Ahh summer time. The time when Canada’s biggest and most popular sport isn’t being played. A time when fans of the game are uncertain with what will happen to their favorite teams and players. Its the time when Free Agency has unsigned players entertaining offers from teams, and when most of the trades are happening in order to make teams better. Yes, summer is the time when many Canadians like myself spend glued to sports websites to find out the latest signing news and rumors. Ahh summer time.
As a Canadian I’ve noticed a growing trend. The trend that no place other than Canada should have a hockey team or player. The problem is, as Canadians, we are worried more about a silent assimilation of Canada by the United States of America. Its beyond frustrating to read the comments section on an article about a player that’s mulling over his options for teams and seeing comments like “come to Canada and play!” or “why no Canadian teams on the list of candidates?”. Like these players, Canadian or not, owe it to Canadian fans to play here.
The fact is that its not realistic for a player to be expected to come play in Canada. Now, as awesome as I feel it would have been to have a Brad Richards or Rick Nash come play for the Calgary Flames, I understand the decisions not too. Its because of the unrealistic expectations that we as Canadians have when it comes to hockey, these big star players don’t want to come here. And to say that isn’t without merit.
Look at what happened with Chris Pronger in Edmonton. The rumor is that the man got caught with his pants down and demanded a trade. The fact is, there is no actual proof (other than here say) to suggest this happened. The realism of the story is that the Pronger family was not happy with the media attention or lack of privacy they received while living in the market. The same thing happens all the time in Canada. We worship our hockey players like deities. Its because of this, we as hockey fans are worse than the paparazzi when we see a player in public. I’ve seen it happen, where I’ll be at a restaurant where an NHL player is eating, and fans will come to his table, interrupt his meal, and ask for a picture and an autograph. And I don’t mean the young 11 or 12 year old meeting their idol, I mean grown adult men. At least with a kid its forgivable, but a 35 year old dude? C’mon.
Of course, its not just the fan attention, its the media attention. Jacques Plante, one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game, was once quoted as saying “How would you like it if at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light went on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?”. Fact is, its not just the 18,000 people in attendance of the game screaming at you. Lose a game by 2 goals and you’re front page news. If a team goes in to a slump? The media in Canada goes on and lambastes the bastards like they’re good for nothing. The Canadian press is not kind to losing teams or slumping players.
Why would a player want to come in to that environment? As a player, I could play in New York or LA and be lost among the crowd on my days off. I hate the cold, so why, as a player, would I want to live in Edmonton in January when its +24 in Phoenix or Dallas? And, why would I want to deal with being on the front page of the Calgary Sun or Vancouver Province after I missed an empty netter, when in Miami I could be drinking cocktails on South Beach forgetting about the game? Or why would I want to deal with the Fan 590 in Toronto bitching about the fact I’m not scoring 2 goals a game for the Maple Leafs, when in Tampa I could be boating in the bay?
Then of course there is the Contender Factor. Every player wants to win the Stanley Cup. Fact is, no Canadian team has won one since 1993. That’s 20 years this coming season. 4 teams have come close, without being able to secure the trophy. Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Vancouver have all been within grasp of winning it. As a Flames fan, what stings the most is the inability of Calgary’s coach to ask for a replay which would have returned the Cup to Canada in 2004. Its safe to say that statistically speaking, Calgary WAS the closest to winning it, losing the final 2 games by just 1 goal. Of course, that’s discounting that Toronto has missed playoffs since 2004, Calgary since 2009, and Edmonton since 2007. I’m not sure how Canadian fans expect Canadian teams to win the Cup if their teams aren’t making the playoffs.
Yes, I realize the flip side to the argument is that if the teams were able to attract more talent, they’d be more competitive. This isn’t entirely true. Take for example the Edmonton Oilers. They look great on paper, top young talent (Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins), veteran leadership (Smyth, Hemsky), and a top name, Stanley Cup winning goalie (Khabibulin). There’s no reason the team shouldn’t be a serious contender. Yet, two 30th overall finishes, and the top pick in the draft 3 years in a row…yeah. There goes that “attract more talent” theory down the crapper.
As hockey fans, we neglect the fact that 2 out of every 3 players in the NHL are Canadian. We don’t recognize this when we say things like “Canada’s Team” when referring to the last team from Canada is left in the playoffs. Really? Canada’s Team? No. By the time the last Canadian team is playing in the playoffs, Canada’s Team is playing in the World Championship. You know, the team that’s made up of Canadian born players, wearing a red jersey with a big maple leaf on it? Yeah, THAT’S “Canada’s Team”. The team Canadian hockey fans are referring to is either Vancouver or Montreal or Ottawa’s team. And, as most Vancouver Canucks fans will tell you, they don’t enjoy/want band wagon jumpers. They want “real” fans.
Of course, I’ve left the fact that as Canadians, our sense of entitlement when it comes to hockey stretches not just to the players not coming to play here. No, it also applies to the teams as well. The fact is, with 23 teams not in Canada, we feel slighted, or scorned by the lack of interest the NHL has in expanding or relocating to Canada. We’ll never be satisfied until Iqualit has its own team. You may think I’m being sarcastic, but its the attitude most Canadians portray when it comes to the NHL. Never mind the fact that hockey is a business, and like any business it needs to make money. This is why New York has 3 teams playing within 50 KM or each other, and why Moose Jaw doesn’t have a team. Its why there’s hockey teams in Dallas and Miami, not in Yellowknife or St. John’s. Its all about the Benjamin’s.
See, it may be well and good to dream about every hamlet in Canada having an NHL team, its unfeasible. Think about it this way, if the Flordia Panthers owners put the team up for sale, and all of a sudden, a wild card ownership group form Saskatoon beats the odds and lands a team, that takes money away from Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg. Then those teams won’t have as much in their financial coffers to attract big name players like Marian Hossa or Claude Giroux once they become available. In fact, the impacts will put us back in the same situation we were in back in the mid 90’s. We had 8 teams then, and 5 of them were in such a dire situation that southern relocation was the only potential option. We seem to forget that the original Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix and that the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver. Perhaps we also forget that the Calgary Flames almost moved to Portland, Oregon, and Edmonton almost moved to several markets south of the 49th. Mind you, we also neglect that around the same time the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas and the Hartford Whalers moved to Carolina. No, we only see the expansion to markets like Miami, Atlanta, Nashville, and Columbus in that time period.
Now, I’m not saying that Canada couldn’t support 1 more NHL team. Its just a matter of location. Let’s be serious for a second, there’s no damn way Saskatoon is going to support an NHL team. Just the same as there’s no way Quebec City is going to get another NHL team without a new arena first. As it stands, Canada’s best bet for an NHL ready city is Hamilton. Even then that’s only introducing another team in to an already saturated market (Detroit, Toronto, Buffalo). I prefer the realistic approach. The one that says there are a few NHL ready American cities that could support a team before Canada gets another. Portland, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, and Milwaukee could all support an NHL team before Quebec, Hamilton, or Saskatoon are even considered. Again, as Canadians we don’t recognize the potential of these markets. We sit and watch as Phoenix goes bankrupt. We get jealous that hockey is being played in tropical Miami in the middle of January while most of us is snowed in watching Don Cherry rant about shoulder pads and visors on Coaches Corner.
While yes, I do think it would be awesome to see Quebec and Saskatoon get their own teams, and I’d love to be able to afford to go to an NHL game in Metro Vancouver once Surrey gets their own team, I think we have to get our heads out of our asses for a moment. We have a world wide reputation of being polite and not pushy Canada. We also pride ourselves on sharing our successes with the world. Why can’t we feel this way with hockey? Lets all try to tone down our over zealous sense of entitlement when it comes to the sport we all love. Can we try and respect the game for what it is, and celebrate that hockey IS a successful multi-billion dollar business grown from the backyard ice rinks, frozen ponds, and dreams of our heroes? Try to realize that Gretzky and Crosby are a reflection of us as a people, and that the Toronto Maple Leafs have more fans in Shanghai than they do in Kitchener. And when we call a team “Canada’s Team”, lets call it that because its Team Canada, not the Ottawa Senators.