There has always been something slightly perverse about the notion that a sport would suffer if a certain team (or teams) actually had a chance to win a championship.
Usually this is a notion based on the fact that somehow TV ratings would suffer, and that teams from small and or foreign television markets deserve less of a chance to win the trophy than teams from big ones.
This, of course, begs the question, "Then why did the ratings for Mets-Yankees in 2000 stink?''
But you still hear it, and not just because TV has an inherent bias against anything not Los Angeles/Manhattan based. Take the four combatants left in the Stanley Cup playoffs for example. There is this notion floating about that none of the remaining teams -- Anaheim, Minnesota, New Jersey or Ottawa -- are sufficiently deserving to play for the Cup.
This, of course, begs the question, "What, and the Rangers do?''
Well, of course the Rangers don't, and if they keep this up much longer, we're taking back the '94 Cup and awarding it to Kirsten Dunst.
And neither do any of the other 25 teams that aren't still playing. Call us bluff old traditionalists, but we tend to err on the side of actual results when deciding worthy champions.
But this doesn't mean we shouldn't cast a properly jaundiced eye at the four teams left and asking, for lack of a better question, "Why you?''
So we begin.
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Pros include Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is nicely positioned to become the logical inheritor to the crown still worn by Patrick Roy; Paul Kariya, the superstar who has forgotten to complain when things don't go his way; and Adam Oates in the role of Raymond Bourque, grizzled old toiler seeking the limelight at last.
Cons include the nickname, which was ridiculous on Day 1 and has failed to grow on anyone; the movies and the animated series based on the name; fan fervor, which has come only lately to The Pond (an arena, by the way, good enough to be listed as a pro if a home viewer could somehow enjoy that sort of thing); and relative youth (the team is barely a decade old, with no great historical moments until last week).
Total Score (out of 100): 63
Pros include the way they play (very fast, very earnest); Jacques Lemaire, defying fashion with a combover that actually begs for mercy; the jersey, which is good enough that when you turn on the tube and see the team for even a moment, you know who you're watching; and fan loyalty (sellout streak, based in part on the fact that the team is located in St. Paul rather than Minneapolis).
Cons include team age (were this team a dog, it would still be piddling on the carpet); anonymity (Martin Gaborik has sort of broken out, but that's pretty much it); history (none, and that includes the fact that there were two sets of North Stars playing across the river, the NHL's version of the Washington Senators); and style of play (they score a fair amount of goal for the amount of money spent on payroll, if you get our drift and we think you do).
Total score: 55
Pros include perseverance (lots of early playoff losses made them hungry); style of play (Minnesota fast, only with more skill); jerseys (yes on the road ones, no on the home ones); birthright (bonus points are always awarded on the basis of being Canadian, since the NHL has slowly but surely drifted southward and eastward over the last 20 years or so); and economic charm (there's something heartwarming about Daniel Alfredsson playing by night and panhandling for cash in a Tim Horton's by day; points off now
that the team's been sold to some multi-zillionaire).
Cons include history (lots of early exits, but still barely a decade of existence); jerseys (no on the home ones, yes on the road ones, or did we cover that already?); logo (other than Strom Thurmond, senators don't wear iron helmets, centurions do); nickname (Sens? What the hell is that, a breath mint?); hair (Jacques Martin makes Jimmy Johnson look like Sarah Jessica Parker) and visibility (amazingly enough, the Senators have fewer players known to the casual fan than any other Canadian team, which is too bad given that they have better players than the other Canadian teams combined).
Total score: 78
New Jersey Devils
Pros include history (the oldest team left by a factor of nearly three, plus the only one with a Cup in its past); Martin Brodeur (and never mind that stuff about which half of the Thanksgiving table he's dating these days); an easily recognizable style (yes, that would be Scott Stevens putting your favorite player 12 feet into the tunnel); results (they have
done what the Rangers like to pretend they could do, but plainly never will) and proximity to a major American landmark (the Newark Airport is a short cab ride away).
Cons include stubborn disinterest (this team couldn't sell out if it played a nude home-and-home series against the cast of "Charmed''), stubborn disinterest (the victory parade has been booked for the fourth floor of the Newark Public Library) and stubborn disinterest (sadly the Ken Daneyko bobblehead doll did not shake eBay to its computerized roots).
Total score: 79
All scores go up if there is a four-overtime-or-longer game in their immediate futures. All scores go down if the Wild go the entire series without scoring. And all scores rise dramatically if Michael Jordan decides to run the Chicago Blackhawks.
Except in Washington of course.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com