Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Game: Hockey Fans' Summer 2017 Outrage Guide

By Nick

Hockey fans, particularly the American variety, are used to defending their sport.  Pugilistically, if necessary.  That's what happens when your very legitimacy as fans of a sport is constantly under siege from the barbarian hordes of football and baseball fans.  Now that we've got Charles Barkley, it's only a matter of time until basketball fans assimilate.  So it's no surprise that hockey fans tend to have great capacity to drum up outrage over the perceived and real slights to their sport.  And, when the opportunities to outlet that outrage run dry, hockey fans cope by teeing off on fans of other hockey teams, and the business of their own team - lest ones' head explode from all the pressure.

For 29 teams' fans, the Stanley Cup Final is a chance to recharge their outrage batteries.  Well, 28 teams' fans.  Vegas fans have nothing to be outraged about at this point.  They always talk about the teams in the Final as having that short offseason to rest, recuperate, and get back up to speed before the season starts to ramp up in September.  But hockey fans have a short summer, too.  Because there are plenty of opportunities to vent outrage on the offseason schedule - especially this summer.

So, here's the hockey fan's guide to outrage for summer 2017.

June 15-17: Buyout Window Open

Buyouts have the ability to trigger fan outrage in a couple different ways.  First, nothing gets fans' blood boiling quite like a bad contract.  Either one that started bad, or one that became bad because the player didn't perform making the contract unappealing and, likely, unmovable.  Buyouts are a way for a GM to shunt a bad contract, although it's not without cost.  There is a protracted cap impact in a buyout situation, and that lingers like a fart in church if the team finds itself in cap distress while the buyout is still on the books.  It's also a constant reminder of the unsavory situation.

It is being reported that the Rangers are going to buyout Dan Girardi.

Wild fans have suffered their share of buyouts recently.  Matt Cooke and Thomas Vanek, for example.  Mention either of those names to most Wild fans and the reaction will probably range from ill-disguised contempt to outright disgust.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 16: NMC Waiver Acceptances Due

One of the features of the Las Vegas Expansion Draft rules is that teams can ask players with no movement clauses to waive said clauses for the purposes of exposing them in the expansion draft.  The strategy here is to expose a veteran player with (presumably) a large contract in order to be able to protect a younger player.  Such requests were to have been made within 24 hours of the end of the SCF. Players have until 5pm ET on June 16th to decide whether or not to voluntarily agree to waive their NMC.  The Senators reportedly asked Dion Phaneuf to waive his NMC.  Phaneuf reportedly has declined/will decline to do so - which is entirely his right.

From a fan outrage perspective, while there's no guarantee the exposed veteran would be chosen by Vegas, the optics aren't great.  Maybe the player becomes offended by being asked to waive his NMC (that the team gave him, by the way).  Phaneuf said all the right things the other day, for what it's worth.  But this could trigger the same fan backlash as having to buyout a player.  And, if the player in question is popular among the fan base...

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 17-18: Expansion Draft Protection Lists Submitted/Released

By now you know about the different permutations of how many of what position can be protected, and what kind of contracts must be protected.  We don't need to rehash that here.  What's important is that this is a point of anxiety for fans.  And why shouldn't it be?  Losing a player without recompense can't be any better than it sounds, and it sounds bad.  Especially if you root for one of the teams that, by virtue of current roster composition, is going to have to expose several good, young, players any of whom would be attractive to Vegas.

Teams are required to submit their lists by 5pm ET on June 17th, and the lists will be made public on Sunday, June 18th.

This is situation that is ripe for producing fan outrage.  "How DARE [insert GM name] risk the future of this franchise by exposing [insert player name]?!  The incorrigible rapscallion!  What if Vegas takes him?!  This team is SUNK without him!  Sunk, I say!"  This situation is exacerbated because some teams are working out deals with Vegas to dictate who they take.  If your GM doesn't make a deal, or if that deal looks ugly in the light of day, fan outrage will soar.  Plus, this is exactly the kind of thing that hockey fans freak out about.  Something they can nitpick and analyze in hysterical fits of academic impotence and myopia.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 5 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 20: New Jerseys Released

Armed with a fresh new opportunity to sucker NHL fans into buying new jerseys apparel merchandising deal with Addidas, NHL clubs will begin rolling out new sweaters next week.  There's a subset of NHL fans who get all the way off on uniforms.  They will undoubtedly become supremely exercised about the new jerseys.  Significantly more NHL fans won't get too worked up until teams start selling space on jerseys for advertisements.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 2 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 21: Home Openers, NHL Awards, Vegas Roster 

The longest day of the year may feel like the Mayan apocalypse to NHL fans.  Home openers isn't that big of a deal, but the NHL Awards show is outrage primetime for fans.  And it matters who gets snubbed because that is an indictment of that player, coach, GM, team, and fanbase, right?  Hashtag eyeroll.  But teeth will be gnashed.  Adding to that will be the release of the names of the players chosen by Vegas.  The combination of the award show and the Vegas roster has the potential to send fans into orbit. But, after all the wrath when the protected lists come out, when fans realize that they only lost one player, and that was no more players than any other team lost, maybe that will somehow blunt the impact?

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter:  3 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 22: Full 2017-2018 Schedule Released

Fan outrage about the schedule is usually limited to reaction to long road trips, or challenging back-to-backs.  With no Olympic break, and no World Cup, next season's schedule may be less-condensed than this season's schedule was, too.  Still, hockey fans will find something to get worked up about.

Hockey Fan Outrade Meter: 1 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

June 23-24: NHL Entry Draft

The draft is such a weird thing.  You'd think it would be hard to work up much angst over your team drafting (or not drafting) some player you've never seen play in person, and who is maybe several years away from having a reasonable shot at the NHL lineup.  But that's what fans do, in every sport.  At least in football and basketball Americans have had a reasonable shot at seeing most of the draftees play on TV during their NCAA careers.  But the middle of the bell curve of NHL fans haven't seen the kid from Frolunda who their team took in the 5th round play even a second of hockey.

As far as outrage, the draft is also an opportunity to bemoan the GM who has traded draft picks for short-term help, and/or the GM who has wasted picks in the recent past.  Sometimes that's the same guy.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 3 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

July 1-?: Unrestricted Free Agency

Which GM overpays?  Which GM is too cheap, or has spent himself into a corner previously, to be able to address needs (by overpaying)?  Which GM is always the bride's maid, never the bride?  And will a GM pull the dick move and sign a RFA to an offer sheet?  In the end, those most inclined to not be able to help themselves from overspending will overspend, those most shackled to a tight budget will sit quietly, and those most likely to resort to having to put lipstick on their own pig will try to find the shade that best brings out their eyes.

And fans will burn about all of it.

Hockey Fan Outrage Meter: 5 out of 5 Mr. Furiouses.

So there you have it.  There is no shortage of opportunities for hockey fans to rage about things over which they have no control this summer.  It's not even fair to call it an offseason.  For hockey fans, there is no break from outrage.