Soooo James Young was at game 3 of the Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Rapters game with Rihanna. Which is curious and slightly ridiculous. The dude was in High School 10 months ago and now he’s watching NBA playoff games with a pop star wearing absurd floral pants that nobody noticed because of how ridiculous Rihanna’s popcorn munching friend looks in her leopard print jumper. Now, presumably Drake (known Kentucky fanboy, rapper, and Canadian) got him the tickets to see Canada’s great white hope attempt to win a playoff series, but thats not really what I’m interested in here. What I’m more interested in is James Young’s hat. Whats that? You hadn’t noticed? Here let me grab you a closer look.
Still need a closer look? Distracted by the fact that Rihanna is not wearing a bra for unknown reasons and probably shouldn’t have worn such a sheer white shirt to the game unless of course she was incredibly desperate for attention? Oh… wait a minute… BUT ANYWAY
That, my friends, is a Chicago Blackhawks hat. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that James Young is from Flint, Michigan, just an hour north of Detroit. Moreover he recently claimed Detroit as his “home town,” during his April 24th interview on the KSR Radio show. He even went as far as to say he would love to get drafted this year by the Detroit Pistons (a distinct possibility as they’re on track to land the #8 overall pick in this year’s draft which is right about where James should land) whom he considers his hometown team. Now I realize you might not be a hockey fan, but if you were you’d know that this is an issue because Detroit happens to have its own hockey team. Moreover, this team ALSO happens to be one of the Original Six hockey teams of the NHL (just like Chicago) and in the last 30 years they’ve been one of the winningest teams in the NHL. And to top it all off, their biggest rival throughout history has been the Chicago Blackhawks. (Moreover, the cities of Detroit and Chicago consider themselves rivals in all 4 major sports and even play in the same divisions more often than not… so theres that Jimmy Buckets…)
Now, I don’t think any of this matters to James Young. I highly doubt this kid is a hockey fan, but then why would he wear a hat for ANY hockey team? The reason being, of course, that the Chicago Blackhawks are cool. Particularly this specific cast of Blackhawks. The Jonathon Toews / Patrick Kane Hawks are the perfect storm of cool, which lets them jump from hockey fans to casual fans and even non-hockey fans like Mr. Young there. They’re young, they’re exciting (their shootout antics are honestly spectacular, even to someone who hates them… also it helps that casual fans love shootouts and Chicago seems to find themselves in a lot of them) and they win (two Stanley Cups in the last 7 years with a chance to add another one this year and neither of those guys have hit their 27th birthday yet).
Now, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in sports. Winners get popular and they attract bandwagoners like bears to honey. Whats particularly interesting about this situation to me, as a Detroit sports fan and a hockey fan, however, is that this bandwagon team used to be Detroit. Kids my age and a little older think of Detroit as the perpetual superpower of the NHL. Everyone remembers the rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, Scotty Bownman behind the bench and the seamless transition to Mike Babcock, the Russian Five and Steve Yzerman the golden boy. They remember the “Old Guard versus New Generation” battles between the Datsyuk and Zetterberg Wings versus Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s Penguins. But there are two issues with this line of thinking. The first, is the fact that Detroit WASN’T always a winner. In fact the Wings had one of the most tortured droughts of any Original Six team, lasting 4 decades from the 50s to the 90s. Nobody remembers that before drafting Steve Yzerman the Red Wings were derisively called (even by their own fans) the Dead Wings. They were terrible. Everything changed once Yzerman and the Russians showed up, and the legend of the Red Wings as perpetual juggernauts began. That’s the first issue anyway. The second issue, is that this era is of dominance has been dead on gone for 5 years.
In both 2008 and 2009 the Detroit Red Wings (the Old Guard) met the Pittsburgh Penguins (the new face of the NHL) in the Stanley Cup finals. In 2008 Detroit won in six, getting Mike Babcock his first championship as coach and allowing him to step out of Bowman’s shadow at last. In 2009, Detroit got robbed in 7 after leading the series 3-2. The Old Guard had finally fallen and the much awaited era of Sydney Crosby had finally begun. And Detroit’s last great shot at a title ended.
That was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s chance to finally come out as the league’s new superpower. They had the best player in the league, he was young, they had torrents of young talent surrounding him and enough veteran pieces to make them title contenders moving into the future. The Penguins would be the new Red Wings. They would be the team bandwagoners and casual fans hopped on to. Right? Wrong. The Blackhawks cut them off too. Crosby had a couple concussions and the Kane / Toews Blackhawks flew out of left field to become the new face of the NHL.
Everyone seems to consider the Red Wings immortals, but they’re not. They’re old. Moreover, the “team on the rise” that was supposed to dethrone them even found themselves toppled by a newer, younger, more exciting model. Detroit is two hockey generations removed from their days of dominance. They’re not the Old Guard anymore, they’re just old. Last year in the playoffs, however, those old guys led those “next generation” “dominant” Blackhawks 3-1 after losing game one of their second round series. They had 3 shots to knock their rivals out of the playoffs. What happend? The Blackhawks won three straight and booted Detroit. Jimmy Howard (Detroit’s Goalkeeper) played the best playoff series of his entire life from game 1 to game 7, and it still wasn’t enough (in fact he was man of the match for Detroit in every game except game 6 when Damien Brunner, another young Detroit up and comer, took the honors.). There was a fleeting glimpse of hope that the old dogs had one last run in them, but they were snuffed out by the new generation. Moreover, the following offseason brought more roster turnover which, rather than making Detroit younger, cost them one of their up and coming youngsters, and they got even older.
Letting Damein Brunner leave for New Jersey was a bad sign. Back in the old days it was DETROIT who pirated other teams stars. They even stole Chris Chelios, Chicago native and lifelong Blackhawks player and fan, from Chicago (their biggest rival historically and at the time). Chelios couldn’t get a cup with his hometown Blackhawks but he sure as hell got one in Detroit. That was the mystic of Detroit. Like the Miami Heat of today stars would flock in to grab a title on their way out the door. No more. Its not all bad though.
I was born in March of 1990. In April of 1990 the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. That is the only time in my entire lifetime that Detroit has missed the playoffs. I was 2 months old. This year looked like it would finally end the streak, but in an April 5th shootout loss to their ephemeral rivals the Crosby-led Penguins, Detroit clinched its 23rd consecutive trip to the playoffs. Then, astoundingly they won game one IN Boston against perhaps the best team in hockey right now. Fear the jersey, right? The old dogs still have something left! Wrong. They lost the next 4 games including two in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
All things considered though I’m happy. This team wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs. That would have been the first time I can remember (obviously… 2 months old last time) that they weren’t in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead they gritted it out and forced their way in, and even gave us one last taste of victory before bowing out. Sure I get frustrated every year when Detroit let’s a young player like Brunner go and replaces him with an old former great like Alfredsson. I loved having Alfredsson on the team. He’s always been one of my favorites to watch in Ottawa and I was sincerly sympathetic to the way his team pushed him out the door, but I just don’t like bringing these guys in at the expense of our youth. The door, in my opinion, has closed, but its not that far from reopening. Guys like Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, and Brendan Smith are young, talented, and could form the core of the next great Detroit team. Hell, Jimmy Howard is only 30 and Goalies play till their 40. Moreover, while guys like Bertuzzi and Alfredsson are closer to the end, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Franzen, and Kronwall still have 3-4 great seasons of hockey left in them to bridge the gap. Detroit will be fine, and if everything goes well that playoff streak will keep on ticking.
However, noone should be fooled by that streak. The Detroit Leviathan has been gone since Sydney Crosby put an arrow through its heart in 2009. Detroit isn’t dominant on the ice and they’re not cool off of it anymore. The new monster is Chicago. St. Louis (another up and coming young team) found that out the hard way in their first round series when, in spite of being the superior team all season, they got stomped in 6 games by Chicago. And if you don’t believe me, or the trail of bodies the Blackhawks leave in their wake every April and May, just ask James Young and Rihanna. They’re clearly the go to sources here. When in doubt, follow the bandwagon. It worked for those 90s Red Wing fans.