Just over a year ago I wrote a piece about who has the greatest influence on a teams personality. Go ahead, take a look. I don’t see way what I said then was untrue, but it was not complete. I had hoped to follow it up sooner, but well real life and Stanley Cup run got in the way. I’m only sorry one of those happened.
It’s undeniable that there’s more than one way to build a winning team. Every general manager on the planet believes they have the right recipe. Some of them are even right. Part of the winning is just dumb luck, but only part, While the general manager, all his appointees and luck play a part in what a team will look like, just like cooking at very high or very low altitude the environment will heavily influence what a team can be made of.
The last four Stanley Cup champions clearly illustrate the differences in how one can win. Most recently the Boston Bruins did it with great goaltending, stout defense, raw physicality, questionable special team and depth. The Chicago Blackhawks did it with an amazingly deep cadre of skaters, blueline and forward lines were stacked like nothing since the Roy/Bourque Avalanche, and in the crease they had a rookie goalie who was occasionally average. The Pittsburgh Penguins won with firepower, firepower, and more firepower. The Detroit Red Wings won with a not especially physical, opportunistic, puck possession team that played a smooth skating game in front of a six week star between the pipes.
Ask each of those teams fan bases which team plays the best style. Each group will overwhelmingly tell you it’s their team. If you ask the fans of the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils or Minnesota Wild the same question the answers will be very similar. Ask any Bruins fan how they’d react to the knights of north station suddenly playing like the Habs and be prepared for stream of invective of astonishing strength. Likewise if you offer to turn the Wild into the Broad Street Bullies, you’ll be met with heartfelt but probably more politely expressed disgust. I don’t think anyone needs to ask fans in Vancouver and Chicago how much they’d adore swapping teams.
Part of the expectations of each fanbase is history and tradition. The Canadiens have been built around goaltenders for decades. The Boston Bruins have lived and died by great defensemen. The Pittsburgh Penguins success has been leashed to highly talented centers. You don’t want to be a bad goalie in Montreal. Heaven help a poor defenseman in Boston,
The longer these traditions extend, the harder they are to move. I don’t think you could market the Red Wings team that spanned the lockout in Boston. For established teams this is both blessing and curse. If you win the traditional way, you probably won’t hold fan support much better than if you’re mediocre for years. For teams that haven’t won the Cup, or who have had unstable ownership and no real identity establishing one that will keep fans in the seats, the proshop and at the tv is huge.
The expansion teams, even the long established ones who haven’t won a Cup or two or haven’t had sustained high level play have the most finicky markets for a reason; there’s nothing for a supporter to cling to. The Senators are an example of this. When they first came into the league they were built on great skating, rugged defense and a remorseless attack. Now, they have some skilled players but no depth and less identity. The Canucks are another example of this. If they had won the cup last June, even as bad as he played the calls for moving Luongo (who isn’t the reason they lost) wouldn’t be anywhere near as loud or frequent. Don’t believe me? Look at the way the Boston media has reacted to Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien this year versus two or three years ago.