With an overtime loss Tuesday night on home ice, the Red Wings find themselves in a 3-0 series hole to the Sharks. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
With one of the strongest franchises in the NHL on the ropes in just the second round of the playoffs, there is obviously a lot of fear and loathing going on in Detroit right now.
The Red Wings managed to overcome some devastating injury woes during the regular season, then outlast a very game Phoenix Coyotes team in the first round. But the San Jose Sharks, once Detroit’s plaything, have proved to be a formidable foe this year and are now threatening to sweep the defending Western Conference champs off the board entirely.
Needless to say, some Detroit fans aren’t taking it well.
A group of enthusiasts calling themselves the ‘Tin Foil Hat Club’ has formed, with a mandate that espouses the conspiracy theory that the refs – and, by extension, the NHL – are out to get the Red Wings this post-season.
While the group maintains a certain level of tongue-in-cheekiness, the members are still adamant that the fix is in.
“We get some crazy bad calls against us, so these are our tin hats to ward off the bad mojo,” member Sara Schropp told the Detroit Free Press.
“I believe the NHL has its own interests besides individual markets,” added fellow Tin Hatter Robert Masters. “They're trying to look out for the big picture. They want parity.
“What's the best way to get parity in the league than taking out the biggest dynasty? It makes sense a little bit.”
Except it doesn’t make sense.
From a marketing perspective, the NHL loves the Red Wings and why shouldn’t they? Detroit is an Original Six franchise that birthed one of the best players ever in Gordie Howe and still boasts stars such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. In fact, Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s jerseys are both still top-20 sellers on NHL.com, despite the fact they’ve played in the city for most of the decade (meaning many Detroit fans probably already have one of the sweaters from a previous year, whereas all Philly fans had to wait until Chris Pronger was acquired this year before buying his Orange and Black sweater).
And when NBC televises regular season games, it seems like nearly half are Wings contests (Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, Philly, Chicago and the Rangers the only others considered).
As for the riff on parity, I don’t see the logic. Dynasties are what draw people to a sport, not parity. The NFL is the exception because gambling plays a big role in its popularity, but what would baseball be without the Yankees and Red Sox? Can you imagine the NBA ever giving the cold shoulder to the Lakers or Celtics? Even most European soccer leagues revolve around two or three teams each (Chelsea, Barcelona, etc.).
And think about your hockey history: There’s a treasure trove of memories built up around the early-1980s Islanders, the mid-’80s Oilers and the Canadiens of the 1970s. No one ever waxes rhapsodic about ‘that amazing stretch when Detroit, Dallas, New Jersey, then Colorado won Cups.’ No disrespect to any of those teams, but it’s tough to build much mythology out of that. And it won’t bring in the casual fan.
But the Red Wings do. Everyone knows the Winged Wheel, even if it’s just because of Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It actually would behoove the NHL to have Detroit back in the final for a third consecutive year, or at least meet Patrick Kane’s Blackhawks in the conference final.
But it doesn’t look too promising now. Are the officials to blame? Or are the Sharks just a really good team whose size and speed make them tough to contain? If Wings fans really want a conspiracy theory, maybe one of my own would suffice – The Curse of Bertuzzi may have struck again, after all.
THN Puck Panel: Will Fleury be the difference in Canadiens-Penguins series?
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PRODUCER: TED COOPER
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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