The Senators took a 1-0 lead over what looked to be a very tired Penguins team, and one that was already beat up, and all anyone could talk about was how boring the Senators are. Apparently most everyone hadn’t watched the Sens all year or in the first two rounds, and I can’t really blame you if you didn’t because the Bruins and Rangers hardly move the interest needle either. This is what Guy Boucher does. Maybe you didn’t pay attention to what he did in Tampa, and again I don’t blame you if you didn’t because it really wasn’t worth your time.
But Guy Boucher, and the Senators as a whole, don’t owe you anything.
I’m not the first to broach this subject, not by a longshot. In Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” (a reference you should keep in mind because it’s going to be real important around here in the next 10 days to two weeks), there’s a chapter called “Clowns.” To quickly sum up, the Arsenal manager at the time was asked by the press about his side’s tendency to play out insomnia-curing 1-0 wins or losses. His quote was, “If you want to be entertained, go watch clowns.”
And that manager is right. While we call following the NHL “entertainment,” it’s not the same kind as movies or music or theater. And even all those have their nuances and differences. I don’t know that listening to “Sea Change” or Portishead is exactly fun, but there’s a feeling there that’s worth the time.
Sports is its own kind of entertainment. It’s something of an alternate reality. What Boucher and the Sens owe to anyone is wins to their fans. That’s basically it. Even in business terms only, they need wins to attract tickets and eyeballs, no matter how they come. Sure, it would be optimal if they won and were a Hendrix solo every night. But no one in the Ottawa region who is potentially going to buy tickets and jerseys and get swept up in a playoff run is really going to care how those wins come around.
I’m sure Sens fans don’t give a shit what we think of their team’s style. When they’re watching Game 1, and they’re emotionally invested and living and dying with each rush, it isn’t boring at all for them. The ends justify the means, and when they all look back and remember Clarke MacArthur’s goal that ended the Bruins’ season, they’re not going to remember that particular game was torture to watch for everyone else.
Ask Devils fans about it. Or Ravens fans, if you can find any. It doesn’t matter to those inside what it looks like to those on the outside (and we’ve learned that lesson around here in plenty of awful ways). It’s not up to the Sens to market the game. It’s not up to them to sell a product to draw in new fans. That’s above their paygrade. That’s the NHL’s.
Besides, hockey fans are happiest when they have something to bitch about.
-Of course, the NHL doesn’t seem to care how its product is treated by its national broadcaster or what they choose to highlight when they do bother to get around to actually televising the product. Saturday night we were treated to a conference final game being delayed so NBC could finish up their coverage of a golf tournament that isn’t even a major. But the NHL needs NBC’s money so badly… what can they do?
Then Sunday night, in Game 2 against the Ducks and Predators, the main theme was basically all the bullshit Ryan Kesler and a few others partake in outside of the whistles. Certainly Ryan Johansen’s quotes after said encounter only seemed to highlight it. Is this really what the NHL wants to sell to the world?
Look, I get it. Playoff hockey is a physical and passionate thing. Tempers boil over. There’s a lot of shit-talking, and that’s cool too. But no sport celebrates these things at the expense over everything else. It becomes the main story.
Ryan Kelser has been a great player for a decade now. He really has, and his lack of silverware probably has more to do with his Canucks and then Ducks teammates’ shortcomings than his own. But all the horseshit after whistles, the grabbing and spearing and punching and constant yapping, I really don’t think that has anything to do with his skills. And he can claim that it gets inside the heads of the other teams’ best players. Except it didn’t seem to stop Jonathan Toews from scoring twice in Game 7 to send the Ducks home. Johansen has four points in two games so far this series. It works to a point, and then it doesn’t.
Kesler isn’t alone of course. We had Forsberg’s spearing of Nate Thompson in the family jewels. Here’s another thing that hockey and its people seem to cling to for reasons I can’t understand. I wrote last year about Milan Lucic being a total scumbag because this had gesture had essentially become his People’s Elbow. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of emails and tweets I got from Beer League dipshits claiming that this happened all the time on the ice and I just didn’t get it.
So hockey players just have to spear each other in the dick, eh? Look guys, if you want to touch another dick that badly, that’s cool. Lots of guys and girls enjoy doing that. You don’t need to hide behind your hockey stick to do so.
But on a different level, the sports world pretty much vilifies Draymond Green whenever he punches someone in the nuts. If he were a hockey player he’d be celebrated. Care to guess why everyone hates us?