As both a broadcaster and long time sufferer/fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I cringe when the season starts. And by "season starting" I mean the first day of training camp because after a quiet summer as soon as those players hit training camp the incessant debating begins about the players, the coaches and the well-being of the team in general. Right now we are a week into the NHL season and I almost feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available and the debates already springing up about the make up of a team.
Take the Leafs for example. Already Paul Ranger is being singled out for poor play due to the fact he bore some responsibility for a couple of the goals scored. The word is now that maybe he is not cracked up to be in the NHL. After four games to start the season. It gets even more ratcheted up when it comes to Leaf goaltending. Already the Reimer/Bernier debate has begun. If that is not enough the debate about whether or not its too early to debate about Reimer/Bernier has begun. You would have thought that the Leafs were 1-3 instead of 3-1 the way fans and media are talking. Already one coach has walked the plank, and speculation has already started about who the next coach is to get canned. (For the record, Bob Hartley of Calgary- you got next!). Yep, hockey season sure is back!
The reason for all of this hype and hang wringing is a shared responsibility. The proliferation of information is readily accessible 24/7 from the multi-platforms of both Sportsnet and TSN and is fueled by social media. With TSN and Sportsnet you can get endless articles, statistics, analysis from TV, the web, radio, magazines etc, etc. Each network, along with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada has a nightly panel ready to dissect games period by period. I do not fault networks for this. It is the way of the sports world world and fans eat it up. Plus, most of the panel shows feature an equal mix of analysis and entertainment. TSN probably is the king of is as they are led by the sharp sense of humour of James Duthie. Sportsnet is driven by big personalities such as Doug Maclean and Nick Kypreos while CBC and its panel format is still trying to define itself. Coaches Corner is an entity unto itself with Ron and Don who have almost become caricatures of themselves because they have been doing it so long. With all this information at hand, its no wonder that fans live and die game to game, even period to period.
Its no different in junior hockey. The Niagara IceDogs have had a slow start to their season and already the Night of the Long Knives has started and scapegoats are being identified. Some of the banter is harmless, and even amusing while some the vitriol gets a bit incessant. Again, coming from a place of passion and with a forum to communicate many do not hold back.
Why even the Phoenix Coyotes, often viewed as the witness protection program of the NHL likely has its hardcore followers these days. At least the talk in the desert is about hockey and not ownership.