On Wednesday, I delivered some terrible news: Rocket, my longtime friend and this blog’s de facto NHL correspondent, has lost it. Evidence came in the form of Part I of his NHL season preview, focusing on the Eastern Conference. This, dear readers, is Part II, focused on the Western Conference and petty insults plus usual haikus. If it pleases the court … Rocket?
I have known RandBall for well over a quarter of a century. During that span of time, I have come to believe that there are a number of absolute certainties about our relationship that I can trust without any question. I know with undiluted assuredness that I can trust him with both my wallet and my wife. I can trust that he will never confess as to which side of the Red River on which we buried the body. And I know that I can trust that he will continue to spit in the face of the 1989 Calgary Flames.
Those with just a fleeting knowledge of the pro game in the 1980s are at least likely to know that the NHL was ruled by two franchises: the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers. What the casual fan might not know, however, was that there was another exceptional team with about a half a dozen hall of famers that was awfully successful during the 80s as well. A team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best record twice in the decade. And a team that had the best mustache in all of sports, with apologies to none. That team, of course, was the Calgary Flames.
There are any number of reasons that the casual hockey fan with only a passing knowledge of the 1980s might not have much respect for the Flames. Little is to be said about the media attention the city, much less the team, receives – it is no New York or Boston. It is not an "Original Six" franchise and even began its relatively early life in Atlanta, of all places. It is a remote franchise in a remote city with a relatively brief history.
But the biggest reason to not have much memory about the team is the lack postseason success. The Flames had the terrible misfortune of being an excellent team during the era of one of the all-time great dynasties in sports – the Gretzky-Messier Oilers. Time and time again, Flames teams that easily could have won it all in different years were bested in the second round of the old (and now new) intra-division playoffs by their intra-province rivals. Each year, it seemed, Calgary bowed out before it should have, especially with that level of talent.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable task of overcoming those Oilers, and despite the fact that they lost more often than not, they did advance past the Oilers on two occasions: first in 1986 before losing to a rookie Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals and then in 1989 when they beat Montreal to win it all. Despite regularly facing one of the best teams of all time, a still-very-talented-in-their-own-right squad did occasionally overcome a mighty juggernaut.
Once again, as someone who has known RandBall for the better part of three decades, I can assure you of what is soon to come: at some point in the not-too-distant future RandBall is going to try to convince you of something ridiculous like this. He is going to get disproportionately and irrationally overexcited about the Timberwolves. He is going to get disproportionately and irrationally overexcited about the choices that they make. He is going to somehow try to convince us all that the Timberwolves, who have missed the playoffs for the last fifty-three years, are in much better shape than the Wild, who are now a consistent playoff team. For all of the overexcitement he expresses about the Wolves, he seems proportionally underwhelmed by the Wild.
Unfortunately, he seems to have a lot of company in the hockey press. Most folks seem to think that the team is treading water, at best. To an extent, I get the argument. But I’m not sure that I am convinced. It seems that the biggest criticism that you can make of the squad is that they haven’t been able to get past the Blackhawks, who have been unquestionably the best team in hockey for the last half dozen years. This is frustrating, but it does not automatically make a team mediocre.
By far the biggest question for the Wild in the last few years has been in the net. And while anyone with a brain would not expect Devan Dubnyk to maintain last year’s pace it’s hard to imagine that he will have to. The Wild were crippled by a few stretches of truly atrocious goalie play and still managed to achieve 100 points. This is a team that has the capability to look good with even league-average net play. And since they finally should be able to regularly achieve that not-so-lofty benchmark, why shouldn’t we be excited about them? Why shouldn’t we anticipate a higher level of success? Why, despite RandBall’s increasingly sad attempts to posit the Wolves above the Wild, can’t this year’s Wild be the ’89 Flames? Why do we have to listen to the naysayers – led, obviously by RandBall – who would treat the Wild with the same contempt that the uneducated treat those old Flames teams?
My favorite sports podcast (other than this one) regularly likes to ask two questions: 1) Why not us? 2) Why not now? Let me add a third question: Why won't RandBall cut the 1989 Calgary Flames some slack by respecting a very good Wild team that could finally break through this year?
Anyway, here are the Western Conference previews in haiku.
This team is loaded
But don’t ever forget their
San Jose Sharks
No one disagrees
Los Angeles Kings
So the problem was
Coaches are stupid
For the seventeenth straight year
Still losers for real
A very nice year
Remember back when
It was fun to hate this team?
This year’s Buffalo
Wants to draft an AZ kid
Will I regret this?
Is my faith in them misplaced?
Heaven help us all
So they want us to believe
Teams have to score too
What is the plan here?
St. Louis Blues
Yes, this is the year
The talent finally implodes
Every time I’m sad