Friday, September 14, 2007

Hockey is the New Politics

NHL logoOilers logoSomething that sports writers have been alluding to for some time now is the fact that professional teams of today have a far stricter and more disciplined organization "line" regarding the approach to an entire season and in response to specific incidents than they did in the past (I also wrote about this in a post a few days ago: Sports Propaganda.)

Nowhere is this more evident than in the run-up to the current season. Not a day goes by without some coach, GM or player stepping up to the mic and letting loose with a bland, emotionless statement that their team has as much chance as anyone to win the Cup.

While I haven't seen any of these claims on video, I can only imagine that they are delivered with the same vapid, blank-eyed zombie stare that seems to afflict government workers and bureaucrats the world over. That look that says they have long since given up trying to think for themselves.

The strategy can't be faulted. To even stray slightly from the scripted line results in a firestorm of criticism such as was launched at Saku Koivu for daring to add nuance to his comments about the potential fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens this season.

Every owner, GM, coach and player wants to win. But to muse publicly for a moment about the issues your team needs to address or the fact that you don't have the best chance of winning it all, is considered a weakness. When the reality of the regular season takes over and the hollow pre-season utterances drift into the mist, the disconnect will be stark. If players were given at least some leeway to voice their true feelings, a more realistic and interesting storyline would take form.

What's said in the dressing room and what's presented to the public will always vary to some degree but something less packaged would result in a more entertaining and compelling narrative for everyone involved. If teams were allowed to come up with something less cliched, it may even take on a life of its own and act as a motivating factor.

The Edmonton Oilers have got their season's narrative off to a good start. Based around an old classic, "the rag tag bunch of mavericks written off by everyone but still ready to take on the world," their story-line is at least built on some reality and should appeal to many of their fans.

Most teams have a far more bland and predictable pre-season offering, designed to instill hope in fans and to avoid giving enemies (journalists and other teams) any ammunition. For those teams whose predictions are at best overly confident and at worst fanciful, the average fan with a shred of optimism can respond with the similarly cliched "well, anything can happen..."

As pronouncements from teams become more and more like those made by politicians, how long before a player or coach claims that a loss is actually a win?

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