The Hater's Guide to the 2014 NHL Offseason: Central Division [Part 2]
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he do three teams or only two?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is OTF, the most <em>Predator Hard</em> blog in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask
This is it, folks. This is the Omega Section. ALL of the malice you people pour into hockey fandom, this is it's zenith. You should enjoy this, knowing that someone sympathizes with your feelings. We understand each other.
Love brings two people together at a time. Hate, especially in hockey, unites cities and states for weeks and months at a time. We have a job to do. Let us commence.
Stan Bowman has figured out the NHL. Of their offseason moves, there's not much to hate about what Chicago has done. Frankly, there's not much to really hate about the team on the ice. They're clutch, they're built to win each year, and they're a perfect mix of veterans and kids to sustain their success. Their goaltending is just good enough, and just questionable enough to make the West competitive. If there's a chink in their armor, its that they're paying Corey Crawford a higher AAV than Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa. It was already easy to justify a pay raise on a team that's won two cups since 2010, but if you're paying the goaltender that much, they better be prepared to pay the guys that actually won them the cup.
Chicago brought in Brad Richards for a very small chunk of salary. He's getting paid less than what Kris Versteeg is paid to play hockey for Chicago and less than what Kris Versteeg is paid to not play hockey for Florida.
Then this summer, they decided to pay Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane AAV's of $10.5 million starting next year, the same year Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy are due extensions. If any two players are worth $21 million a year, it's these two. We can hate on them a little bit for wanting so much cash that Stan Bowman has to start re-tooling the team next summer, but that's for Blackhawk fans to hate and not us. But then again, they'll probably trade Sharp to the Leafs for like 5 draft picks, which will be early first and second rounders and the Hawks won't miss a beat. That's how this works. The process repeats every 5 years.
So how does a team that's this smart become so hated? The answer is easy: fans. A mistreated fan base for years suddenly swells to life after the planets align by way of early draft picks and an ownership shift. That seems harmless enough, but I'm guessing everyone hated the Canucks in 2009 to the point where everyone cheered this moment:
Maybe we just really hated the Canucks, but it didn't matter. This was the moment that was the genesis of the wildfire that is the Blackhawk Bandwagon. The average casual hockey fan thought "GEE THIS LOOKS FUN!", and it does. They were a fun team to pull for, they eliminated the real evil in Vancouver, and they hadn't won anything since John Lennon was in school. It was easy. And the year after, it was also easy. It was the 2010-2011 season when the fan base realized "OH SNAP, We can buy tickets and hotels elsewhere that are cheaper than going to our own arena!". This is not their fault, this is all of our teams' faults for not creating enough fan desire to keep the drive-by fans from selling their seats. So it's not the Chicago fans fault that they show up in big number, blame your own team.
However, it IS the fans' fault for showing up in arrest reports every Saturday night road game they play in. I've said it before, it's a raging drunken horde of raiders, reeking of Marlboro, and played by pudgy Irish-Polish actors. There's nothing like waiting in line for a beer behind 5 people wearing Kane jerseys, with big ol' creases in the digits (which happens when you order things online, dead giveaway). There's a reason why the arena is 33% empty when coming back from an intermission; half of the invaders are paying homage to their favorite brand of "Virginia Killing Sticks." To add to this, plenty of their fans who visit other cities come from the areas further out from Chicago. Lovely towns like Gary, Springfield, Metropolis, Peoria, and others that produce creatures that look like they belong on an episode of COPS filmed in Lakeland, Florida in 1993.
Seriously, there's nothing like walking around the club level and seeing some guy in a Antti Niemi jersey and with a biker mullet walking like he rode here from the Quad Cities. Maybe he did.
So in closing, we don't like this team because we don't want their fans to have any joy. That sounds like a fine goal, but have you ever actually hung out with these people? They're not bad individually, because they're content. They come here via Southwest on a deal, they're on vacation, and their team is going to win another cup soon. If you take away their success, do you know what kind of monster that would create?
St. Louis Blues
That's right, a team stuck in a crummy Midwestern city stuck in the middle of miles and miles of dirt. Like Chicago, their fans are a roving band of drunks. Unlike Chicago, these fans have not experienced success in terms of the Stanley Cup coming to St. Louis. So unlike Chicago, these fans are roving band of angry drunks before the game is even played.
Doug Armstrong is one of the best GMs in the league, and he can roll out a top line of Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, and Vladamir Tarasenko next year thanks to the homecoming of Stastny. I'm not sure why leaving Colorado, a team run by winners and surrounded by the most dangerous forward corps in the league, for a hockey market that's been cursed for decades was so appealing. Stastny can't even use the "I didn't know much about the city" card, because he grew up there. Perhaps he wanted to be the number one center in town after seeing David Backes out on his skates trying to fight Brent Seabrook. Stastny is foolish thinking he can usurp a captain that represents his city like Backes, who channeled every Blues fan ever by trying to fight someone while not being able to stand up.
When I lived in Panama City I used to hate two or three weeks out of the year; Indiana's high school spring break, U. of Georgia's spring break, and Thunder Beach (bike week). The Indiana kids were overwhelmed at all the bars and lack of threatening people, the UGA folks wanted to fight everyone (especially the LSU folks), and the bikers were just a bunch of yuppies wanting to get drunk and be all gross and old and stuff. Now I have home games against St. Louis on Saturday nights as a condensed version.
And no, we don't want to hear about how superior a city St. Louis is compared to Nashville. St. Louis is just across the river from East St. Louis, which is to St. Louis as Flint is to Detroit. Also, the Blues success rate in the playoffs is mirrored by the success rate that Missouri has in the war on drugs.
Nevertheless, their town is blessed with a good hockey team. And their fans know it. Their fans now love to leave their town, get completely hammered, start all kinds of crazy fights, shout obscenities, and barely avoid being arrested... then park their car, and enter Bridgestone Arena. Last year, we had documented cases of Blues fans getting in the face of security, attempting to drink coffee straight from the carafe, and all sorts of good stuff.
If you ever get Center Ice or GameCenter Live, you'll notice that Blues broadcasts have commercials for 5-6 car dealerships and liquor stores. It's like clockwork.
It's a shame with an economy that's tied to automobiles and drunkeness that Missouri is so far behind other states with their DUI/DWI arrests, but underachieving people following an underachieving hockey club is the target demo for American made/designed cars and cheap booze. St. Louis is apparently the only US city other than Detroit that still buys cars from Detroit. (Not the case in Canada, where everyone drives a GM car for some bizarre reason. OR a Land Rover. Can't forget Land Rovers.)
Back to the team itself; while praising Armstrong is warranted given the roster he's assembled and how he's done it, that Ryan Miller trade really sucked for him. Now he's bringing a playoff contender that has a loaded list of forwards and defensemen into battle with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. The Blues traded off Jaroslav Halak for the honor of having Ryan Miller for a couple dozen games. Halak might not have been fully appreciated in St. Louis, but analysts and stat people will tell you that Halak is/was one of the best statistical goaltenders in the league. He's off to help the Islanders ascend to mediocrity, and chuckle while watching Brian Elliott get roasted every time he plays 5 games in a row.
The Blues lost Vladamir Sobotka to the KHL. This is payback for that one guy who laughed at us being all excited that Alexander Radulov was back in Nashville. Yes, Sobotka isn't as good of a player as Rads, but it matters to Armstrong, who whined like nobody's business when Radulov came back over here. But don't worry, they re-signed Steve Ott. He's foulmouthed, he wins faceoffs, and he's good at golf. He's easily the most St. Louis Blue ever. If we can get video of him swearing in a nylon BUSCH jacket in Bridgestone Arena (true story), he'll be elected mayor.
If I didn't love my city, I could easily hate this team. The GM fires the very popular coach, and replaces him with a very successful successor. That's fine. It's ironic that Barry Trotz went to Washington, because Poile (previously worked for Washington himself) treated him like an outgoing politician. "We're now going to play offense" is the veiled message from Poile. Trotz failing to take this team to the playoffs is just as much on Poile as it is anyone else. It's the general manager's job to put the best team possible at the disposal of the coach. That didn't happen. Instead he tried too hard to cater to Trotz, and the rest of the NHL adapted and left them both in the dust. Sound about right?
Being embedded among Nashville fans is always interesting. We have several divisions of them among us. One is pretty hardcore, and is all about having a good team on the ice (and know this team is far from the best). Another is only there to meet up with friends, get all excited when the jumbotron pans over, and cares more about the goal song than anything on the ice because they can't yell "YOU SUCK" at their job. There is another division that only goes to games that he or she cannot sell on StubHub. And finally, there are the eternal optimists who cherish whatever scraps and morsels of good information the team promote and tweet.
In a day and age when more and more hockey fans are aware that having the puck is key to winning championships, the Preds love to promote how many hits Shea Weber has. I'm not saying hits are bad, I'm just saying its a miracle on par with Moses getting water from the rocks that he has as many goals as he did last year. He's clearly not playing with the puck as much as Keith, Doughty, etc, as shown by his "awesome" hit stats. Speaking of hits, I'm not sure how to categorize the people who are genuinely mad that Jordin Tootoo wasn't brought back. Just know that they exist.
So in a year when David Poile knows the clock is ticking on him to produce a playoff team, he trades the very beloved Patric Hornqvist and utility knife Nick Spaling for James Neal. It's no secret that Neal isn't loved by everyone in the NHL. But Poile and new coach Peter Laviolette like his game. So with this new goal scoring threat, Poile and the gang have to be looking at getting a good playmaker in free agency as a top line center right? Um...
So in a year when David Poile knows the clock is ticking on him to produce a playoff team, he doesn't land anyone that's considered to be a top line center in the first few days. That's a bad thing. If a team is paying their captain and all-world defenseman Shea Weber a boatload of cash, AND paying Pekka Rinne a good chunk of money to be a goaltender for a contender, WHY IN THE HELL IS THERE NOT A PUSH TO BE BETTER RIGHT NOW?!?
So in a year when David Poile knows the clock is ticking on him to produce a playoff team, he turns to Olli Jokinen. Olli showed up at the presser wearing a sportswear version of a Miami Marlins hat, and with a mullet. Awesome. We then find out shortly afterwards that Mike Fisher had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles's Tendon right when the UFA period began. REALLY? HE KNEW THIS TEAM HAD NO REAL TOP LINE CENTER BEFORE FISHER HAD SURGERY, AND THIS IS THE BACKUP PLAN?
So in a year when David Poile knows the clock is ticking on him to produce a playoff team, he signs Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy (much to the delight of the local beat writer) to one-year deals worth less money than Jokinen's deal. Barring any other trades, Ribeiro will be the guy who passes the puck to James Neal, and Roy will slot in nicely on the second line. That's cool, but the entire season is now essentially riding on two guys who both showed up on David Poile's doorstep asking for a spot, and might be gone after this year. So in this super important year, Poile has turned to two players who have never been a top line center in order to get the best out of his new winger, who happened to play next to Evgeni Malkin last year.
Maybe David Poile isn't on the hot seat after all? Crud.
At least someone wants to play here without being paid $BENOIT POULIOT.
Being a Chicago fan is easy. Being a Blues fan or a Predators fan is hard. It's a rough labor of love that has yet to yield a Cup for either city. I suppose Blues and Preds fans aren't too different, but one is just angry during hockey season because it's not baseball season. Also, Blues fans might be angry at the world because in a city full of functioning alcoholics, car dealerships, and insurance companies, there are very very few bars downtown near the arena. How is this possible? This is like not having a seafood market in Seattle, or not having a satellite trauma ward in Chicago.
In a related note, I do want to thank both of these teams for inspiring the City of Nashville to build a new downtown police precinct.
All of these fans have their own trademark shouts/calls during each game night.
- Blackhawks: "YYAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY*SWILLS BEER*AYYYYYYYYY ITS THE ANTHEM YAYYYYYY *GRABS PHONE TO TAKE A VINE* YAYYYYWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO *STAGGERS* AAAANNNNDDD THE RAWKETTTS RUUUD GLUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRR"
- Blues: "Blackhawk fans are so [censored] disrepeckful during the anthim." (Minutes later) ... "...of... THA... *deep breath, through mouth* BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO's" *pukes*
- Predators: "Got two seats, lower level!"/