this I am wearing a red shirt. It's a very nice shirt. It may be a shirt for a man who was 40 lbs heavier when it was purchased, but I like it. Too much red, though, especially on the all-white backdrop of the rink, is painful. Just watch a Red Wings home game and you'll see what I mean. I won't entirely rule out a team whose alternate uniform is all red, but it is a strike against them.
  2. I refuse to cheer for the team that posers pick. Basically, this is my New York Yankees Rule. I have no problem with Yankees fans who live in New York or have a real personal connection to New York. You know, like having grown up there before moving away or having family there. No one else has any valid reason to cheer for a team like the Yankees otherwise. Doing so makes you look like the bandwagon type at best, and the type of guy who cheered for the bully to win the fights the bully started with kids half his size at worst.
  3. I have to be able to see a significant number of the team's games on TV. Otherwise this whole exercise is pointless. I need to be able to recognize the face of the defender on the third line before the halfway point of the season.
  4. Fuck Florida. Seriously. I hate that state. No teams from Florida allowed. (Also screw the New York and Los Angeles metro areas too.) There's no rational explanation for this rule, although the NY/LA thing may be related in spirit to the Yankee rule.

So, rule one knocks Detroit, Carolina, and maybe Phoenix. (Is this red?) Rule two banishes, in my opinion, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and the Rangers. Sidney Crosby may be enough to rule out Pittsburgh by this rule, actually. Rule three scratches all Canadian and West Coast teams off the list. Tampa and the Florida Panthers were disqualified before I even started writing this. The extension of rule four also kills off the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils.

That leaves me with the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks. I could just decide to root for all of these teams, but that's silly. I need passion in my sports and passion is not an product of infinite capacity. I have to focus, so I'll need to narrow this down a bit.

Let's go ahead and write off the Blue Jackets. I have a personal connection to Ohio and Columbus most definitely doesn't violate my Yankee Rule or the extension of the Fuck Florida Rule. I just don't know the last time I've seen them on TV. Ohio's just too far away and it's a small market team. Same goes for Nashville, although I could see them being real contenders if one of the regional sports networks I get start carrying their games. I'm not positive, but I should probably rule out Buffalo for similar reasons, although they're a much more established team and probably get more national TV coverage than the other two. Washington is a former rival of the Thrashers. They were both in the Southeast Division and it feels weird to switch allegiance to a team I used to actively root against. Also, because of baseball and football, I dislike Philadelphia. Cognitive dissonance sucks and I think I'd have some trying to reconcile disliking the Phillies and Eagles while cheering for the Flyers. (Nothing against you, Mickey.)

That leaves the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. I'm going to briefly lay out my reasons for and against each team and will give time for readers to make their cases before officially declaring my new allegiance.

Both teams are part of the Original Six, the heart of the NHL. These teams were in the league from the very beginning and have a lot of historical significance. That's definitely a plus. Both will also receive a significant number of games on Versus. Boston will have 13 games there and Chicago will have 11. Boston and Chicago have both made the playoffs each of the last three years. That means more national games are likely in the post-season and that the season may actually matter. Since I'm having to pick for reasons other than geography this time, I'm willing to pick a team that doesn't suck like the Thrashers did.

The main drawback for Boston is that they border on infringing on the Yankee Rule. The Bruins have been a dominant team for forever and Boston is a major market. Still, I have a small soft spot for the city. I've never actually been (I haven't been to Chicago either), but they hate the Yankees, so that helps. I remain a little uncomfortable with the fact it would border on looking like I picked Boston just because it's popular if I chose the Bruins.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, used to suck. A lot. There were jokes until Chicago had that playoff run three years ago that the Chicago Wolves (the AHL affiliate of the Thrashers until the move) was the more popular professional hockey team in the city. That gives them a bit of an underdog feel, which I like, despite the fact they've been consistently good for a few years. They did win the Stanley Cup in 2010, and that seriously brings the bandwagon issue into play (although I didn't realize they had won it all until just now when I was looking them up.) The other main drawback is that because they don't have a history of dominance, they aren't covered nationally quite as well. They have only two fewer games on Versus, but they also may not receive as much extra coverage on national TV. I'm not really sure how the television rights work in hockey.

Of course, in the end, I may end up with a more natural solution. Honestly, if the Carolina Hurricanes games end up being carried on SportSouth, I may forgive them their all-red home unis and former divisional rivalry with Atlanta and follow them instead. After all, I do hope to move into western North Carolina in a few years and they would become my local team. Until then I need a team to focus on once the regular season starts next month.


Julie said...

Honestly, it seems like a no-brainer to me. The Blackhawks feeder-league connection is undeniable. They were totally kinked to your team. I do have a personal bias against the Bruins, though. The Thrashers played them in the 2nd to last game I attended and their fans were the worst! They were rude, loud and generally obnoxious. I will henceforth root against them no matter who they play and you becoming a fan would be the second strike againstour friendship this week.

if you're not sold on Chi, I have one more suggestion: follow the team of your favorite player. That's how Matt became a Blues fan.

Jacob said...

My favorite player is probably on the Winnipeg roster. I SERIOUSLY doubt we're getting much tv coverage of a likely crappy Canadian team.

Seriously, I only watched Thrashers games, meaning I disliked every player not on the Thrashers roster. Dustin Byfuglien was probably my favorite Thrasher last year and he's in Winnipeg.

Mickey said...

The Columbus Blue Jackets get my vote as far and away the most obscure team in major professional sports. A whole lot of minor league teams are far more well-known.

And yeah, the team you get to watch the most will end up being your team, regardless of color.

Courtney said...

I have never heard of the Columbus Blue Jackets in my life.