Seven Heavens: Letters to Canadian NHL Cities

Social Share Counters

Seven Heavens:

 Dear Vancouver,

Before I begin, I must clarify that this will be the only “letter” in which I am addressing the “City of Vancouver,” as a whole – the fans, the organization, the media, and spokesperson, er, Mayor Gregor Robertson. In no other letter will I only address the population, but I feel it’s necessary here. I am also not talking to the team, because they don’t have to answer for anything, as far as I’m concerned. After all, when the circus goes nuts, you don’t blame the elephants.

Please, Vancouver, do not screw up what you have been given. Do not screw up your current position of on-ice Canadian royalty. You have been Canada’s only real shot at a Stanley Cup for three years running, and you are its only shot this year.
You have been complaining about blessings – things that the other six Canadian teams can only dream about. You’re like a supermodel saying, “My body fat isn’t zero” or “What if I get fat, some day in the future?”
“Our powerplay is not first,” you say? Jesus, Ottawa would take 20th. “The Twins and Luongo have not performed in the playoffs,” you say? Christ, Toronto has been waiting for a Vezina nominee, a Hart winner, and two straight Art Ross Trophy winners since… well, Toronto’s never had that. Their last Norris winner was Brian Leetch, and he played for the Rangers when he won it. The highest scoring all-time player to play for Toronto is named Ron Francis, and he only played their for 12 games.
Currently, you are tearing yourself apart, even though you have everything to be thankful for. You’re like that family of 18 on Thanksgiving, who fights about the turkey being slightly overcooked. Meanwhile, a single mom is trying to raise four kids across town and can only afford chili and a pear for each of her children.
Your fans have been booing a man who is (arguably) the best player your franchise has ever had. Your media has been criticizing the fans and said goalie, and said Twins. Your team has responded unkindly and defensively to both the media and the fans. The media has responded by telling the team to shove it.
It all sounds really healthy.
It’s funny, Vancouver, because you say you don’t like the CBC, but that sounds exactly like a season of Coronation Street.
Now, suck it up and eat that turkey.

 Dear Toronto,

Few in history have been given what you now own: perspective.
You are the only Canadian hockey team that has not made the playoffs since 2004 (Winnipeg made it as Atlanta), and it’s that seven-year absence that has made you stronger.
Moses roamed the deserts and he got wiser. Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing in the prime of his career, and he got wiser. Kobe Bryant? He has owned maturity.
You have been given a rare chance, because nobody liked you in 2004. Believe it or not, they’re starting to like you again.
In 2004, you were cocky, arrogant, and a prima donna. You thought that everyone loved you because they were smiling to your face. The truth was, they were tacking “KICK ME” stickers to your back when you walked away. You were the middle management boss that everyone hated. You were the Michael Scott of the NHL.
Seriously, I mean, you really were hated. Every city in the nation was forced to watch you every Saturday night, and the CBC told us that you were the only important Canadian team in hockey.
Okay, that hasn’t changed, but I hope that your time in the desert has taught you something.
You have a chance to correct your mistakes, to right your wrongs, to change your ways.
You have Phil Kessel, who is basically an American version of Alex Ovechkin with worse hair. You have Mikhail Grabovski, who is basically a slightly worse version of Patrick Kane, with a number four digits below Kaner’s. You have James Reimer, who is the Ringo Starr of NHL goaltenders (“I’m just happy to be here!”).
You never gave anybody respect, you never gave anybody your time, you never gave anybody anything, really. And, how did it work out? Again, it’s been seven years and you haven’t finished better than ninth.
You going back to your old ways now would be like Vincent Chase following Medellin with Medellin II.
You are the most powerful force in the nation, when you want to be, and you have a chance to reclaim your throne.
You were kicked off it last time, like Trudeau during his first term. Your popularity hit an all-time low, and you’ve spent years (again, seven) trying to gain it back.
Kiss babies, shake hands, and make amends.
It’s your chance to lead once again. Don’t blow it.

 Dear Calgary,

Let’s be honest, everyone’s kind of sick of you. Rather, everyone just kind of got sick of you.
For a while there, we actually bought into your whole “cowboy hats are cool” thing, and your whole “wear spurs to your job on Wednesday” thing. Then, we all realized that the Calgary Stampede only lasts for two weeks and most of you are more corporate than we are.
Cowboys don’t work on 9th avenue.
You were so incestuous for a while. Your GM was a Sutter. Your coach was his brother. A younger Sutter was in your system. Everyone who you signed, traded for, and drafted was from Alberta. Your captain was Mr. Western Canada, through-and-through. But, like real incest, no matter how good it feels in bed, the kid comes out like this.
Now, the only guys who you seem able to sign (even though you’ve tried to get rid of them) are named “Tanguay” and “Jokinen.” Except, this isn’t like Moneyball, where the A’s built a solid team out of rejects. That doesn’t always work. Your misfit toys just won’t play with each other.
The good news is, you have charm. You really, really do. If you didn’t, then we wouldn’t have bought into your manifesto, and we did (for a couple years, at least).
If you didn’t have charm, then we wouldn’t remember the Red Mile of 2004, and we still do. If you didn’t have charm, then we wouldn’t keep going to the Calgary Stampede, and we still do. If you didn’t have charm, then we wouldn’t watch Heartland… okay, we don’t.
(Sorry for all the shots, CBC.)
You have the charm, now get the game.

 Dear Edmonton,

You actually know what the phrase, “Well, it can’t get any worse” feels like.
The good thing is, you have nothing to lose. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to play all your high-quality draft picks, and you have plenty. (That’s what happens when you finish last pretty much every year.)
Nobody else could throw Taylor Hall, The Nuge, and Jordan Eberle on a line together and, when asked the reason, could probably respond with, “Fu*k it.” You have more stars from previous Canadian World Junior teams than the Canucks have Scandinavians (Denmark included).
Of course, as likeable as Tom Renney is, we all wish you would have held onto Pat Quinn. Come on! A tough, old school Irish coach who’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame coaching all these 19 and 20-year-olds? That was gold, baby. Gold.
The good thing for you is that nobody else can hate you, except Calgarians (and the rest of Canada hates them). You’re too likeable, because even if your team one day gets really, really, REALLY GOOD, we still feel bad for you because you live in Edmonton.
Seriously, how does it feel that that only guy who’s wanted to sign with you in the past five years is a drunk driver from Ukraine?
(Nothing against Ukraine, honestly. Everything against drunk drivers, though.)
Of all the “newest” Canadian teams (Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and you), I can honestly say that you are the only team to nail your uniform design, once you decided to embrace the 80′s look, that is. Once Ray-Ban Wayfarers came back into style, I don’t think you had a choice.
(Speaking of… any sports team should know that your jersey should remain the same as it was during the franchise’s best years. For the Oilers, it should be the 80′s, for the Canucks, it should be the mid-90′s, and for the Jays, it should be the early 90′s.)
Here’s the thing, Edmonton: we’re all waiting. Show up already, please? Join the party. We’re looking forward to seeing what you’ve got.

 Dear Ottawa,

Christ, that didn’t go how you planned it, eh?
That Heatley thing sure didn’t work out. That Hasek experiment only benefitted the Red Wings. That Spezza guy has kind of flown the coop, and that Cheechoo guy has disappeared like Bobby Fischer. That Bryan Murrey guy just seems to get more-and-more confused with each passing day. That Wade Redden guy didn’t work out, and just why did you let go of Chara, again? Come to think of it, that Alfredsson guys is really coming off like a poor man’s Sundin, isn’t he?
(NOTE: I would normally have sympathy for soon-to-be-retired captains who have devoted their entire careers to one team, but I still haven’t forgiven Alfredsson for shooting a puck at Scott Niedermayer’s head in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. That, along with Darcy Tucker’s chop block of Michael Peca in 2002, are the two most forgotten cheap shots of all-time.)
You see, thousands of miles away, Canucks fans are hoping that they don’t do what you did.
You were the team of promise – the model franchise for Canadian sports. You were the little team that could, built from nothing, surviving bankruptcy, and taking the wins away from the sport’s most famous team, the cross-province Toronto Maple Leafs. You were like Rocky going up against Apollo Creed right in your own backyard – the ultimate Mom n’ Pop success story.
I mean, it didn’t work out, though.
So, what are you doing now? Like an heir who refuses to sell his father’s hand-built house, I can imagine half of your phone calls are from teams inquiring about Erik Karlsson, and you won’t be selling.
The good news is that you’ve shown before that you’re at your best when nobody believes in you. Obviously, that’s the case now… I hope you can pull it off once again.

 Dear Montreal,

Don’t worry, I won’t make the jokes that most people do. It’s far too easy. The truth is, you’ve gotten a nice break in the past year. Vancouverites stole your reputation for destroying things when you lose (or win), and Toronto and Calgary have done a good job of getting so angry at their players that they decide to say, “I’ve had enough!” and up and leave. Well, maybe they haven’t left Toronto and Calgary, but they’ve certainly been disheartened.
You used to own the “dysfunctional” label, even if you used to win with it. For some reason, I still can’t forget the Patrick Roy incident, and I know you can’t either. You chased the second-best goalie of all-time out of the city he made and replaced him with Jocelyn Thibault. Roy won two Cups with Colorado. Meanwhile, you’re still swinging the bat in the on-deck circle.
The good news is, you always seem to surprise. I really thought you had no business being in that Boston series last year, but you stuck around. You’re really hard to kill and, occasionally, you win the fight, even if nobody on your team can fight.
You rebounded nicely from the “I hate them” asterisk that follows any team who could have employed Mike Ribeiro, wisely hanging onto NHL Good Guys like Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov. We’re still not sure how we feel about Mike Cammalleri or P.K. Subban, but we’re sure you have a plan for them.
Believe it or not, it’s been a bit of a relief to see you stumble out of the gate this year, but it was getting harder-and-harder to believe that you could actually win. You just always seemed to pull W’s like a rabbit from a hat, and make the playoffs like someone who snuck over the border in the back of the van and then whispered to the kid in the booster seat, “Shhhhh! I’m not here…”
Fact is, Vancouver is the only Canadian team that’s been given a real shot to make the playoffs this year, so the rest of Canada is secretly hoping you can keep your streak of overachieving going. (I, for one, might be the only person West of the Rockies who believes the Maple Leafs will take seventh of eighth.)
Hey, why not you, right?

 Dear Winnipeg,

Truthfully, this is kind of a thrill. To be even saying your name in this “article,” that is. I feel like a kid meeting their idol, all nervous and sh*t. When I was 13, my buddy Reeder and I made a deal – if either of us ever amounted to millions, we had to: 1) buy the other a Ferrari and 2) bring an NHL team to Winnipeg.
Looks like someone beat me to the punch, and I’m a little relieved, because I really felt your city deserved a hockey club, but it wasn’t going to be me anytime soon.
You’re kind of living the dream now, and your future is as bright as you make it. What’s that Dr. Seuss poem that everyone gets for a gift at their high school graduation?
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
There’s really not much to write here, because your history is short. You feel like an expansion team, because of how forgettable the Atlanta experiment was. I mean, your time in Atlanta lasted only a little longer than Justin Bieber’s.
All we can say is, keep it going. Keep believing in your squad. If this young season has shown anything, it’s that it could be a long winter in Winnipeg (and the winters are normally long enough, as is). Fact is, we all can’t help but think you’re on probation, life support, or a work visa. The fact that you’re even back is too surreal and we’re all secretly believing that the problems that once plagued your existence may arise again. The only thing is, the last time, fanbases could bail on their teams when they weren’t playing well, because ticket sales were always down. It killed you, and you played a small part in the last exodus, no matter how much you loved your team.
If you’re not going to go, then they will.
Stick with your team, through the highs and lows. You don’t have the nightlife of New York City or the financial backing of the Maple Leafs. You can’t afford a lull, a drop in enthusiasm, or a hint of disloyalty.
You have chosen to raise this child. You’ve made a commitment.
Don’t bail now. You’ve got a future, as long as you realize it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>