Last night the final inevitable seconds ticked off the clock and the Nashville Predators were eliminated, as the world suspected they would be, by the Vancouver Canucks. While Versus swooned over a save that Roberto Luongo didn't actually make, the fans there, wearing those god-awful yellow t-shirts, stood and applauded their boys for a heroic effort and their first taste of playoff success.
The Predators won their first playoff series in 2011. Ever. They filled their barn this year and were competitive throughout, even with one of the more disadvantageous financial situations in the league powering them. For the first time ever they out-drew the Dallas Stars in attendance: 16,042 on average filled Bridgestone Arena chanting "We want Frosty's" and "You Suck" during their goal celebrations and all of those other things they do that make the atmosphere so uniquely minor league feeling. In Dallas we mustered just 15,073 per game at the AAC.
As reprehensible as many Stars fans have confessed they find the Predators, it is their fans we envy this morning. They have what we had. What we want back. A taste of success and a full month of the wonderfully late nights, early mornings, stressful days of waiting for games to begin, glorious days after the victories and those soul crushing defeats. You could see it on their faces last night as the camera's panned the crowd: even moments after defeat they understood the gift they had been given.
You remember what that's like, right? Watching the Detroit Red Wings win the West in 2008, but being so thankful for that unexpectedly lengthy Dallas Stars playoff ride that you cheered and you were proud? It's been too long.
A hockey fan base in a "non traditional" market needs to be "fed" every now and then...
A hockey fan base in a "non traditional" market needs to fed every now and then. It needs a pat on the head. A little positive reinforcement. This Stars' season was an absolute ton of fun most of the way but that special roller-coaster that is the playoffs is what really gets a fan base going. A hockey franchise in a southern market is like a slot machine...you've got to pay out every now and then to keep folks interested.
The Stars haven't paid out in three years now and are not as impervious to it as we once thought. The ownership situation compounds the issue and lengthy playoff runs by the Texas Rangers and now the Dallas Mavericks, fun though they are if you live in the area, provide a stark contrast to the fading relevancy of hockey in the Metroplex.
Six home games and a second round exit will make all the difference in the world for the Predators. At the box office next year, with season ticket sales in the off-season, with tv-ratings, local media, national media...everywhere. That kind of fun holds the attention of a city, not to mention makes a tremendous financial impact for a cash-strapped club.
The Stars lost somewhere around $15 million this year. With better attendance in the regular season (140,000~ tickets went unsold over the course of the year) and six home games worth of playoff revenue, how would that figure look? How could that affect payroll going forward? advertising? promotions?
It's a tad bit depressing when you consider the points left on the table this season in particular, but watching the end of that game last night gave this hockey fan hope and reminded me why we stick around and what we're waiting for. We no longer take the playoffs for granted. We're ready to go back and savor every delicious moment.
Joe Nieuwendyk feels all of this, and more. The Dallas Stars are going to get back there and the hangovers and the butterflies and the soul crushing defeats will return, along with the incomparable joy and the ecstasy that is every Stanley Cup Playoff win.