Detroit, as the Red Wings supporters are so eager to point out any time you bring up anything even remotely critical of the city itself, its residents or anything else even tangentially involved with it on any level, is a town that has been through a lot lately.
And while I have no ill feelings toward the team itself (despite its penchant for crybabyism over any number of perceived slights), I think the fans of this team and I have built up enough enmity over the past year or so that I would like to put it through just a bit more.
The sad news came earlier this week that longtime Tigers radio man Ernie Harwell had died, and my first thought, since he was a Detroit resident since the 1960s, my first thought was, “Lucky him.”
No no, I kid. I’ve been to Detroit. Detroit is a lovely city.
There’s the beautiful architecture.
The booming housing market.
Exciting night life.
Vibrant music scene.
And, of course, successful sports franchises.
Yes, there are many reasons to love this plucky underdog of a city that has, over the last two decades, done its very best to take its reputation as one of the great triumphs of American ingenuity and spirit, throw it in the toilet, and flush.
The Detroit Red Wings are not one of them.
Because it’s been well over a century since anyone would even dare refer to Detroit as “The Paris of the West” in any sense that was not derisive, and because the Ilitch family spent a lot of money before the salary cap came crashing down like one of the many ceilings in the Packard plant, most sports fans from the city have naturally gravitated to the only thing over which they can feel even the slightest bit of civic pride: the Detroit Red Wings.
Really, to call the Wings massively successful would be to undersell their accomplishments. Since the mid-1990s, they have won about a dozen division titles, six conference championships and four Stanley Cups. If the title actually existed — and I’m sure their fans are lobbying for it right now — they would be, in every sense of the phrase, The Team of the Last 15 Years.
And that has made their supporters, who I’m sure are lovely people when they’re not wishing me dead on Twitter, the most repulsive, disgusting, entitled, whinging, crybaby, gutless, ignorant, intolerable conspiracy theorist mutants in all of sports fandom.
Here is just a sampling of some of the less outlandish things their fans have said over the last 18 months or so: Sidney Crosby didn’t shake Nicklas Lidstrom’s hand after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup and this complaint is in no way sore-loserism; Gary Bettman has rigged the NHL playoffs so Pittsburgh wins; Gary Bettman has rigged the NHL playoffs so Phoenix competes because “he owns the team;” Shane Doan is a dirty player; Gary Bettman is personally making sure that every penalty called in the Detroit/San Jose series is harmful to the Red Wings; Chris Osgood is a competent NHL goaltender.
None of these, of course, were true, but if you were to say that on, say, the world’s preeminent hockey blog, you would be accused of bias. By people who are very obviously biased, far moreso than you, if you were biased at all, and irrespective of whether or not it is your job as a columnist rather than a reporter to be biased. No, I don’t get it either.
Some might say, to be fair, that this doesn’t apply to all Red Wings fans, or even most of them. A few bad apples and all that, right? Wrong. In my experience, every Detroit fan is as big a skidmark on the underwear of hockey as Tomas Holmstrom is, which is to say: a friggin’ giant one. In my nearly two years as a hockey blogger and more than 20 years more as a hockey fan, I have never in my life encountered a Detroit fan that in any way made me think they are rational, thoughtful human beings, or indeed human beings at all.
But I’ve begun to ramble, and since my eulogizing skills have in the past been called into question by all several of Nashville’s fans and one of their more mediocre players for a perceived lack of criticism of the actual team rather than its fanbase, let’s have a look at this 2009-10 team and find out where it all went wrong.
The easy answer, obviously, would be injuries. We’ve been hearing that since October. Boo hoo the Red Wings sure are hurt no wonder they got off to such a slow start I can’t believe how unfair life is. It had nothing to do, I’m sure, with Chris Osgood inexplicably getting 21 starts in 53 games before February, of which he lost 13. Noooo it must have been injuries! That’s why the Wings were fighting to keep a playoff spot around Olympic time, but surged back after that to finish fifth in the West. Any correlation between that and Osgood, clearly a top-1 all-time goaltending great who could start for any team in the league RIGHT THIS SECOND, getting just 87:46 of work after the Olympic break is purely a coincidence.
Also, there was, of course, The Conspiracy.
I speak, of course, about Gary Bettman rigging the entire league from Oct. 1 so that the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that the NHL owned at that Bettman therefore had an interest in buoying, quote-unquote “earned” home ice with its 107 fraudulent points. Had they not been handed all of their wins on a silver platter, there was no way Detroit would have missed out on home ice, I’ve been told.
But that home ice for the Coyotes saw the Glendale team unfairly stretch the two teams’ first-round series to seven games, an event which had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Phoenix had superior speed (with which to unbalance Detroit’s lumbering defense, the majority of which was playing professional hockey when many of the Coyotes’ players were in wardrobes by OshKosh B’Gosh), superior goaltending, and superior 5-on-5 play for the entire season. But Detroit persevered and triumphed because of a conspiracy that’s simply what Detroit does in the playoffs (but not so much in the auto industry).
Then came this disastrous series with San Jose. To highlight the many hilarious ways in which Detroit continually shot itself in the foot would take quite a while and ultimately be rather hurtful. So let’s get started.
First, it must be said that the student rather became the master. Todd McLellan was an assistant under Mike Babcock for three seasons before taking the Sharks’ head coaching position, presumably because he didn’t like Babcock attempting to intimidate anyone that disagreed with him with those stupid scowls of which everyone has grown so tired. We get it, Mike, you’re a tough customer. Anyway, McLellan clearly outcoached Babcock in this series. And by “outcoached,” I mean “didn’t give significant minutes to any players old enough to have owned Colecovision as an adult,” which was a strategy upon which Babcock seemed intent to cast his lot.
Second, let’s just revisit that Babcock strategy. Lidstrom is 40 years old. He averaged almost exactly 28:30 in the four games Detroit lost to San Jose. He got big-time minutes against Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, et al and proceeded to allow that trio alone to pick up seven goals and 12 assists in five games. This was a brilliant coaching decision by Babcock, oh yes. He was on the ice for seven goals in this series, including both in Detroit’s (and possibly his) swansong. He wasn’t even facing the puck when Marleau buried the series-clincher off the crossbar and in. I understand sticking by the old warhorses that have been through more postseason battles than most NHL players could dream of, but, as with all horses, sometimes you gotta take ‘em out back and put two in the back of their head.
Speaking of things that should be shot, can someone please explain to me the logic of putting Tomas Holmstrom on a line with Pavel Datsyuk? Here we have one of the most skilled and outstanding players in the NHL saddled with this lump of dried cat turds, and for what? So he can do what he’s done since the dawn of time itself: plant himself in front of (insert goaltender here), put his ass in his face, commit hundreds of uncalled goaltender interference, slashing, tripping and roughing penalties per game, then piss and moan every time a goalie or defenseman shoves him. Look, I have made it rather clear over the course of my time as a hockey writer that I love pests, but Holmstrom isn’t so much a pest as he is a dickhead. Pests inject some amount of flair to their annoyingness (a word I’ve invented just now), and occasionally fight to back up the crap they pull.
How many fights has Dan Carcillo had in his four-year NHL career? Or Sean Avery in his seven? The answer, according to hockeyfights.com, is 62 and 61, respectively. They are commonly referred to as punks and pussies and all manner of other slurs. But what about Holmstrom, that fearless warrior who battles hard every night and has stuck up for his teammates on every shift of his 13-year career? The answer, again according to hockeyfights.com, is three. And none since March 26, 2000. Carcillo is one fight short of that lofty mark for tough guys since March 20, 2010.
Oh and back to the outcoaching thing: I find it almost impossible to believe that a top line featuring Todd Bertuzzi netted precisely one goal in an important game like this one. It did, however, net six penalty minutes. But I’m sure that was just the refs trying to give the Sharks an unfair advantage again, right Babcock? Let’s run through the list of penalties taken by Bertuzzi in this series: slashing (Game 1, 2nd period, 6:39); goaltender interference (Game 2, 2nd period, 6:11); holding (Game 2, 3rd period, 3:01, which led to another penalty by Niklas Kronwalll, and a 5-on-3 goal for San Jose); hooking (Game 3, 2nd period, 3:34); holding (Game 5, 2nd period, 7:36).
You don’t want a guy on your top line picking up 10 penalty minutes in five games, especially if they’re lazy penalties like holding, hooking and holding, or stupid ones like goaltender interference. So what kind of a moron puts this oaf on the top line in an elimination game? Well obviously the answer is Mike Babcock, but I’m still trying to figure out why. I mean, sure, he stood around with a fire and intensity unseen since he nearly crippled someone (believe me I suffered through a year of this idiot’s antics when he was with Calgary, and he sucks), which must be what led to Johan Franzen having the game of his life on Thursday, right Babcock? This was a comically stupid decision that didn’t actively hurt the team when it was facing elimination at home, so it must be a key to success, right?
But the ultimate sign that Detroit was never going to do well in this series was that it let Joe Thornton run roughshod in every single one of its losses. There wasn’t a game in this series where Thornton didn’t have at least a point, and finished the five-game series with a line of 3-5-8. The guy’s not exactly known for having ice water in his veins come May, but he pounded the Red Wings like they were a guy in Burty Bob’s Two.
Obviously I am relishing the fact that Detroit has been ousted from the playoffs, and that their repugnant fanbase has a whole summer to sit around that decrepit, rotten city and think about the many ways in which their lives took such a sharp turn into the pathetic.
My only wish is that San Jose had beaten them at Joe Louis Arena, prompting their angry fans to rampage into the streets, rioting and setting ablaze everything in their paths, burning the city’s depressed downtown to a smoldering rubble.
And, in the process, doing millions of dollars’ worth of improvements.