I know I bash the WWL with the best of them these days, but seeing Simmons write about the league is nothing but good news. Like it or not, the NHL can use all the friends it can get over at ESPN, even if Simmons mostly writes about the NHL like it was an old girlfriend who was enduring some hard times.
In any case, Simmons made more than a few points that any NHL diehard could agree with, including how expansion has watered down the sort of rivalries that were once the lifeblood of the league and how he's developed a genuine man crush on Milan Lucic. But what really caught my attention was this line:
The NHL has evolved into a sport with all die-hard fans and no casual ones. They need to get the casual ones back. They need to bring back people like me.While plenty of fans of the league might disagree with Simmons -- including ESPN's own John Buccigross, who often writes that the NHL ought to be happy with its niche status -- at least you can see his point. But what struck me about it was this: After reading a little further, it was hard to conclude that Simmons was a casual fan at all.
The article itself is a giant contradiction. Tell me this: What casual hockey fan would turn around and produce a 2,500-word column about his youthful love affair with the Boston Bruins? How about this passage where he writes about the anguish he felt after Montreal edged Boston in Game Seven of their historic 1979 playoff series?
Every time they beat us, the Montreal fans would chant "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nahhhhhh, HEY HEY HEY, gooooodbye" after the game. It never ceased to be infuriating. After this particular game, I remember being so downtrodden and frustrated that the chant made me start crying, and not just that, but I kept crying and couldn't stop. My face was buried into our living room sofa, so only when I came up for air did we realize my nose had been bleeding the entire time. The entire cushion was covered in blood.This is a casual hockey fan? The kid cried so hard that his nose started to bleed and he never noticed? As I've written in the past, there's no such thing as a casual American hockey fan and stories like this one are all the proof you need.
What we have here isn't a casual hockey fan. Instead, what we have here is somebody who was a dedicated fanatic -- at least up to the point that management in Boston started running the franchise like a cash box instead of hockey club. Toss in adulthood and an obvious passion for the NBA, and it's easy to see why the NHL wound up on Bill's backburner.
But now that the Bruins got themselves into a Game Seven with some feisty and desperate play, Simmons is starting to find his way back to the game and all of those great old feelings from the 1970s and 1980s when the Bruins were one of the top teams in the league year after year.
What we have here my friends isn't a casual hockey fan. What we have here is a bandwagon hockey fan.
So what's the lesson? Whenever anyone tells you that the NHL needs to do more to attract casual fans, be sure to let them know that they always come back -- at least when they have a winner to root for. And as Al Strachan noted yesterday, the NHL is going to get exactly what it wants as bandwagon fans in a boatload of big American markets suddenly find their teams deep in the playoffs.
Something tells me that an SI cover declaring that the NHL is back may be as close as an appearance by the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Stay tuned.