The text message from a friend and long-suffering Los Angeles fan arrived seconds after the Kings improbably scored three goals in the final three minutes to stun the Dallas Stars 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
"Nice. There goes Stamkos," my buddy lamented, fearing that the two points would only rob the cellar dwelling Kings of their shot at the first overall pick this June. The choice, presumably, would be used on
It was just one win, and so probably a bit premature on the hand wringing there, but the reaction's understandable from someone who supports a team that's lost 40 games for the second consecutive season. When your team is getting knocked around for lunch money more nights than not, whether it's L.A. or Tampa Bay or Toronto, closing your eyes and dreaming of better days to come is the fan's natural -- and best -- defense.
Not everyone agrees with that approach, though. In fact,
"In this crazy, upside down world of ours, many people out there think that having a superior position heading into the lottery is a splendid thing," Farber wrote. "This is the sports world fallen through a rabbit hole. The idea of losing, even with the apparent long-term benefit of your team foremost in mind, is madness."
Madness? Madness is watching a team that's played like the NHL's answer to the Washington Generals all season long discover their inner Globetrotter when there's nothing on the line. Madness is thinking that padding a record with a couple of meaningless late-March victories is something to be lauded. And madness comes with the realization that those wins mean that a superior player, a player around whom a contending squad can be built, will wind up wearing someone else's sweater.
Look, no one wants to watch his or her team blatantly roll over, no matter the prize. But at the same time, there's a reason these games are played. It's to build toward the annual championship. And if you're not in the hunt this year, you need to show yourselves and your fans that a title is at least discernible somewhere on the horizon. That hope resides, if not just around the corner, then within walking distance.
The feckless build that faith by making trades at the deadline, moving veterans to acquire the young talent that hints at that brighter tomorrow (see Tampa's trade for
They also do it by getting the best draft pick possible. Crapshoot or not, it's still the closest thing hockey offers to a golden ticket.
Again, no one wants to see the guys on the ice not giving it their all. Not that it would matter if the fans did. As Farber correctly points out, you can't reprogram athletes to lose, and coaches of floundering franchises are more worried about the here and now than a tomorrow that might include someone else behind the bench.
But general managers must have a big picture view. And that means they can give the coach different athletes with which to work... or ask that the old ones not be used in the same fashion. Does this toy with the integrity of the game? Not necessarily. Sometimes this approach benefits the team both short and long term.
Take Toronto, for example. With veterans
Still, they're not fully committing to the future, and that's inexcusable for a team that's floundered in mediocrity (forgive me for being gentle) for the last decade. Especially in a town that's savvy enough to ride out the growing pains in anticipation of brighter days.
Farber commends Toronto coach
Instead of fruitlessly struggling for a playoff spot that's not within reach, this is a team that has to be considering its options. Sure,
Think that's too obvious a sign of tanking? Fine. How about calling up young
What's to lose? Like most young goalies, he's likely to struggle, leading the team into a deeper hole (and, hooray! a better draft slot). But honestly, there's every chance that Pogge, a promising if raw stopper, goes on a tear, runs off six straight wins and does exactly the same damage to their draft position as if they'd had the experienced Toskala between the pipes. But at least having played him, you've taken a legitimate leap towards a brighter tomorrow.
And barring the first overall pick, that's all fans of the also-rans are asking for.