There is a reason why I’ve written on all manner of subjects in the two plus years since we started TPOP, but never hockey until now. It’s really pretty simple, takes some reflection, but also brutal honesty. I’m not ashamed to admit it because I’m only admitting the truth. Yes, I am a spoiled rotten Pittsburgh Penguins fan and for me, the hockey season doesn’t begin until mid-April.
Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify this has nothing to do with a lack of enjoyment for hockey. It might be my favorite to watch of all the major sports including soccer. Growing up a fan of Los Angeles sports, my first nerd boy fan street cred comes from reading and posting on AOL’s LA Kings message boards before graduating to LetsGoKings.com. I’d listen to games on broadcast.com in my dorm late at night. Every single one unless I had an engagement at a party or watering hole. Truly, the first sport I followed hardcore was hockey and it was the only one I played beyond elementary school.
For the longest time, roughly five years, I blamed my regular season apathy on the fact that I didn’t have a cable package with Root. At the beginning, I would watch the games on NBC and conveniently plan trips to local wing spots on game nights. Eventually even that faded and now that I have Root again, I still don’t watch. At least not until this time of year.
82 games is a long season. Long enough that playoffs aren’t really even necessary. If you can’t sort out the best team in 82 games, you certainly can’t in a seven game series. On top of that, half the teams make the postseason. The NHL has a great sorting mechanism for its best team and in the end it only sorts out the top half of them. When you have two of the three best players in the world, it’s pretty easy to take for granted that the Pens will rise close to the top nearly every single year, let alone the top half. You have a coin flip to make the playoffs for everyone else. You’re virtually dropping the coin flat on the table with the side you want up repeatedly with Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin on your team. At this point, I take the Pens advancing to the playoffs for granted, which is about as spoiled a fan as it gets.
If the playoffs are easy to get into and the de jure determination of who the best team comes from them, what use should the regular season be to anyone? The only thing a team gets for winning the President’s Trophy is scorn when they fail to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe I’m not spoiled. Maybe I’m just better at prioritizing and time management than other fans.
Sure, fans who watch every regular season game know all the player’s numbers by now. They get street cred. They even know what a ‘Ruhwedel’ is, which I hope remains mostly a mystery to me. However, the spoiled fans like myself never had to make the hard choice between hockey and watching CBS’s cancelled fall lineup like American Gothic and Braindead. Of course, we also decided not to watch those shows, either, or they wouldn’t have been cancelled. Instead, we tuned into Big Bang Theory reruns on TBS as background noise while we researched articles for blog posts that we start and never finish. I also got to go to bed at a normal hour when the Pens take a trip to Alberta.
It doesn’t help that the quality of play increases dramatically when the season ends and playoffs begin. The best hockey of the year happens in round one, and it gets me so excited to keep watching. It’s not like going from Budweiser to Bell’s, but it is like going from 60 Minutes to 120. The players don’t take off a shift, let alone an entire game at the end of a road trip. In no sport is defense as entertaining relative to offense as it is in hockey and you get plenty of it in playoff hockey.
In so many ways, it’s easy and makes sense to skip the regular season and jump right to the playoffs. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s great. Of course, I’m not advocating for that lifestyle, just that it doesn’t make you a horrible person. At some point though, it’s not going to be something I can simply take for granted. Sid and Geno will retire and the rest of the supporting crew will move on, too. The Pens will miss the playoffs and I will miss out on hockey entirely. Until then, I will be spoiled and wait for the good stuff.