Play to Win: Fans Of Oilers, Maple Leafs & Hurricanes Should Still Want Ws
Maybe I'm a purist or perhaps simply naive, but I have had enough of reading and listening to comments from fans and even sometimes members of the media, season after season, about how struggling franchises should just "tank" the rest of their games during an unsuccessful campaign so they can obtain that always coveted No. 1 choice.
With teams such as the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs toiling in the basements of their respective conferences and the playoffs simply a pipe dream, many "fans" have made it clear that they would rather see their favorite teams lose as often as possible so they can have a few extra ping pong balls in the draft lottery machine.
This thought process is not only disheartening, but it is disrespectful to the players, coaches and front office executives who are representatives of the NHL and the sport of hockey itself.
The importance of draft picks in today's cap restricted NHL is immense, but finishing last in the standings does not guarantee a team the top choice.
The draft lottery was implemented to help dissuade the unethical practice of throwing games, not to mention quieting the conspiracy theorists who insist that it often occurs.
The notion that finishing last will automatically assure a franchise future success is simply asinine. If ending a season in the 30th slot of the league standings does happen to net an organization the top pick in the upcoming draft, they still have to select the right player, which is easier said than done on most occasions.
Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and Cam Fowler are the consensus "big three" in most scouts eyes for the upcoming draft (all though there have been some rumblings from a few scouts that Fowler's draft stock has taken a slight hit as of late), but there is no way of truly knowing which of these three players or another kid way off the radar, will end up turning into the best pro.
In 1993, Alexander Daigle was supposed to be a sure-fire NHL star when he was selected first overall by the Senators and I don't think I need to explain how that choice turned out for the Ottawa franchise.
During the 1999 draft, Detroit was ecstatic to grab defenseman Jiri Fischer and winger Tomek Valtonen with their first two selections. Later on, they took a flyer on a nifty Russian center with the 171st overall selection, some kid named Pavel Datsyuk.
What fans often forget is that NHL clubs are literally drafting kids who they think will one day soon or several years down the road make solid additions to their organizations, but a lot can happen to any person, let alone an athlete, during those essential years of growth between their late teens through their early 20s.
Besides the unsurety of the NHL draft process, fans also need to consider the players involved in these scenarios when they are clamoring for more losses.
The vast majority of the players in the NHL have a tremendous love and respect for the game, a high competitive level and a lot of professional and personal pride.
These athletes who have worked their whole lives to rise to the top level of pro hockey are simply not going to lie down and die when they hit a rough patch in their respective careers (the few who do will have a short-lived stay in the NHL).
Many of the players on these struggling teams are also playing for more than pride. There is the unrestricted and restricted free agents playing for new contracts, the third- and fourth-liners trying to earn more ice time and move up the organizational depth chart and the kid from the minors called up to prove to the franchise that he is ready for a full-time NHL role.
Finally, I will never understand how one can call themselves a fan and root for their team to lose.
I am a die hard Pens fan and have been for my entire life. I celebrated their three championships with pride and excitement (and I am well aware that attaining high draft picks through tough seasons played a part in all three titles).
I also cheered for the team just as exuberantly, as a young child, in the mid to late eighties when the Pens couldn't get a sniff of the post season.
Then again in the late nineties and early 2000s when, for financial reasons, Pittsburgh had to give away the Jagrs, Kovalevs, and Strakas while icing teams that had players like Rico Fata, Konstantin Koltsov and Sebastian Caron as the focal points.
Through the good times and the bad ones, I always wanted the Penguins to win each and every game I watched because that is what a true fan should do.
I implore all fans always to pull for your teams to win, no matter what the circumstances are or who is wearing the crest of your beloved franchise on his sweater because, I believe, that is what being a real fan is all about.
Besides, when you love a team when they are down, it makes their transformation into a winner that much sweeter.
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