I know, I know. We’ve been labeled as the Eeyore of Chicago sports blogs, or hockey blogs, or just the world in general. It’s something I’m sensitive to and try to change as best I can. Then again, when we try and point out the good points of this Hawks season or why things might not be as bad as they seem, we get called fucking idiots then, too. Maybe you just can’t win. But this has stuck in my craw, wherever that is, all season.
The Vegas Golden Knights are an embarrassment to the National Hockey League, and the NHL would be wise to look at it that way.
Not the Knights themselves. More power to them. They rolled sevens with just about every pick they made, had a coach who knew exactly how to maximize what he had, and took advantage of just an awful division. They’ve certainly established themselves in a new market that wasn’t a guarantee to work, and their success probably buys them more years of stability than they would have had otherwise. That’s all fine and good.
No, their success is an indictment of the league as a whole.
Because you shouldn’t be able to literally make a team up and then have it be competitive at first asking, even with everything going right. As Barry Petchesky pointed out on Deadspin today, the Knights are the first franchise in any of the four major pro sports to have a winning season in their first season. It’s not supposed to happen. Yes, sure, it makes for a unique, underdog story. But what does it say about the league as a whole? It says your product is so fucking watered down by a salary cap freezing for a few years and you have enough dumb GMs around torpedoing their own teams that really you only need a couple guys to shoot the lights out for a season and some goaltending and not only are you competitive, you’re a division winner. What a fucking gauntlet this league is!
Think about it. You’ve seen Erik Haula for years. You know he’s not a 30-goal scorer. He’s a good player, and one we hated seeing because he killed the Hawks. But this isn’t him. They had Dale Tallon have an utter brain bubble in trying to erase what the GM before did because they were stupid NERDS with their spreadsheets and book-learnin’! So he just gave the Knights two of their leading scorers, and more to the point two OF THE PANTHERS LEADING SCORERS. The Oilers should have been making this division tougher on the Knights, and yet Peter Chiarelli has spent a few years sticking the club’s tongue into whatever electrical socket he could find. The Flames stalled out.
And that’s really all it takes. The Knights success means that almost every team is so unremarkable other than three or four that you can just roll the dice and win. You don’t need great players. You don’t need a revolutionary system or tactics. You just need a couple things to go your way, and it won’t hurt if every team that visits you is still actively drunk because hockey players are so rock stupid they’d never heard of what goes on in Vegas until the night before a game. The Knights stuck to having speed, which isn’t a hard concept but one that a lot of teams still can’t figure out, and play to it. Get up and down as quickly as you can. It’s not rocket science, because it’s what the Penguins have been doing for two years. And yet teams watch the Knights skate past them on a nightly basis and treat them like they imported something from space. Quick, let’s give Guy Fucking Boucher another job!
We’ve joked about it a lot, or I have but it’s Slak’s joke, that the only league that has this happen is MLS. And MLS is a joke. Their single-entity system ensures that no team every really stands out except for the destination spots of LA, NY, and Seattle I guess. This why Atlanta United can slide in with one or two signings and be a playoff team, because they don’t have to beat much. It’s why the Fire, a clueless and indifferent organization if there ever was one, can sign one guy in Schweinsteiger and have a forward score with every shot for a couple months and secure a playoff spot while being pretty putrid for the other four months of the season.
And hey, weird things happen in other sports too, I get it. There was that year the Cardinals hit like .310 all season with men on base. The NFL is basically whoever gets hurt the least plays the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I understand that.
But parity isn’t good. It’s not how this is supposed to work. You may point to the NFL but that has so many other factors it’s not a fair comparison. And you may hate the Patriots, but they’re box office. And they’re bigger box office when playing the Steelers, because people know the Steelers are also almost always good.
We may bitch about what the Hawks did the past couple years, but in the end the Hawks were punished for developing and having too many good players. The Bickell and Seabrook contracts aren’t the gallstone they became if they didn’t cost the Hawks so many players they drafted. And the same happened to others. Which leaves a scorched landscape for a limited team like Vegas or whoever else to appear better than they are, or they or other teams to scrape up the talent that well-run organizations had to shed simply because. You don’t have to be that smart to get talent in the NHL, you just kind of have to stand still and let it fall to you.
The Knights themselves are a good story. What they tell us about the league though is that’s it’s shallow, stupid, uncreative, and bland. And I can’t see past it.