Friday, March 30, 2007

Bruins fans, there's plenty of good hockey out there. That is, outside of the Bruins organization.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that hockey fans are currently witnessing a historic year in the NHL. I don't know where to begin. But regardless of any pain and suffering Bostonians have had to endure this year and for many years previous, it is important for these same fans to look around the league, around Boston and to other corners of the world where hockey continues to be played.

I decided to go the Bruins game last night not to watch the Bruins but to watch Crosby and co. go at it again. It was a perfect chance to get some reasonably priced tickets to see The Kid play. The Penguins moved ahead of the Devils last night and now have 100 points. That is astonishing to say the least. This is a team that placed second to last in the league just one year ago. They turned 58 points last season into 100+ this season. The Pens already have 45 wins. That's 23 more than in 2005-06. This team actually has a chance at a President's Trophy. It boggles my mind how a team undergoes this kind of transformation over one season. Yet the answer is obvious.

Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Stall have proven their worth. They will go on to have extremely successful careers in the NHL. Jordan may even be better than his brother Eric. Evgeni could be the most prolific scorer over the next 15 to 20 years. Still, the Penguins success begins and ends with Sidney Crosby. It's amazing that a 19 year old is already one of the top leaders in the league. Granted, I wasn't around to see much of Wayne Greztky's statistical stacked seasons. But if the Penguins, say, make it to the Eastern Conference finals or the Stanley Cup, I believe this Gretzky vs. Crosby debate will be mute.

Not a bad look for the new NHL. Photo from GQ Magazine, issue Nov. 06

My argument is that Crosby is dominating the league during an era when it is not nearly as easy to reign supreme. This highlight real featuring "the great ones should be expanded and celebrated. Crosby's goal, I believe against the Canadiens, when he wove through the entire team and danced his way toward the goal with the utmost grace was for the Canadiens, a beautiful disaster.

There's plenty of other great stories in the NHL this year. Stories that you won't see nearly as often in other sports. In Tampa Bay, Vincent Lecavalier, another player who has been compared to Gretzky since entering the league, has finally blossomed into the player we were hoping he'd be. He's scoring at will and has certainly shown maturity that he lacked in past years. Also in Tampa, St. Louis and Dan Boyle, former college stars, continue to shine and set a precedent in the league that smaller players can thrive. That's no revelation of course. The league would be minus a lot of highlights from guys like Datsyuk, St. Louis, Boyle, Savard.

It really doesn't make sense that a guy who was in the running for a Hobby Baker award some years back went undrafted. Boyle is a great example of the kind of player that thrives in the NHL today, and although the league is not perfect, fans need to appreciate the strides that have been made to help these great, undersized players shine.

But best of all in the hockey and sports world, maybe even better than Sidney Crosby, is the Buffalo Sabres success as a team and an organization. The Sabres were recently named the No. 1 team among all teams in the big four.

"Buffalo ranks No. 1 among all Big Four pro franchises in giving fans the most back for the emotion, money and time they invest in their teams," wrote Peter Keating in the above article.

It seems that it's almost been less time that I recall the Sabres nearly going bankrupt than I remember writing about how the Bruins mathematically will reach the playoffs this season. As written in the article, the Sabres' owner John Rigas was found gulity of accounting fraud in 2003. Rigas' departure signaled a new era in Buffalo, as billionaire Tom Golisano purchased the team amd arena for 92 million dollars. What followed was a reverse trend of what was happening around the rest of the league. Ticket prices were lowered, drastically, and now cost 25% below the league average. That's not the only area the Sabres have thrived over the past few years.

I'm not going to analyze the entire article because it's here for everybody to see. However, based the following rankings, Buffalo was the top sports team among the big four sports while the Bruins ranked...117th of 122.

BNG (Bang for the Buck): Revenues directly from fans divided by wins in the past three years

FRL (Fan Relations): Ease of access to players, coaches & management

OWN (Ownership): Honesty; loyalty to players and city

AFF (Affordability): Price of tickets, parking and concessions

STD (Stadium Experience): Friendliness of environment; quality of game-day promotions

PLA (Players): Effort on the field; likability off it

CCH (Coach/Manager): Strong on-field leadership

TTR (Title Track): Titles already won or expected -- soon

The B's didn't crack 103rd in any category and were the fifth most expensive team to follow. Great news for a city that has probably the most poor college students of any city in the country. It's a wonder how we attended around 15 games this year. It will be no wonder when I apply for another loan in the near future. Among NHL teams, only the Blackhawks were ranked worse than Boston. The other teams at the bottom: Flordia, the Kings, Leafs and Flyers. Not exactly an elite class. The Rangers were next, making three of the original six teams among the worst for hockey fans to lend their trust, loyalty and passion.

I do believe these teams will recover the glory that once carried among the best of fan bases. And looking at the big picture, these teams don't really matter that much right now anyways. Sidney in Pittsburgh, Tom in Buffalo and Dan in Tampa have our league headed in the right direction for years to come and for that reason, hockey fans, even those in Boston, should step back and enjoy the world's greatest sport.


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