Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 11, 2010

The Hub of Hockey?

Just when I thought the Boston Bruins were going to finish the season on a 36-game losing streak, they go and spoil the fun by beating the Canadiens in Montreal on Sunday.  And the world thought there was a surprising result in Miami that night!  Then they travel to Buffalo and beat the division-leading Sabres in a shootout.  So have the Black and Gold righted their seriously listing ship?  Perhaps the better question is, does it really matter?

With 61 points the B’s are tied with Philadelphia for the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (though the Flyers have a game in hand).  But the reality is that they are in the midst of a logjam of so-so teams that are slightly above or slightly below .500.  They are just two points short of 6th place, and only five points away from falling all the way to thirteenth.  And in that position if they manage to rally and make the playoffs, only the most delusional fan will think that they are on their way to the club’s sixth Stanley Cup. 

That assessment is from the world’s leading proponent of the idea that the key attraction of sports in general is that we have to play the game to determine the result.  What’s on paper is important, the conventional wisdom is certainly relevant, but in the end, we still have to play the game.  That’s why two years ago the NFL didn’t say, “Oh screw it, just show the commercials and then we’ll have Roger Goodell present the trophy to Bob Kraft.”  Instead they played the game, David Tyree made the helmet catch, and the rest is history.  But unlike the NFL, the NHL (like both the NBA and MLB) doesn’t play a game, they play a series.  In a game, anything can happen.  In a series of some reasonable length, conventional wisdom and what’s on paper tend to win out.  Not absolutely, but enough so that I willing to present this as a fact; none of the clubs contesting spots six through thirteen will be the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup finals.

I’ve watched enough games this season to see the obvious: there is a very clear three tier structure to the current NHL.  Elite teams: Capitals and Penguins, maybe the Sharks.  Dead teams: Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, Oilers. In the middle, everyone else, including the Bruins.  Like the great unwashed masses, impossible to ignore but not masters of their own fate.  And that makes me sad.  Because it’s been a young middle-aged lifetime (38 years) since there was a Stanley Cup in Boston (all due respect to Ray Bourque, bringing it around as an Avalanche doesn’t really count).  The “Hub of Hockey?”  Not so much.

In looking at that long an era of futility, one can of course criticize particular teams, or coaches, or players, or general managers.  But when the futility has gone on that long, isn’t it fair to look for some consistent theme?  I know I am by no means the first person to point this out, but gee, how many Cups have the B’s won since they became a sports subsidiary of Delaware North?  Oh, that would be zero.  What a surprise.

Meanwhile fans still come, the Garden is booked up with assorted events, profits are still made, and if you are going to convince me that Jeremy Jacobs really cares about how many years it has been since the B’s skated the Cup around the local rink, well, you’ve got a hard row to hoe.  Meanwhile, at the elite level, WOW, hockey can be an exciting sport.  The Bruins versus Capitals was an exciting game.  But in comparison, last Sunday’s nationally televised game between the Penguins and the Capitals was played at an utterly different level. 

So until the Jacobs family, or some future owner, is willing to commit the resources, all of us in New England should get used to watching the Stanley Cup celebration on television.  And it won’t be because the B’s won on the road. Do I think that will change anytime soon?  Maybe a brilliant pick with Toronto’s number one from the Kessel trade?  The next Ovechkin?  The next Crosby?  Please stop the madness.  Because that sort of madness is what Bruins fans have relied on for years; no, make that for decades. 

Speaking of decades, the first one of the twenty-first century was, as everyone knows, a banner period for professional sports in greater Boston.  The Patriots established a dynasty.  The Red Sox reversed a curse (yes, at the expense of my Yankees), and then proved it wasn’t a fluke.  The Celtics returned to greatness (well, for a year anyway).  Even the Revolution (that would be the soccer team) made multiple trips to the MLS championship game.  Come on Jeremy Jacobs, get with the program.  Loyal Bruins fans deserve better than being amongst the great unwashed.

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