A mere five days ago, I wandered in from whatever haze I was in and wrote a post on just what would the Capitals, their fans, and the hockey world in general conclude if things didn’t break their way the next three games. Because for the most part, they had done everything right and simply were not getting rewarded for it. And the last time they went down this road, they needlessly blew it all up. This time, after last year’s loss, they stuck to the plan. Are they finally getting what they have earned?
Or this being the Caps, are they reserving the biggest stomach-punch for their fandom for Wednesday night? You never can tell with this bunch.
It actually is rare in hockey, and especially the playoffs, that teams get everything they earn. It’s just the nature of the sport. Looking back, we see a team that was probably playing the best at the time win, like last year’s Penguins (or the ’09 Penguins for that matter). That doesn’t mean they were the best overall team throughout the season. Their timing was just better.
Then again, it’s usually hard to really decipher who was the best team during a season. We know the Canucks won a Presidents Trophies simply because their division sucked, and then they got roundly booted in the ass by a Kings team that had better timing. The Ducks managed that once or twice. The Rangers won a Presidents’ Trophy not all that long ago. The differing schedules of teams in divisions and conferences skews things. So do injuries and whatever else that come up through a hockey season.
But sometimes, it’s pretty clear. The Caps of the past two years were undoubtedly the best team in the league. The Hawks of ’13. The Canucks of ’11. And yet only one of those ended up winning the ultimate prize, and they needed a fair amount of luck to even do that. Hockey’s weird that way. Then again, so’s baseball. And football. Only basketball regularly gets its best team to its championship ceremony, and then sometimes LeBron gets in the way of that. It’s the nature of sports that have playoffs. Kind of the point, really.
The Capitals have been the better team all series, and aggressively so. My only real affection toward them is how much I’ve enjoyed watching them this season. But there is something satisfying about watching things, for once, go as they’re supposed to, even if only for a couple games in the cauldron of randomness that is the NHL playoffs. Maybe because it actually helps legitimize all the numbers we use that still turn the old guard into screaming dust. Maybe because there’s relief in knowing that sometimes things are exactly as they appear. Maybe it’s because it helps keep the times when things go completely against how they should be going feel fresh and surprising.
Or maybe in a lot of other things than just hockey, it’s good to have the occasional safe haven that if you do most everything correctly, even with everything that conspires against you that you have no control over, things can work out.
We shall see on Wednesday.
-However, the big headline out of last night’s Game 6 wasn’t the Caps, but what’s between Sidney Crosby’s ears. I’m starting to wonder if all this isn’t for the fans’ benefits, or the media’s, than the actual players.
Yes, the reasoning for Crosby not running through the protocol is laughable, and that’s being kind. Yeah, it’s pretty likely that he shouldn’t be out there at all. Yes, it’s a terrible look for the NHL. To the outside. I’m not convinced it is on the inside.
In the midst of a lawsuit, this is not the attitude the league can take, obviously. But what’s the endgame of all this? Ask all NFL players, ask all NHL players, tell them what their life could be like after their playing days, the risks during them, and whether it’s worth everything they have now or will have by playing. You know that most of them would make that trade. You might think you wouldn’t, but if you’re honest with yourself and you could go back and have the talent, drive, and opportunity to play a sport professionally, while risking your future health, is the answer so simple? Especially in the NFL where the players are more likely to come from more modest backgrounds than NHL players and are eying setting up their family for generations.
And that’s where this is headed. We can have the spotters and lawsuits and all that, but this ends with the NFL and NHL basically having every player sign some sort of form that clearly spells out the risks of what they’re doing, if that’s not happening already. Remember, these lawsuits aren’t about the players getting hurt, it’s about the leagues not telling them what their injuries meant long-term, or hiding them altogether. It’s not the activity that’s at the root of this.
So I wonder if the new rules, and protocols, and spotters, and doctors, and whatever else is make us feel like we’re not contributing to the destruction of people. Because at this point, the players know. Sidney Crosby knows for sure. He knows exactly what’s at risk and what he’s doing. And he’s out there. The Penguins can’t pressure him like they could a fourth liner. He’s the center of their franchise. He can get GMs and coaches fired if he wants. If he didn’t want to play, he wouldn’t be playing.
We sit here and cluck our tongues about protecting the players from themselves. But right now, when maybe not all of them but a good portion know exactly the risks they’re taking, are we sure we’re protecting them?