I’m not sure if there’s a connection between these two items:
Tim Panaccio had a pretty standard piece about hockey, and how while it doesn’t have broad appeal, it does have its fans in certain parts of the world. He talks about how the LA papers stopped covering the Ducks and Kings on the road for a lot of reasons, but were able to successfully dump the road coverage because LA isn’t a hockey town.
Yesterday, Helene Elliott had a piece taking the Kings to task for being a bad and disinterested team, without much passion or personality.
The Kings haven’t been to the post-season since 2002. Their last dominant team was the 1993 team that went to the Stanley Cup finals. But they’ve never dominated like the Lakers. And the Lakers are tough to compete with. So would LA be more of a hockey town if the Kings were more successful? Or had more personality? Is it a coincidence the Kings were never bigger in LA then when the game’s greatest star played for them?
(I’m not counting the Ducks in any of this because I’m not sure how much people in LA identify with Anaheim; I assume it’s the same way people in New York City don’t necessarily identify with the Islanders or Devils, both of whom play mere miles from the City).
Personality is a strange thing with hockey. A team doesn’t have to be super successful to have a strong personality, but if you look at most Stanley Cup winners, teams with some kind of group personality seem to have a higher success rate.
Saturday in Buffalo, Scott Gomez ran goalie Ryan Miller and the Sabres just kind of shrugged. Jerry Sullivan sees that as a huge character flaw that indicates the team isn’t ready for a Cup run.
The personality factor is what makes hockey so great. Watching a great team make a strong run is inherently watchable, no matter who you usually root for. Unfortunately, more and more NHL teams are bland. They’re professionals who (often) make smart plays, but not passionate ones. The league tends to focus on scoring as the cure to the league’s inability to move into the sports mainstream, but maybe they should consider the overprofessionalization of the sport, that’s bored the edges off of most players. Just about every hockey fan loves the movie SLAP SHOT, but could the NHL be any further from that? Even someone like Sean Avery is more jerk than edge.
The Kings are vanilla and you see that in the standings. And sometimes, you see it in the newspaper, when the Kings actually make it in. In non-traditional hockey markets, there’s no luxury of memory. Fans don’t have fantastic teams to remember. They only have what’s in front of them. If the NHL is serious about wanting to remain relevant in these markets, it has to sit on the owners to put solid teams on the ice. You can’t have a major market NHL team that’s already set for golf. And if you allow that in your league, you can’t act surprised when fans never fully embrace the game.