Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Roundtable Discussion: If the Bruins are in the playoffs, does it make a sound?

This is the first in what we hope are regular installments of "Editor's Roundtable" in which we discuss issues nearest and dearest to the hearts of Boston sports fans. This week: If the Bruins are in the playoffs, does it make a sound?

futuremrsrickankiel: I'll be brutally honest here, and answer no -- but a qualified no. Right now in particular, what with our World Series Sox having just arrived back in town and the Celtics tearing a hole in the rest of the NBA, I just don't think a token playoffs appearance is going to suddenly draw people back to the Bruins. NESN isn't helping, either... the recent decision to bump what ended up being a playoffs berth-clinching game to CN8 in favor of a Red Sox game tells you all you need to know about how invested this city currently is in hockey.

The qualification comes from the fact that I'm not necessarily intending my response as an indictment of Boston as a hockey town. Quite frankly, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm with which this city embraced the Celtics at the beginning of the season. People sensed the excitement in the air, and jumped on board. Does that make them bandwagon fans? Perhaps, but why in the hell else does a franchise make blockbuster moves if not to show their fans that they care about making a team a winner again?

That said, I'm just not sure Boston fans are ready for two paradigm shifts in one year. The Bruins have made a huge defensive turnaround this season (our goaltending woes notwithstanding), but there's not been anything substantially new and exciting to draw in fans throughout the season. It may actually reflect MORE favorably on Boston fans that a playoffs appearance alone isn't going to draw in fans -- I think Boston fans are a loyal bunch who demand that their front offices reward them, and respond to exciting trades (Dice-K! K-Garn! Moss!) rather than simply to the thought that we might be a contender.

I will say this: I'm referring to this playoffs appearance as "token" FOR NOW because I'm really not convinced that the B's have much of a shot unless they can pull out all the stops in this series. It'll be straight-up defense, not offense and not even really goaltending, that wins this series against Montreal; the Bruins' vaunted defense is poised to surprise us all and possibly turn some other heads in the process if they can be effective. If the B's can topple the mighty Habs in the first and second games of this series, it's just possible Bostonians might stop in their tracks and wonder what that sound was.

Sh!tshow: I agree with a lot if this. The NESN/CN8 move was ridiculous, at least to me, and relgated the Bruins to second status. I'd have no issue if both were playoff games. But to bump a playoff game for a regular season game seems absurd.

Here's the thing though: Bruins fans are gonna watch it anyway. And I'm not quite so sure that number is dwindling as much as people claim it is. To paraphrase A Few Good Men, Bruins fans are fanatical about being Bruins fans. High ticket prices, player mismanagement, and front office blunders are major, major issues with this franchise, but fans just keep showing up in droves. And I think that's an important part to this. I love watching a rabid fanbase. I started following soccer because the fans or fucking into it. There's something moving about seeing a group of people live and die with a team. And I don't think I'm the only one. So maybe the fans will get their message out through sheer intensity.

I will say this: I wish people WOULD listen if only for this series. This is one of professional sports' (not just hockey, all of professional sports) BEST rivalries. These two franchises have a history of bone deep hatred for each other that stems back to the beginning of the sport. Canadiens/Bruins games are bad ass during the regular season, and the jump from regular season hockey to playoff hockey is immeasurable.

Plus, I think the Bs turn some heads during the next week.

Hazel Mae's Landing Strip: Good points by all, I at one point in my life was a Bruins fan, but over the years along with the rest of Boston have developed a malaise for this team. I think what has caused this town to turn on this team is the inability to create a face of the franchise. Look at the years when they were popular in Beantown, they had players that everyone knew, whether it be Terry O'Reilly, Phil Esposito or Cam Neely. Look at every other major sports team in this area, you know the players, you see them on commercials, you know their life stories. When David Ortiz eats in the North End everyone hears about, when Tom Brady bones Gisele in a New York bar, you know about it.

The team now sorely lacks any identity, as GM's have traded away the future face of the franchise (Joe Thornton) or put together teams that are terrible and worst of all boring to watch. No one on this years squad is a household name, and honestly I probably could only name about 5 players on this team (which could simply be the effect of the sports media who has deemed the Bruins unworthy) . Until the Bruins draft a "Sidney Crosby" or the "big thing" in professional hockey, or trade to bring a marquee player to this town the Bruins can plan on being irrelevant in the sports conversation of this town. They will continue to toil in obscurity with the Revolution and any and all college sports.

GHABB,Y~!: Wow futuremrs, as our Token Bruins Fan, I expected a "world through Black-and-Gold glasses" type rant that seems to come from Hockey People this time of year, extoling how playoff hockey is the most exciting playoff sport (which it actually may be) or playing up the history of hockey in our city (which isn't as great as we're led to believe). The fact that you're not rabid with hockey excitement (or, in the case of many hockey fans, actually rabid) is as true an indictment of the Bruins as can be.

I think you're both wrong in one very important way however: hockey in this town is not salvageable, at least through any method I can see. Getting high-dollar players didn't cure it, winning (at least enough to get into the playoffs) hasn't cured it, and playing the long-hated Canadiens doesn't seem to have cured it. Seriously, we're playing the fucking Canadiens right now, and nobody cares. And don't give me the line of "oh, people will start caring if the B's win a series or two," because even one or two upset series wins will elicit nothing more than a "oh, that's cute" reaction from the masses.

No, the Bruins, like hockey in general, are dying a slow death into sports obscurity, and there's no glimmer of hope that can revive the sport. Past Bruins fans have been beaten on for so long that most of us have all said "enough, we're through" at some point in the last two decades, and washed our hands of the team. You can blame the ownership, you can blame the style of play, you can blame the culture of losing, and you can even blame the new Garden if you want. Personally, I'm not taking the time to blame anything in specific, because, frankly, I don't care anymore.

futuremrsrickankiel: I see your point, Body Bag, but even though the Bruins are my oldest and fiercest sports loyalty, I'm never the type to indulge in sports rants that are utterly untempered by an honest assessment of what my team is and is not capable of.

I'm not here to argue the fate of hockey -- yet. I'm here to argue the fate of my team in the playoffs, which I think has a dicey outlook at best. I've said before, and will say again, that this playoffs appearance is important to the franchise regardless of what happens. People claimed that baseball was dying in the early 70s (during the Bruins' heyday, incidentally) and they couldn't have been more wrong. I'd counter to you that this notion that all hockey fans are "rabid" and in some way a different breed than other sports fans is precisely the attitude that enables people (hockey fans and non-fans alike) to believe that hockey is in some way irrelevant. Hockey is a beautiful game, but it's just another game, and there's no reason everyone shouldn't be able to enjoy it on the grounds they choose.

Sh!tShow: Good point on the 70s and baseball. We also would have accepted the NBA (insert year here).

Hey, as I've said, I'm no diehard. If I'm a step above a bandwagon fan, it's a small one. But reports of hockey's death are greatly exaggerated, GHABB,Y. I've been hearing about its imminent demise for years now, and yet its still chugging along.

Point of clarification: I concede not all hockey/Bruins fans are diehard. It just seems that all the talk of how their favorite sport is dying has strengthen hockey fans. Maybe they just appear more rabid.

Personal note: I am a big time Red Sox fan. I turned down two free tickets to tonight's game to stay in and watch the Bs. I don't know what that says, but it says something.

(insert "it says your a moron" joke here)

A Pimp Named DaveR: It says you're a moron, Mr. Show.
/picking low-hanging fruit
But seriously.... Hockey is not dead, but it is increasingly clear that it is a niche sport in the US, and probably always will be. You can thank Gary Bettman, Bruce McNall, ESPN and Michael Jordan for that. The league needs to embrace that, contract at least 8 teams, and move some of the remaining teams to Canada and build the long-term stability they should have sought instead of pursuing post-TV money expansion. But I digress.
I want to love the Bruins and follow them intensely; I really do. Hockey is a great game, and really is one of the greatest playoff experiences you'll ever have. But... and allow me to emphasize this:

Why the FUCK should I give dime one, or a microsecond of attention, to anything having to do with the Jacobs family and Delaware North?????

The Bruins are a model franchise in sports -- seriously. They are more financially stable than any other team in hockey, and more stable than virtually every other American or Canadian professional sports franchise. Why? Because they have a near-guaranteed revenue stream -- the dollars that YOU, the poor put-upon Bruins fans like Mrs. Ankiel, put into their pockets REGARDLESS OF THE QUALITY OF THE TEAM THEY PUT ON THE ICE. They are hockey's version of the Tribune-owned Cubs -- a return on an investment, not something worthy of your love and affection. The spoked "B" stands for "bond" now, not "Bruins".

Some of us (ahem) may be too young to remember this, but I don't -- not for one second: the Bruins had a multiple-Stanley Cup winning team in front of them back in the mid- to late-80s, IF they had just spent a little money on the two or three veteran players that would have pushed the team over the top and made them that much better than the fading Islanders, the raw Lemieux-led Penguins, and the ever-talented Roy-led Canadiens. Did the Jacobs -- who have made an insane return on their very limited investment in the Bruins, by the way -- spend that money? No. They DIVESTED their assets to hold the salary structure in place. The last straws were moving Adam Oates, who had the audacity to complain that the Bruins didn't actually want to pay their players, and nickle-and-diming Dave Reid, whose stats belied his importance and value to the team. That was it for me. There's only so much I can take. Fuck you, Jeremy; fuck you, Jeremy Jr. I reject your product.

Go ahead and love the Bruins -- but don't support these owners. Don't give them your ticket money, your jersey revenue, or your Nielson ratings. Make the Bruins unprofitable and unwanted, and hope that a real owner steps up to the plate and returns this franchise to a state where it's worth your love. Co-dependency sucks. Break the cycle.

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Sean said...

Sure it makes a sound: YAAAAAWWWWNNNN

futuremrsrickankiel said...

Eat it, Sean...

Ugh. Pictures up and it's all good to go now... I hit "enter" and it posted too early.

Hazel Maes Landing Strip said...

Who the fuck is Sean?