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Dear Long-Suffering Fans: Keep It To Yourself

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - FEBRUARY 18: New York Rangers fans cheer on after the 2024 Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders at MetLife Stadium on February 18, 2024 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Rangers defeated the Islanders 6-5 in overtime. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

It is playoff time, which means it is time yet again to dredge up that hoariest of storylines, the tale of Long-Suffering Fan Base X. And yes, no matter what you may see or hear elsewhere, X could (and should) end up being the nickname of the new Salt Lake City franchise that 36 hours ago was the long-suffering Arizona Coyotes. Who can't see the possibilities in that?

The concept of the long-suffering fan base is never more in play than now, but it is selective, and is particularly a big-city thing. New York is especially good at this, given that it has the Knicks (51 years without a championship), Islanders (41), and Rangers (30, and one in the last 84) to turn their annual failures into self-perpetuating pity parties. We should also note that the Liberty haven’t won any titles in 27 years despite having reached the WNBA finals five times including the most recent one, but at least their fans have the basic human decency to not make it part of their personalities.

But hockey is a particularly excellent purveyor of this because while it has the Rangers and Islanders as monuments to gratification delayed and denied, its LSFB quotient includes the entire nation of Canada. America's Chapeau once owned the Cup—including seven consecutive years in the '80s between Montreal, Calgary and Gretzkyville. But Canada hasn't had a Cup winner since the Habs in 1993, and more to the point for this self-flagellating tradition, its long-advertised national team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, haven't won one since 1967. Worse, their citizens tell you about it constantly.

And that's the worst thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs: it encourages just this kind of selectively obnoxious sniveling. Two of the most powerful franchises in the sport are built in part on their power to whine about their lousy lot in life. Indeed, the acronym "STFU" was created in a Manhattan bar in 1979 after the Rangers lost to the Canadiens in approximately 45 minutes. Look it up. We dare you.

But as the postseason begins this weekend, it becomes clear that the sniveling is not as evenly distributed as it should be. Even if you allow for the notion that you grousing about your team not giving you a chance to pretend you are part of the process of victory is somehow of interest to anyone else on earth—and it absolutely is not for the same reason as you yammering about your fantasy team is grounds for a power wedgie from the ceiling light fixture —the Rangers' and Leafs' weaponized whining isn't all there is. It just takes narcissists gathered around a keg to join in.

Take for example the Vancouver Canucks, or as we like to call them here in Socialist Slag Pit No. 6, Team Anantharaman. They have never won a Stanley Cup, and the the last two times they got as far as the final, they took their failure to win a parade as a sign to riot instead. Hey, it's a parade if you squint hard enough.

Or Florida, sometimes known as Team Paez-Pumar, a team that has spent most of its existence trying to convince people it should exist. They lost last year's final to the Golden Knights, whose fans are absolutely the most spoiled in history, but only once before that, and that was 28 years ago. The Panthers are very good, but it remains true that their greatest gift to the history of the sport is that their preferred vehicle of celebration of throwing toy rats onto the ice in an homage to Scott Mellanby seeing a rat in the Panthers' pestilent dressing room and smacking it up against a wall with his stick, causing goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck to declare it "a rat trick." At least celebrating plague-carriers is still better than whining.

Or Winnipeg, also known as Team Nobody, and which actually did a title but with a team that moved to the U.S. less than two decades later, and won that title in a long-dead league that actually included three European national teams in its final end-of-year standings because it needed to fill out its standings graphic. The town has since lost that team, gained another, and as recently as a month ago one of its executives complained, albeit understatedly, that the team wasn't drawing well enough, leaving the faint hint in the air that abandonment might some day have to repeat itself.

Fortunately for the entire concept of suffering, there's a pending Gary Bettman press conference in Phoenix to remind us all that there are different kinds of fan torment, and as often as not it is fueled not by failed Cup runs but by failed real-estate grifts. The team Bettman is mothballing, our underbeloved Coyotes, used to be those old Winnipeg Jets, and in keeping with the NHL's long-held belief that a failed market isn't dead, it's just in stasis, the plan Bettman will outline with inflatable owner Alex Meruelo standing vacantly at his side is to put a new (expansion; though relocation is never not an option) version of the Coyotes together as soon as the population changes its view on giving away multiple billions for an arena only Meruelo seems to want.

And where's that team going to come from? Well, when the Rangers or Leafs lose in a few weeks, maybe Bettman can yoink one of them—if only to show their long-suffering fans what suffering really is.

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