Thursday, April 12, 2007
Updated: April 13, 5:08 PM ET
C'mon, you're dying for a Kings-Rangers series
By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com
The playoff picture: Sixteen in, 14 out, shame on anyone who wants to increase the number "in."
The number is just right, and any argument based on the premise that teams with decent point totals are being left out should be dismissed. In this era of devalued points, the league average -- or the essential .500 level -- was 91.3 this season.
(And is that Stars-Canucks Game 1 over yet?)
True NHL fans don't abandon the league once their favorite team is done, regardless of how much they have to scramble to find telecasts or otherwise follow the proceedings.
That means following the playoffs, hungrily sticking with it, accepting whoever makes it to the next step of the most grueling postseason test in professional sports, and not whining about "small" or "non-traditional" markets being represented as the field is narrowed.
But I'm also an adoption advocate.
The choices can certainly be personal, whether it's because someone in Raleigh, N.C., was raised on the Rangers before moving to the research triangle, or because someone in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., used to pump a fist every time No. 9 finished off a Gordie Howe hat trick.
Beyond that, though, why not make it semi-official? Every non-playoff market could have its "own" team. So I'll toss out some suggestions.
While the heavily intradivisional nature of the regular-season schedule means fans are most familiar with the teams that come in (what is it?) 26 times a season, that's too easy.
Besides, the alleged rationalization for that scheduling is it creates sharp-edged rivalries, and how can you ask fans to turn around and adopt a divisional foe? (We all know the real reason for the scheduling is the influential men in Atlantic Division territory want to stay close to home.) Familiarity in this instance can breed respect, but also contempt.
So none of these suggested affiliations involve turning around and rooting for a divisional opponent.
That one's easy, though it requires even the remaining Bruins fanatics to acknowledge this is the flip side of the Cam Neely deal. When the Bruins traded away Joe Thornton last season, the implication was they weren't getting sufficient bang for their buck from him, and there was both a surprising and baffling amount of head-nodding going on in the Beantown media. One Hart Trophy win and a likely finalist's spot later, Thornton has made the Bruins and their apologists even more ridiculous, but a significant playoff run with the Sharks could completely close the case.
If Nashville manages to knock off the Sharks and advances deep into the postseason, the good folks of Tennessee will be hearing the same sort of ridiculous talk the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill fans heard a year ago. The ridiculous talk that they just learned the color of the blue line the other day and don't "deserve" to have a team. The big difference is the Predators fans can do their pre- and postgame "tailgating" in the honky-tonks along Broadway, rather than the arena parking lot.
Until the Wirtzes either sell or get the Blackhawks' ship righted, there actually can be as much passion in the Chicago area for the AHL Wolves, who play in Rosemont, Ill., as there is for the tradition-drenched NHL team. By that, I mean the Wolves at least admit they're putting a minor league product on the ice -- and charge minor league prices. And they're the Thrashers' top farm club, so Chicago fans, for example, had the chance to follow J.P. Vigier's development from farmhand to lunch-bucket NHL winger.
The Avalanche, who missed the postseason for the first time in their 11-season stay in Denver, haven't been the same since trading Chris Drury to the Flames in October 2002. Many Colorado fans are hoping he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Avalanche make a run at him (a different sort of run than Chris Neil's). So fly in orders of wings from Frank and Teressa's Anchor Bar, bring in Rene Robert for a personal appearance or two, and root for the Sabres.
It's a relatively easy drive to Mellon Arena, and Blue Jackets fans can also see how astute drafting -- well, and having the luck to be especially rotten in the right draft years -- can actually lead to progress.
Shed no tears for Ryan "Hertz" Smyth, who at least is in the playoffs for a round. The two '80s dynastic franchises align for however long the Islanders last, and it's almost enough to make you hope for Def Leppard and Yes tours.
Nice trade, Panthers. What's Todd Bertuzzi done for you lately? Two markets on the water hook up, except unlike in Florida, there is no law in British Columbia that you must turn on your lights every time your windshield wipers are running. Because that would mean you would have your lights on all the time.
Los Angeles: Rangers
There's just a symmetry there. L.A.-N.Y. Two biggest markets. Randy Newman in a convertible, Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village. Lakers-Knicks, (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers-Yankees, sporting hatred and rivalry. Too bad it's never really come off in hockey. And until that someday happens, we'll toss them together in a partnership, so tune those TVs in Gladstone's 4 Fish to the Rangers' games.
The son of the Canadiens' team photographer continues to be stingy in the net for coach Claude Jul-
oops, make that for Lou Lamoriello.
All the snow bunnies in both markets can unite. If the Coyotes ever get it going, Phoenix fans can have the same thrill Lightning fans had in 2004, which is to attend playoff games in 98 degree weather.
Flyers fans might be willing to grant Scott Niedermayer bonus points for having fled the Devils.
St. Louis: Wild
They're both on the Mississippi River and Garrison Keillor and Mark Twain would have gotten along great, watching games from the owners' boxes.
Toronto: Red Wings
Original Six bonding for the franchise to the north of Windsor, Ontario. Heck, ride the train to Windsor, go through the tunnel in a cab and hold two fingers in the air outside Joe Louis Arena. And if that doesn't work, just go watch in the Hockeytown Café.
And perhaps hope to see a Washington Post headline that has been unthinkable since 1924: SENATORS WIN TITLE!
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."