DKM Hockey Podcast

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reflections of Blue Jackets Society in Literature: Part One - Fans of La Mancha

I've often been refered to as "Miller Time." It has nothing to do with my name, my beer preference, or any corellation with Ryan Miller. It is due to my typically obscure, however well-educated, outside references related to sports - usually in the form of music, literature, and government (not to be confused with Politics, which I detest). A la Dennis Miller. Typos aside, I typically fight the urge to incorporate obscurities into my ramblings, and supress the desire to do so with rich sarcasm. But every once in a while I allow the realm of obscurity to transform me into a hopeless laureate for a sport seldom linked to poetry outside of Stompin' Tom Connors. I am going to allow this post, this essay, to be filled with the obscure references to the Blue Jackets that I have long suppressed. Don’t worry, I am not going to woo with high minded verse of hockey. Rather, I think of two of the most delusional characters depicted in literature, sprinkle in some 19th century French Imperialism, borrow the repetitive use of an offensive term vis-à-via Mark Twain, and I ultimately can't help but draw parallels to the fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I have decided to turn this essay into a three part post. It is far too long to hold people’s attention, especially given the obscure references. So I give you Part One.

“Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”

Fans of La Mancha

You might be thinking "What the f**k do Don Quixote, Walter Mitty, and Napoleon Bonaparte have to do with the Columbus Blue Jackets?" Ah, oh so much. This is of course assuming you know who they are. If you do know who they are, and happen to be an attractive female brunnette who's into obscure referencing washed up hockey players, I will tell my lovely wife that I've at last found my 'Plan B.' I'm a planner, if not mad, she can at least appreciate that.

This all really got started in my head (the poetic thing, not my wife’s back-up) with Scott Howson and his accounting department-eqse, gossip-around-the-water-cooler drama by the public acknowledgement of Rick Nash's request for a highly conditional trade. Once word of this spread through the blogosphere, the hatred for Rick Nash became needlessly widespread and unjustified. Cries of lost honor, demands for more emotion, and delusions of gradiuer from a chivalrous time long ago were soon spewed in everyone's emotional response. The Fans bemoaned their captain, seemingly now devoid of dignity, honor, and romantically intoxicating honor. They demanded more. They demanded a new captain. They demanded someone who would ride in on horse and restore honor and dignity to a hockey team who’s never had it. In case you haven't read El ingenioso hildago don Quijote de la Mancha I just described to you the convictions of Don Quixote.

Oh you Blue Jackets fans, only seldom critical of Rick Nash as captain before Howson flapped the yapper and took things outside the dressing room. Now, the captain of the suckiest hockey team for over a decade, is finally faced with the foolishly misplaced sense of expectation by a fan base frustrated by sucking. In their minds, their captain wasn’t supposed to be tired of a decade of suck. Fans were supposed to live vicariously through him. They took Rick Nash for granted. Betrayed, they now wished Nash would punch somebody in the face whenever a teammate was bumped. They wish Nash would throw down when one of the 7 CBJ goalies got ran. The expected him to single-handed carry this sucky team on his back while forgetting at the same time he’s pretty much done so since he was a teenager. Nash was the only non-pugilist hockey player in Columbus that could be positively identified by more than 4000 people.

Sadly, I often think of Rick Nash as hockey’s version of Santiago from Old Man and the Sea, but I’ll save that depressing piece of prose for when Nash is retired or wins a cup with someone else. That’s a tale about overcoming suckitude. But the betrayal felt by the fans brought out a yearning for Nash to be something he is not. And incidentally suddenly, the CBJ fans had expectations. Sadly, those expectations were 5-6 years too late. Now seeing Rick Nash as an imposing windmill, the twoopers of #cbj land set out destroy their captain-turned-windmill. But poor Quixotic Columbus, had Nash been the smash-mouth leader we suddenly wished he was, with a visible desire to win at all costs, he would had left this suck-fest of a team a couple seasons ago.

The “desire to win” expectation of a captain does not stop with their teammates or their conduct on the ice. It continues into how the organization positions itself to be competitive in the market place. Rick Nash is tired of the world of suck. It started with relieving Ken Hitchcock from coaching duties 50 something games after making the playoffs. There was hope with Claude Noel - a coach with the same measure of expectation across the entire CBJ organization as a dream captain would. “Just because you’re a volunteer doesn’t mean you can suck” Noel would say to youth hockey coaches; I admired that. Once Noel was not retained, and Boucher said no to the suck, I’m sure Nash thought to himself, “How much longer can I tolerate the suck?” After the releasing of Hitchcock, his subsequent success, it was likely the poorly timed firing of Arniel which was the last straw for Nash. It was then the suckitude of the franchise was epitomized and Howson’s shortcomings were undeniable. Trying to get too off topic -The only reason to fire Arniel when Howson did was to serve as a poor Homer Simpson moment of, “Wooo-hooo, look at me. I’m working!”

Folks, the organization sucks beyond hockey operations. The team has the suckiest arrangement with its home venue - Nationwide Arena – in the league. I haven’t done any research to see if the county ownership of Nationwide Arena will change that, but last I checked the CBJ get no parking revenue from Nationwide, no naming rights revenue, have to pay 5 million a year to use the arena, and are required to cover operational loses for non-hockey events usually round 4 million a year. Think winning helps, the CBJ received $14,000,000 from the NHL in 2009 to cover costs.

If your hockey team was a car company, which would it be??

Maybe deep down inside places they don’t want to talk about, Jackets fans pity Rick Nash. He’s been dealt a raw hand. I summed it up to a guy in my office whose kid plays on travel hockey team. “Look Mike, one day your kid comes home and says, ‘dad, I’ve worked hard every year for 8 seasons just like you wanted me to. This team is poorly ran, we take kids no one else wants, there’s a new coach every other year, none of the wives like each other, we got swept out of the only tournament we qualified for. It’s not fun anymore and all my friends play for other teams. This team is irrelevant. I don’t think I want to play here next year.” My co-worker had nothing else to say, that pretty much sums up how I believe Rick Nash feels. Long term sucking is no fun, even if you make skin-flicks for a living.

Like him or not, you have to acknowledge the fact of how Rick Nash has handled himself through all this, this, sucking mess. As tall of a windmill as he stands today to frustrated fans, he hasn’t whined to the media about the undeniable irrelevance of his employer in the competitive marketplace. He’s made the easiest $7.8 million a year a hockey player can make, and I admire him for wanting more. He’s been dignified the last few weeks in the midst of another disappointing season. He hasn’t said a peep about fan protests or how awfully suckful his team is. Nash has been a consummate professional with the 12-13 minutes of media coverage the team gets each day in it's home market. His coaches and teammates have commented on how he is working just has hard and preparing just as well as he always has. He may not be the captain this team needs, or the captain the fans now seemed convinced they want, but imagine how badly this all could have gone if it were a city where hockey mattered?

No, this is not the HC Davos press corps.

"Part Two: Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa" coming soon...

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