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Pop-Up Hockey: Ready Made Fandom

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The new expansion teams have it easy. The then-Mighty Ducks, did not back in the day.

Sharks V Ducks

The Kings.

I start my first writing for Anaheim Calling talking about our hated rivals because it all started there.

If you have been a hockey fan in Southern California for longer than 26 years, you were a Kings fan. You lived through the Triple Crown Line, Kelly Hrudey flopping around in net like a beached dolphin, the Granato tomahawk, the conspiracy of the McSorley stick blade measurement, Rob Blake’s crushing hip checks, that time when Mattis Nordstrom was the Captain. Oh, and also, Gretz.

You lived and breathed the purple and gold until they moved a real NHL team straight into your backyard.

Not a “real” NHL team, mind you–an expansion team. Worse yet, the watered down Disney version. Your best player was Terry Yake. You cringed at the Iceman. They were named after a children’s movie. No one banged on the glass. The organist didn’t play “Three Blind Mice.” The fans were thrown out for cursing. Wild Wing had a Saturday morning cartoon.

On the ice the Mighty Ducks were a collection of scrubs and castoffs from real NHL teams.

Detroit buried your team in the first game. Bobby Dollas was steady and knew how to play rough. Sean Hill scores your franchise’s first goal. It was the arduously slow progression of watching grass grow. The Ducks were thugs. Todd Ewen. The Grim Reaper. Troy Loney. Randy Ladouceur. By the way, these four were your captains and alternates.

It took 4 years for them to be respectable. Paul Kariya for them to be watchable. A decade for them to be good. 14 years for them to be the first California team to win a Stanley Cup. To be a fan of this team, you had to suffer. For many, many years you had to (invoking Carey Elwes), “get used to disappointment.”

When the Ducks entered the league, they drafted two goaltenders first and second in the expansion draft. Guy Hebert and Glen Healy. As much as I love Guybo? That’s a far cry from the Flower in Vegas. Alexei Kasatonov, the Ducks’ third pick, scored 3 goals with the Devils the year before. Never more than 12 in an NHL sweater and he was already 34 years old. Gone in one year as a Duck. Steven King was next at pick 4. 24 years old. Had 12 points in 24 games with the Rangers the year before. Played 34 games with the Ducks over two years and scored 13 points. Total.

There was no James Neal. No Marschessault. And certainly no one with the potential of Wild Bill.

Vegas took Stoner’s contract for the kindness of not taking Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson. In order for that to happen, the Ducks gifted/traded them Shea Theodore as the price that kindness. He is currently one of the top young defensemen in the league.

I could go on and on about how NO team gets a three-time cup winner/four-time All-Star/Vezina candidate goalie to start their franchise. However? I think that’s unnecessary.

The point is that wether you were a Ducks fan, a Florida fan, or a Sharks fan, you didn’t get these preposterously skewed rules allowing expansion teams to essentially pillage clubs. The existing teams have to bite the bullet on aging player’s contracts, cater to self serving players with NTC’s (see: Bieksa, also known as “Minus 3”), or sacrifice their young talent since they can’t protect who they really want to.

The current expansion rules lead to this exactly: win an NHL franchise and you will compete in year one. And year two. Probably year 3.

Vegas has never seen a Shaun Van Allen to Peter Douris two on one. Honestly, I don’t know if we did either.

And Seattle. Seattle will never see that either.

As Bettman and the NHL have made clear, the rules will be the same for Seattle and future expansions. Boom. Pop Up NHL. We’ll give you a team to root for. You’ll have some stars. You’ll have every advantage.

This may all just seem like being salty for what the Golden Knights have done. But I’m not salty. I respect them for doing everything within the rules to create a competitive and Western Division Title winning team. They went to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season.

Good for them, but bad for hockey. You are punishing your established fan base for the sake of creating winners in your expansion cities.

Maybe it’s best for the growth of the game. Maybe it’s best for the NHL as a whole. Maybe it’s best to give these new teams a legitimate shot at winning in year one.

But they’ll never know what it is to suffer and grow with a franchise. They didn’t have to bleed to get on the bandwagon. They didn’t EARN being a fanatic. They just had to buy a T-shirt.

I wonder, when the NFL and NFL money comes to Vegas? How many fans will the Golden Knights lose because they don’t know what it is to invest? All of the flash and dazzle “Medieval Times” style productions will only keep their fans’ attention for so long. They simply don’t know what it is like to live and die with the nightly boxscore.

They’ll never know what it means to have a house that Rusty built.

I suppose we’ll see.