One of the best quotes I've ever squeezed out a pro athlete came in an NBA dressing room. The player was former Toronto Raptor Keon Clark, who shares some of the same philosophies as Willie Nelson and Cheech & Chong, if you know what I mean - and I think you do.
Here's a recap of our brief-but-deep conversation, with an expletive deleted so as not to upset your delicate sensibilities.
Me: Keon, how are you?
Keon: Same Â“crapÂ”, different toilet, man.
Same crap, different toilet. If there's a better slogan for fans of the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, I've yet to hear it.
Believe me, there's nothing more I'd like than to write feel-good stories about the resurgence of hockey in two of the NHL's most important American markets. I'd have a ball describing the surge of sentimentality that would undoubtedly surface were the Hawks or Bruins Stanley Cup contenders.
I never get the chance. Year after year after year, for too many years, the once-glorious franchises wobble and stumble, forcing me to search out new ways to catalogue the carnage. And each year I point out their plight, disconsolate Chicago and Boston fans will send more e-mail responses than I receive for almost any other column I'll file.
Of course, as they do nearly every season, both teams have showed signs of life at points in the campaign. As well, stars such as Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat will be impact players Â– at least, during the regular season Â– for years to come, while youngsters Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel, Tuomo Ruutu and Patrice Bergeron have their best years ahead of them.
There's also no doubt GMs Dale Tallon and Peter Chiarelli are improving upon the performances of their predecessors. Still, given the recent states of the organizations, it would be next to impossible not to improve. And once again, here we are as the spring draws closer, with both teams in an all-too-familiar position: on the fringes of the playoff race, facing another spring of meaningless games and post-dated promises.
Besides, if you believe the old axiom about good teams making their own good luck, you have to believe bad teams cultivate their own particular kind of karma, that there's a cosmic price to pay for a well-documented history of short-changing players and breaking fans' hearts.
If we were talking about the Panthers in Florida, where hockey ranks just below proper election procedures on the scale of public importance, this would be an altogether different matter. But we're not talking about any old team or any old town.
We're talking about not one, but two Original Six franchises, each with its own rich-but-fast-fading history. We're talking about not one, but two of the most classically beautiful jerseys in any sport. We're talking about two cities the NHL used to have in the palm of its hand.
Judging by their attendance, we're talking in the past tense. The Hawks are 29th in home turnouts this season, averaging just 12,841 fans per game. The Bruins are in 25th spot, averaging 14,325.
The Coyotes draw better than that. The Thrashers, Predators and Ducks do better than that. The freakin' Panthers do better than that. And there's no excuse for that.
To hear their sons tell it, the owners of both teams (Jeremy Jacobs and Bill Wirtz) are passionate hockey fans. I don't doubt they are. I just wish they had a different passion, because they're not very good at this one.
Though they're often accused of the crime, Wirtz and Jacobs (or as I call them, Â‘Wirtz and Wirtzer') haven't out-and-out killed the sport in their respective cities. But they have accomplished something nearly as outrageous Â– they've managed to create and cultivate a degree of loathing amongst their fan bases normally reserved for franchise relocators such as Art Modell, Marcel Aubut and Norm Green.
In one respect, Wirtz and Jacobs have moved their franchises. They moved out the old teams that won Cups and held onto stars and moved in teams whose bottom line had everything to do with finances and business Â“principlesÂ” and nothing to do with winning championships.
Perhaps worst of all, they're still adamant they can construct organizations on par with the likes of the Red Wings and Sabres. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite the consistent mismanagement and cronyism and water-treading and 10 cents-on-the-dollar trades, Jacobs and Wirtz continue to believe they're not far from the NHL's ultimate winner's circle.
It would be laughable, if it weren't so depressing. It would be gut-bustingly funny, if it weren't heart-wrenchingly sad.
But for yet another season, that's exactly what it is. Same crap, different toilet, with little chance of a cleansing flush.
Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears regularly - including every Thursday - only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau's Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.
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