Rebuilding year?

May 15, 2006

Human nature is a very funny thing. It always strikes me as very curious when a fan of a hockey team does a quick 180-degree turn and sings a different song. What I’m specifically referring to in this instance is how the tune changes once a team is eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

One of the great things that the NHL (and NBA, though I don’t follow basketball) playoffs is that they sell a precious commodity to fans, and that is hope. There are 30 NHL teams, and 16 (53%) make the playoffs. Some talking heads complain that this is too many teams (this might have been true when there were only 24 or so teams). Compared to baseball, this argument seems quite valid. In baseball, only 6 of the 30 (20%) squads see post-season action. In the NFL, it is 12 of 32 (38%). Is sixteen too many?

My first argument to the contrary is economic, and that the hockey financial system needs as many teams playing the second season as possible. Hockey is, by far, the “poorest” of the four major sports in North America. The more teams playing extra games means more money. Hockey teams get very little television money compared to other sports, so every little bit helps.

My second argument centers around marketing and growing the game. As near as two weeks from the end of the regular season, it is not uncommon to see 24-25 teams in contention for a playoff spot. I’m sure it is hoped by the powers that be that the “increased meaning” of these late season games (for so many more teams than other sports) will translate into better television ratings, higher attendance, and a buzz about the sport in general. This doesn’t always happen in reality, but I have to think that this hope exists. I haven’t personally been able to enjoy this yet, as a fan of the Jackets. But I can guarantee you that the time will come when Columbus will be competing for a playoff spot in the last two weeks. When this happens you’ll be sure to find me on the edge of my chair like Grandpa EOB, not able to watch my team while glued to the tube at the same time.

Back to my original idea, here. In college sports, there is constant talk of a team having a rebuilding year. This is a product of the system where a player does not stay for more than four years (usually), and it is not uncommon to have a season or two where the team is young and learning. Usually, these rebuilding years are accompanied by not making the post season. It is possible for a season to start out labeled as a rebuilding year, only to morph into a productive (for the purposes of this argument, the opposite of rebuilding) year. If your team is projected to have a good to great season and they do so only to falter in the playoffs, this is different. The team did not regress into having a rebuilding year. They simply didn’t close the deal. There can only be one champion each year. I don’t believe it is fair to the team you support if anything less than a championship is labeled a failure.

Circumstances (Detroit playing so well in recent memory) may dictate that you expect more than a first round exit, but nobody (fan or team) in the world of sports is owed anything. There are fans of teams in many sports that would kill for a first round playoff exit (at least for starters). Regular season games offer the prospect of post season play. Playoff games offer the hope of advancing and winning the title.

Sports sell hope, and this is what all sports fans buy… hope. Mixing this with entitlement is a mistake. Be happy that we have sports to create a diversion from some other less exciting aspects of our lives.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench. Come back soon.


One comment

  1. Hi Drew-I lived in Columbus when the Chill were the hottest ticket in town (next to Saturday at the Horseshoe). That energy carried over to the BJ’s, but it won’t last forever if Doug MacLean doesn’t get his crap together. The Jackets don’t seasoned quality on-ice leadership to mentor the wild stallions. I don’t think you’ll get it from Federov. Thought you might get it from Foote. I’d love to see that franchise and fans in a playoff setting.

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