I really wanted to start this piece today with a bit of a political commentary, but I’ve thought better. It’s too hot right now, and no matter what I say it won’t do anything but spark more mud slinging. What I will say though is that can both sides seriously not see what’s happening anymore? The left keeps pushing the right further to the right, and the right keeps pushing the left further to the left. I don’t get why people can’t just look to have rational discussions about this shit?
Ok, that’s about as political as I’m going to get on this site, on with sports!
So I got in a back and forth the other day on Twitter myself. Not about political correctness or blindly calling someone anti-Semitic or racist. No, this was much more civil with a guy from Vancouver named Jason Brough who is the co-lead writer for prohockeytalk.com. It was originally sparked by ESPN’s Corey Pronman who asked this:
Really don't understand this line of thinking. See it too when some argue VAN can't do a full out rebuild. What's so unique about VAN fans? https://t.co/tGX8CJzbZB
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) November 9, 2016
Most of the time I try to keep my mouth shut, but I know the answer, so I was going to respond. But I checked to see the responses first to see perhaps most others had told Pronman why this was. This is where Jason Brough chimed in with this:
And I couldn’t help myself.
I’m not going to go through all the back and forth between us. Not hard to find in my mentions though if you want to check it out. I don’t know Jason at all, wasn’t meaning to be anything of a dick, and I’m not meaning to now, but I have to lay this all out. It’s an itch that I have to scratch.
As I said to Jason, it’s nothing like Toronto. Vancouver is a fair-weather market. They’ve had trouble keeping their fans interested for their entire existence. The pattern is pretty clear with this fan base that when they aren’t anything of a contender, they’ll stop coming. He then pointed to Pavel Bure’s rookie season and suggested that as long as they have a young, exciting star to build around people will come. But there isn’t any proof of that, because in Bure’s rookie season the Canucks finished 1st in the Smythe division. In 1998 however Bure wasn’t that old and was having one of the best seasons of his career. But the teams play went to shit, and despite having Bure the entire league with his play and an arena which was only in it’s 3rd season, attendance dropped.
Attendance doesn’t drop in Toronto, ever, which is why Toronto is able to do a rebuild and why it was so ridiculous that the rhetoric was that they couldn’t rebuild in Toronto. You hear the same thing in New York when it comes to the Knicks. “They can’t rebuild because there would be too much heat on the team from the fans and the media”. That is just the media believing that they’re more important than they actually are. And if you’re in a pro sports teams front office and care what the media thinks you likely shouldn’t be in that position. You’re objective is to win, not to please the media.
Anyway, Vancouver. This fan base doesn’t stick with their team. And I’m not intending to be critical of them for being that way, it isn’t a “Canucks fan” thing, it’s a big market with a lot of entertainment options…thing. It’s similar in Miami, LA, San Diego, Phoenix, etc. So in these types of markets it is more vital that you produce a winner or at least attempt to win. A rebuild means you don’t necessarily attempt to win. Long term that’s the goal, but if you’re rebuilding, let’s be honest, it’s code for “we want to win a championship some year down the road and aren’t concerned with winning this season”
Jason thinks they just need a young, exciting player and the fans will flock to the arena. But is there ever an example of that in league history? I look at two examples. Pittsburgh and Washington after getting Crosby and Ovechkin of course. Obviously, American markets. But similar markets to Vancouver in their historic patterns, a.k.a. they don’t draw well unless the team is doing well. But by Jason’s theory, all they needed was an exciting young player and all would be well. Let’s look at 2006, the rookie season for both Crosby and Ovechkin:
Yikes. 28th for the Caps, 20th for the Pens. In 07 the Caps were still down, but the Pens made the playoffs:
The Caps jumped one spot to 27th. The Pens only jumped two spots because even though they made the playoffs it obviously took the fan base a while to start believing in the team. A team that had a 19 year old who won the Hart trophy.
Finally the next season, the Pens started selling out nearly every game. The Caps did better, but they were like the 07 Pens in that the fans took a while to jump on board (if you remember, the Caps were terrible through the first part of the season, then fire Glen Hanlon and brought in Bruce Boudreau, and then they took off). By 09, once established as a winner, they too started selling out nearly every game.
Point is, winning is what draws. Having an entertaining winner helps, but just being a winner will trump just having a young star any day of the week. The Pens and Caps didn’t just have a young star, they each had a young generational talent and still couldn’t sell out.
So we go back to the question as to why the Canucks are scared to do a full on rebuild, and it is clearly because owner Francesco Aquilini feels that he has to show the fan base they’re still attempting to win or else attendance could fall of dramatically.
As a hockey guy, I know this isn’t the way to do things. Jason, and I’m not looking to rip on the guy at all, but he just either can’t or refuses to look at it from both sides. I don’t blame Aquilini, as he has a business to run. This isn’t Edmonton where they’re the only show in town with a billionaire owner who is much more of a fan than business man when it comes to the Oilers. The Oilers were a complete shit show for six seasons, and yet attendance barely ever dipped, if at all. Seeing that has likely scared Aquilini off from ever even thinking about going down that path. Organizations should learn from the mountain of mistakes the Oilers made, but some of that was also horrible luck too that could happen to any organization.
I’m all for the Canucks bottoming out, and this season we are seeing it happen despite the Canucks efforts to avoid it. I’m not all for it because I want to see the Canucks go through what the Oilers just did. I’m an Oilers fan, I don’t run from that, but I always maintain that I want the Flames and Canucks to be damn good too. You should want those rivalries. It wasn’t a rivalry between the Oilers and either team the last seven seasons. It wasn’t a rivalry between the Oilers and Canucks until 2003 when both teams were respectable playoff teams. One hand washes the other.
Jason’s final tweet to me was this:
I’m sorry Jason, you seem like a nice dude, you got a shit load of more followers and readers than I have and likely ever will have, but you’re logic on this is really flawed here. No better marketing than a young star player who allows fans to dream of championships? Cup contending/Cup winning teams have always and will always outdraw teams that have dreams of being Cup contenders/Cup winners.
I’m not saying it’s how I build it, because to get to that Cup contending level almost all of those teams have to bottom out for a few seasons. But I am saying Francesco Aquilini has major concerns about doing that and they are valid.
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