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About That Curse August 21, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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The Hockey News has picked the Caps to win the Stanley Cup this year–old news by now–and the reaction here in Caps Nation seems to have been a collective “Oh Noes!”

I don’t think it’s warranted, to be honest. Whether or not the Caps skate the Cup next June will be decided on the ice next spring, not on the page this summer.

Look, predictions–and you can take this from someone who’s made one or two of them in his day–are nothing more than guesses. When you predict something, you take a look at the data in front of you, try to make sense of it, and take your best guess as to what’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter if your data source is a mountain of hockey statistics, or a deck of tarot cards: in the end, all you’re doing is guessing. Regardless of your data source, guessing is all you can do.

And as an aside, I would suspect that applies to ANY data source, all the way up to the Akashic records. Even if you’re using some of the more advanced paranormal methods, you’d still be getting a look at the MOST LIKELY event. But you know what they say about what ultimately got lost for want of a nail. Small events can sometimes lead to drastic outcomes. In fact, if you haven’t seen “Sliding Doors,” put it on your Netflix queue if you want to see that concept played out on film. The point is, in a free-will universe–which is what I believe we live in–small actions in Game 1 of the regular season could conceivably have major repercussions in Series O of the playoffs. There are too many decisions, too many “what-if” scenarios before the season starts, to be able to say with absolute certitude that the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion will be this team or that. And I would say that’s even true of the more esoteric data sources. There are just too many free-will decisions ahead of us right now, to do anything more than make a best guess, regardless of data source.

Does that mean preseason predictions are useless? Certainly not! For one thing, they’re fun to make, and fun to criticize when others make them. Also, they give us a way to evaluate the offseason, and they give us something to discuss when we don’t have actual games to watch. They’re an interesting way to keep our attention on the game we love. So, why not?

Now, with regard to whether or not getting picked by The Hockey News has any sort of negative supernatural impact: I very seriously doubt it. If their preseason favorite historically doesn’t do well, then THN’s prognosticators may perhaps need to interpret their data sources differently. But I personally do not subscribe to the theory that one media outlet’s guess, by itself, is so spiritually malevolent that it can somehow render an entire hockey season worthless before it even starts.

Because that, ultimately, is what the idea of a “THN curse” reduces to.

Is THN’s track record with preseason picks all that great? Not really. But when you’re talking about a regular season composed of 1,230 games, each of which is filled with many, many free-will decisions, followed by four playoff rounds, best of seven, AGAIN filled with many, many free-will decisions, sooner or later, something unexpected is bound to occur. By definition, you can’t predict the unexpected. So, even if you’re reading your data perfectly, you can still get it wrong. (Been there, done that.) ESPECIALLY when you’re talking about the very long, very complex series of what-ifs that comprises an NHL season.

Consider, if you would, the Toronto Maple Leafs. They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since the ’67 expansion, but I don’t think anyone’s pointing to anything supernatural as the culprit. Now, they’re not very well-liked out of market, and that much ill will from other Canadian fans may indeed have some kind of spiritual impact. It’s hard to say for sure, but Toronto’s troubles seem by most accounts to be easily ascribed to the mundane. Put simply, I don’t think the Leafs are cursed; they’re just making the wrong choices.

Now, even if there were some kind of negative repercussions to being a preseason favorite of THN, what of it? Curses have a way of getting broken: just ask the Blackhawks about the history, and aftermath, of Pete Muldoon’s ouster in 1926.

Let me put this another way. I thought this is going to be our year before THN picked us, and I still think the same thing now. Again, I just can’t see the idea that one hockey publication’s educated guess, by itself, means that the entire upcoming hockey season in Washington is futile.

Now, if we all get panicky and start giving up on our team before the season even starts, we won’t be the spiritual support our team needs us to be. And that could make all the curse jibber-jabber become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that would be our decision, not THN’s. So let’s put the kibosh on all of this, right now, and dismiss this curse nonsense as merely the product of a slow news season in the NHL.

Believe, Caps Nation. You can do it.



Transition Game August 5, 2011

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Ed Frankovic of WNST has a preview of an upcoming Capitals book called Transition Game. Go read the preview chapter, and then pre-order it. Now.–CS

The Long Island Vote August 2, 2011

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Much has been written about the referendum on Long Island, so I’m not going to bore you with the basics which you no doubt know already.

Now, normally, I’m reluctant to get into current events on this blog: it’s not quite on topic, and I’m guaranteed to tick off half my readers no matter what I write. That said, the Islanders vote is a spot where the rink hits the news section, so, what the heck, here goes.

I’m going to start by getting the “tick half the readers off” part over with right now. So: I almost have to wonder if Long Island knows they’ve got a 4-time Stanley Cup champion hockey team playing in their backyard. I also have to wonder if they even noticed that the Atlanta Thrashers just packed up shop and bolted for Winnipeg earlier this summer. And I REALLY have to wonder if they heard the rumblings out of Baltimore not long ago. Baltimore wants to build an 18,000-seat arena, and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to welcome the Islanders to a brand-new rink in Charm City. That might leave Caps Nation in utter chagrin, as Baltimore would be inheriting a 4-time Cup champion, but let’s wait ’til we get out of the desert before we worry about crossing that particular bridge.

But take a look at the AP write-up by way of WNST. There’s a quote from one voter wondering why the Islanders’ owner didn’t pay for it himself. Now look further down: he already did try that, eight years ago, but the project, quote, “failed because of community opposition.” So Islanders owner Charles Wang is in a bit of a pickle: they wouldn’t let him develop the project on his own dime eight years ago, and they still don’t want a new rink for the Islanders now. His team is in an antique of a rink that’s long on cozy, but just a little bit short on fan friendliness. (I’ve been there for a pair of Capitals road games, by the way.) So, that’s twice he’s been told by the community that they don’t want a new building for the Islanders.

Let me get this straight, Long Island. Your team invents the playoff beard, wins four straight Cups, and you’re essentially telling them to hit the bricks? You might want to ask Baltimore about the civic trauma that lingered for years after the Colts’ departure. Ask Quebec City how it felt to lose the Nordiques. Hell, ask a Thrashers fan what he thinks about the Jets, preferably one who’s crying into his fourth consecutive rum and Coke. Losing a team hurts. So if a new rink doesn’t go up, Long Island, and the Islanders leave, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your lives.

Look, I know the Islanders haven’t exactly been an elite team for a while. The Islanders haven’t made the playoffs–for that matter, they haven’t even gotten close–since 2007. That year, they snuck in as the 8 seed, with 92 points, 5 less than the Atlanta Thrashers. They then proceeded to go quietly, in five games, with their one win coming on the road. The Vet hasn’t hosted a playoff victory for the home team since April 28, 2002. Game 6 of the Conference Quarterfinals, that was, against the Maple Leafs, who went on to win Game 7, 4-2. The Islanders haven’t gotten out of the first round since 1993 (at the Capitals’ expense, I might add). A generation has grown up on Long Island that has never seen its hockey team win a playoff series.

But a bad rink is not a good way to attract top talent. It’s not just the Benjamins that hockey players worry about when making contract decisions. The working environment matters, and a building that dates to the Nixon Administration is not exactly a key selling point when you try to attract good talent. Remember how close the Penguins got to moving, before they got a new arena? Long Island, that’s headed your way. And if you handle it the wrong way, you may never get another NHL team. There are more than enough cities who’d be happy to take a relocating NHL team, who’d have much better facilities to offer. And the prospect of the NHL expanding back into a market that, judging by this vote, doesn’t much care for its team, is doubtful at best.

Now, part of the problem–and here’s where I get into the politics of it–is that Long Islanders are being taxed at confiscatory rates. When even the New York Times–not exactly a conservative paper–can print a 2008 article that seems to suggest that taxes are too high on Long Island, then taxes are too high on Long Island. I’m not unsympathetic: tax collectors have been despised since Biblical times for a reason. And if I lived on Long Island, and I didn’t care that much about the Islanders, the prospect of coughing up more money to build them a new arena might not sit so well with me, either. I get that, and I even share that mindset to a degree.

As Washington could tell you, putting the taxpayers on the hook for sports arenas doesn’t always work as advertised. Southeast hasn’t exactly taken off, despite the presence of Nationals Park. Part of the problem there, though, is the generally sucky economy right now, which put a bit of a kibosh on the growth the city was expecting around Nationals Park.

But as Washington could also tell you, a new arena, when it works, can do wonders for the surrounding area. If you’re anywhere near Verizon Center in the hours before a Capitals game, you’d be amazed at how much red you’d see being worn. That part of DC wasn’t exactly the nicest part of town when Verizon Center opened; these days, even the fast food joints in that neck of the woods are practically ten bucks to get in the door.

There’s really no easy answer to the arena question on Long Island. Is keeping a dynasty team worth more money than they’re paying now? The folks who showed up to vote didn’t seem to think so, and well, if that’s what the people think, that needs to be respected. (I’d take a gratuitous swipe at Congress here, but that’s what it would be–gratuitous.)

Still and all, I do have to wonder if the voters gave any consideration to the thought that they might be voting to sign their NHL team’s death warrant. Bossy…Nystrom…Trottier…Arbour…there’s an awful lot of hockey history on Long Island, and it would be a shame if the team that represented that history were to just go away.

One can only hope that a new way forward is found in the time the Islanders have left at The Vet.