To: Gary Mason, Vancouver bureau, The Globe and Mail
You asked the other day in a column whether the Canucks are Canada's team. Maybe not, you speculated, for reasons of spite and jealousy in Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto, where the local teams are really bad. Or maybe people elsewhere envy Vancouver, and so don't really want the city's team to win the Stanley Cup.
Well, as you reported, 3.5 million people watched the first game of the series, most of them from outside British Columbia. About 99 per cent of them were rooting for Vancouver.
In Ottawa, we're all pulling for Vancouver. After all, Ottawa was in the Stanley Cup finals four years ago. Senators fans know about the emotion of that experience.
Sadly, erratic ownership and a string of horrible decisions by general manager Bryan Murray (who inexplicably was just extended for another three years in a move no first-year business school student would have approved) rendered the Senators one of the worst teams in the league.
It will be so long before Ottawa is competitive again under this management team. The Canucks therefore provide fans in the national capital with solace and nostalgia for what good hockey can be. Fans root for the Canucks partly because they're Canadian, partly because they're a wonderful team, and partly because San Jose has Dany Heatley playing for it. Heatley stiffed the Ottawa Senators, demanding to be traded, using his no-trade clause to nix one deal he didn't like. He collected a huge bonus owed him by the club that he demanded to leave, then wound up in San Jose.
(Remember that the headstrong Heatley pouted because he had been demoted in Ottawa to the second power-play unit, a place unfit for his self-described imposing talents. You will have seen him up close, Gary. Where does Heatley fit on the Sharks' power play? The second unit. Heard a hissy fit from him yet?)
Perhaps a few Leaf Nation fans might not be supporting the Canucks because they are not really hockey fans. They are Leaf fans, which is not the same as being a hockey fan.
The Leafs command insane loyalty not because the team is any good, or because the fans demand the kind of excellent hockey that the Canucks provide, but because of some weird bloodline that makes a person born and die a Leaf fan. If the Leafs had been around when Sir John A. Macdonald governed Canada, he might have amended his famous line to say: "A Leaf subject I was born - a Leaf subject I will die." There is nothing rational, to say nothing of loveable, about such fans, who, aptly, were described by Sports Illustrated as the most maddeningly arrogant around.
As for Montreal Canadiens fans, they really know good hockey and, as such, will be pulling for Vancouver. Fans of the Alberta teams? Maybe because of the rivalry with Vancouver, they might be a little tepid, but if the Canucks make it to the finals, they'll climb aboard.
This could be a great June for Canadian professional hockey fans, after all. Not only might the Canucks win the Stanley Cup and return it to Canada for the first time in a donkey's age, but Winnipeg might finally get an National Hockey League team again.
The Phoenix situation continues to be a complete farce, with the city of Glendale pouring more good money after bad, hoping something or somebody will turn up and take the money-losing Coyotes off its hands. There are plenty of suckers around, to be sure, but none big enough has yet been found who wants at his own expense to own the Coyotes.
In Atlanta, the string has run out. No one wants to buy the Thrashers, and the owners want to sell. The loss of Atlanta would dent Commissioner Gary Bettman's vaunted and flawed "southern strategy," but unless he can find someone really rich and really stupid, and find that person fast, the Thrashers are heading north.
So welcome, Winnipeg. Glad to have you back. And, Gary, we're shouting: Go, Canucks, Go!