23 April, 2014


What Reunification Means To Us

Patrick Division 2.0 we’re calling it. Our collective heads are still spinning over the dream-like developments of the past 72 hours. It was just this past Saturday night that word broke — exploded, really — that the NHL’s Board of Governors would consider a proposal brought to them by the commissioner that would reunite the Capitals with their natural rivals in the Mid-Atlantic and obliterate — forever — the Southeast division. Not long after we in Washington got home from school and work Monday night it was a reality.

The Governors’ vote was a landslide 26-4. We don’t quite know who the dissenters were (we have educated guesses), but we’re confident our guy wasn’t among them. To Ted Leonsis (and Dick Patrick), the OFB team says, from the bottom of our collective hockey heart, Thank you! With your vote you helped make Washington a better hockey town.

We are keenly aware that so small number of hockey fans in this region have no attachment to the Capitals’ Patrick affiliation of the past. And yet many of those same fans have stepped into Verizon Center on the nights of visits from the Flyers and Penguins and Rangers and felt, acutely, the different atmosphere. Ready yourselves for an entire season of it. And God willing, another generation of one of the fiercest rivalry atmospheres in all of professional sports. Our blogging team reflects individually on the moment:

Tuesday Puck Daddy identified the Caps as "winners" in the NHL's "radical realignment"

Empty Maybe: I suppose it’s odd to be so excited to see more of something you really don’t like — in this case, however, it seems perfectly natural.

I do not like the following teams: the Flyers, the Penguins, the Rangers, the Devils and the Islanders. And I’m going to be seeing a lot more of them. And not just in the regular season but in the playoffs, where true hockey hatred is forged and purified.

I get tense during the playoffs because I’m a Caps fan, and as such I know there are no sure things, no ‘easy’ match-ups. During a series against the Penguins or Flyers, however, I become positively mental. Blood-pressure raising-type mental. “Buy flowers and make reservations for a nice apologetic dinner pre-emptively” type mental.

And now I’m going to get that worked up more often.

I’m glad that the plan includes a home-and-home with every team in the league, and I’m surprised that such a radical re-shifting happened so quickly, but most of all I’m bracing myself for the playoffs. Gleefully.

Gary: I could not be more excited about the announced realignment. It’s a welcomed homecoming. More recent Caps fans probably don’t think twice about the New York Islanders. Yes they’ve been horrible for a number of years now — in no small part to ‘Genius’ Milbury — but I still hate them. Why? The playoffs in the ’80s. Similar feelings for the Penguins. Why?  Playoffs.

This realignment brings us back to our close neighbors. Short and frequent trips to the hated lands in Pennsylvania and New York.  Playoff triumphs and failures intensify with repetition with divisional playoffs. Those intense feelings carry over to regular season games.  One never really felt that with games against Atlanta or Florida.

Now the NHL needs to complete this realignment properly with the four conference names. They already know how to spell them and where they should be.

Patrick. Adams. Norris. Smythe.

Elisabeth Meinecke: One of the themes which emerged at last Thursday’s Caps-Pens battle from journalists both paid and unpaid to watch hockey games was that more games should be like the one developing below us that night: two teams that had a solid history of disliking each other elevating their level of play. Ken Dryden once said that by the time you retire, you are grateful for a good opponent, because they have only forced you to play your best. With the Caps’ new conference opponents, they’re going to be playing their best a lot more frequently.

DC SportsChick: Admittedly, I’ve only been a fan since the Southeast Division alignment, but this is a great development. It’s really hard to get excited about games with Tampa. Now, playing New York or Philly is a different story. Those are great cities to visit for an away game, and the rivalry is intense. That’s something you don’t see with Florida or Winnipeg. The realignment bring much-needed enthusiasm and excitement to the NHL.

Mike Rucki: Getting an extra home game each season against Philly, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and the New York Rangers is a boon to both fans and owners alike. More intensity in the arena, more fans in the seats, more Ted-pleasing sold-out games. It also makes sense to keep Carolina in the division while jettisoning the Florida teams; the ‘Canes and Caps have developed a healthy dislike for each other over the years.

But perhaps most exciting is that the Capitals will have a better chance to judge their postseason chances during the regular season. With more intense play during the year, the Caps will no longer be able to finesse themselves to a division title. Now the Caps will have to succeed against bitter, physical rivals all season, and therefore should be better prepared for the inevitable postseason shift toward bruising, grind-it-out confrontations. It may be a somewhat painful transition at first, but it will improve the Capitals’ chances for playoff success by forcing the team to build the right roster — and the right attitude — to flourish in May and June.

pucksandbooks: I’m not sure I can identify a moment of greater pride being affiliated with this blog. At our inception we planted the flag of Patrick Division Reunification in the e-ground. We listened attentively to all dissent (“Atlanta’s a Top 10 market — the Thrash aren’t going anywhere!”), but ours was a position of principle and passion. So maybe this moment ought to be instructive: if you love a sport dearly, and believe rigorous reform imperative for its overall health, champion it — spiritedly, with unwavering resolve. The fight for reform may take years, but when it arrives, it’s oh so sweet — and the sweeter for the duration of the battle waged.

It’s seldom trumpeted, but hatred is part of the plasma of our sport, and the Washington Capitals have known no hatred quite like that which boiled over in the Patrick division years. And now it’s back. Seemingly miraculously!

I can’t help but think that the genesis for this amazing moment might just date back to New Years weekend, in Pittsburgh, when the Red Army made so spirited a showing at Heinz Field. Capitals’ officials forecasted 20,000 in Red marking the pilgrimage; instead, the figure was closer to 30,000, and the Army, with all of hockey watching, made the national anthem theirs and were never silenced thereafter. How could anyone have left that stadium and that atmosphere and not wondered: what if these two teams, with their iconic stars, could battle again for division titles, and in divisional playoffs?

It’s true: Chinatown today is transformed on hockey nights. It is ablaze in Red. As a Washington native I walk among the throng and have yet to grow accustomed to the spectacle, even years later. But it’s about to be transformed again. What lies ahead with Patrick Division 2.0 is the formation of elite hockey culture in a fledgling hockey town. Redskins, beware.



14 Comments

  1. Pucks said, “At our inception we planted the flag of Patrick Division Reunification in the e-ground.” We’ve been writing OFB for 5+ years, so I did a search on “patrick division” for curiosity’s sake. I’m happy to say a full 36 search results appear using that exact phrase — not to mention the other posts that express our longing for this reunification without using that exact phrase.

    It’s no falling of the Berlin Wall, but it’s as close as the NHL can come to that from the Caps’ perspective.

    6 December, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  2. TG wrote:

    I would have been in the “4″ part of the vote, if only for the playoffs part. I’m sorry, but it gets kinda boring (maybe repetitive would be a better word) seeing the same teams playing the same teams in the playoffs year after year. How many times can I take the Caps playing the Penguins, Rangers or Flyers before I get numb?

    What’s wrong with taking the top four teams from each “conference” and seeding them 1-8 in East(ish) vs. West(ish) alliances?

    Isn’t it fun seeing if the #8 can pull off the stunning upset? Isn’t it more interesting to see which teams can pull off the wins on the last day to squeak in?

    If we’re going to switch the conferences/divisions this much, why not go back to just taking the top 16 teams in the league and having 1-16, 2-15, etc.? Or the top four teams from each “conference” and seeding them 1-16? Or Patrick 1 vs. Adams 4…or whatever?

    My guess? Within 10 years a number of people will have similar complaints/feelings and they’re going to “radically change” the playoff format again.

    7 December, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  3. morgan wrote:

    Given the sorry season so far for the Caps, under the new alignment, with the tougher competition, might not the Caps continue their downward spiral? On paper they should be competitive but look what is happening now.

    7 December, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  4. @Morgan, my hope is that the Caps are instead more battle-tested come playoff time by facing tougher opponents all year. There could be a transition period while the Caps adjust their roster and attitude, but overall I believe this is a character-building change for the Caps.

    7 December, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  5. sonja wrote:

    I have to agree with you, in part. While playing the Panthers is never interesting and playing the former Thrashers was downright boring, Tampa is a decent opponent … as long as they keep Stamkos, St. Louis and LeCavalier on the team … and Keanu Reeves, I mean, Guy Boucher as head coach. Ultimately, I have to wonder if hockey in Florida is truly sustainable … I can’t believe that it is. But what do I know?

    So I’m celebrating this change, but with a few reservations and a nod to some former foes.

    7 December, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  6. TG wrote:

    Or how about this. You’ve got four marquee teams in Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.

    This new system GUARANTEES that two of them (provided all four make the playoffs) are going to be eliminated in the first round. GUARANTEES it!

    Really? This is how the NHL is going to draw eyeballs? These teams that were big enough draws to get all four slots in the most recent Winter Classics and we’re going to ENSURE that two of them are on the golf links by the end of April?

    Seriously?

    7 December, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  7. Joe wrote:

    Couldn’t disagree more. More games against these teams just guarantees more opposing fans in the building which detracts from the fan experience.

    7 December, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Todd, you make excellent points about the playoff structure — my assessment was only of the divisional realignment itself (which I love), not the new playoff plan which I feel is deeply flawed.

    Why not take the Top 2 of each conference, seed them 1 through 8, then take the best 8 other teams from across the league? Seems a much more equitable way of granting post-season access, and would certainly ensure the *best* teams get to play into the Spring.

    7 December, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  9. A heartfelt take on how screwed the Lightning are in this realignment… and he makes a similar point regarding the stupidity of the playoff system:
    http://www.tampabay.com/sports/hockey/lightning/nhl-realignment-wont-help-tampa-bay-lightning/1205047

    “Why adopt a system that requires a team to spend the first two rounds of the postseason trying to get out of its own division? For goodness sakes, it seems as if the Lightning plays the Panthers 37 times a year as it is. And now, in the playoffs, more Panthers? Really? Don’t most leagues try to avoid divisional play in the playoffs?”

    7 December, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  10. As one who often attended, and certainly watched, all of those Patrick division playoff showdowns, among the many emotions and feelings I experienced, “boredom” certainly wasn’t one. The reality is this: We don’t revile the Mid-Atlantic foes we do from regular season disappointments of the past. And for you radical realignment skeptics, do you have a viable alternative? Or are you genuinely advocating for a retention of the existing Southeast? Moot point now to be sure, but I’ve always wanted to meet a Southeast division fan. Didn’t know they existed.

    7 December, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  11. morgan wrote:

    Mike, I hope you are right but does the current roster have that grit? Or do there need to be changes to acquiring/drafting hard nose gritty players–and how many of them come from across the pond? I had season tickets at the old Cap Center in Largo and I don’t see hard nose players like Scott Stevens, Langway, or Alan May in great numbers on today’s Cap roster–Irskine comes the closest. I’m not confident that a Marcus Johannson for example, trying to stick-handle his way through the new set-up will work out. Johannson is good but he’s no Gus. The new alignment, I think, puts George McFee’s head on the chopping block. It will be interesting to see what develops and I hope Mike is right but I’m hedging my bets.

    7 December, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  12. ValleyCapsFan wrote:

    Agree with TG about the playoffs. I remember back in the 80s when two really good teams like the Caps and Isles would be facing each other in the first round at the same time as at-best-mediocre St. Louis and Chicago teams. The strength of any particular conference/division will go up and down over time, but good teams in good conferences at any given time shouldn’t be stuck eliminating each other early on.

    7 December, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  13. I’m flabbergasted that anyone in D.C. is responding to this news with anything short of naked exhilaration. But I should probably remind myself: 13 years is a long time, and it’s likely that confinement in the Southeast bred, for some, Stockholm Syndrome.

    8 December, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  14. TG wrote:

    Like I said, boredom is maybe the wrong word. Tired of the repetition? Maybe that’s better. How many ways can you see the same teams play each other in the playoffs, after seeing each them play each other six times in the regular season already.

    And I proposed a few alternatives. Take the top four from each “conference” and seed them 1-16. Take the top four from each conference and seed them 1-8 in the eastern vs western. Take the entire league and seed it 1-16.

    Why wouldn’t I want to see the Caps play Buffalo, or Boston, or Toronto in the playoffs in an early round? Why would I commit myself to ONLY seeing one of these other teams that I’ve already seen them play six times until the Final Four?

    And, like I said, of what TV considers the top marquee teams, you have now GUARANTEED that at least two of the Caps, Penguin, Rangers and Flyers will be eliminated in the opening round. GUARANTEED! No more hyping Ovechkin vs. Crosby in the Eastern Conference Finals. No more drama building until we get the Pennsylvania war for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    You’re honestly going to tell me that the drama from the opening round is as much as if not greater than the later rounds because you’re playing someone in the same division?

    There’s a reason baseball and football do their damndest to prevent teams from the same division playing each other in the first round.

    8 December, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink