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Dallas Stars left wing Jason Robertson scores in the second period during Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals against the Vegas Golden Knights on May 27 in Las Vegas.The Canadian Press

Last summer, ran an Instagram poll – “Can the [Las Vegas] Golden Knights make the playoffs?”

“Will” would be one thing, but “can” is something else. It’s not that everyone in hockey wants Vegas to fail. They’d just enjoy it immensely if they did.

The Knights, who just made another Stanley Cup final, are primarily a hockey team. But a close second is existing in order to make hockey experts look foolish.

The game’s loudest pronouncers would like you to believe they are keepers of a great secret. The Knights’ continued success suggests they’re just a bunch of guys trying to justify the fact that they routinely fall down on the job.

Every bald-faced (read: Canadian) losing team’s news conference these days hits the same beats. It’s not an apology. It’s a teachable moment:

“Here’s what you, the rube who pays our salaries, need to understand about hockey. It’s not easy. What we do is hard. Incredibly, incredibly hard. Takes a terrible toll. So you have to be patient. When things aren’t working, that’s when they’re beginning to work. Does that make sense? Not to you it doesn’t. Because you don’t know. But it does. Trust us.”

Vegas doesn’t get the luxury of trust. They don’t get to play games with logic.

If the Vegas team GM tried to give season-enders about process, there wouldn’t be anyone there to listen. They’d already have vanished onto the Strip. In that city, P.T. Barnum couldn’t sell a losing hockey team.

So Vegas doesn’t preach patience. They have no patience to spare.

Only six years old, the Vegas Golden Knights organization already has a coherent philosophy – if it’s broke, fix it. If you lose, then you have to win. If you don’t win, then you have to go.

Forget about the Stanley Cup final this year. A semi-decent team with a hot goalie will occasionally stagger backward into a final (see under: Montreal Canadiens, 2021).

What impresses about Vegas is that they don’t fail twice. They lost a first-round series in 2019, and made a conference final the next year. They missed the playoffs last season, and made it to the final hurdle this year. Vegas loses because all teams lose. But they don’t lose as a habit.

It’s not about this guy for that guy, or valuing toughness over skill. It’s figuring out what it’s going to take to win right now, and then doing it no matter how unfashionable or professionally hazardous it is.

Vegas has the benefit of playing to an audience that does not take joy out of ripping them for decisions they haven’t made yet, or have just made. Unlike up here, people judge the Vegas hockey team based on outcomes, not Instagram polls.

Up here, we do it differently. Losing isn’t a habit so much as a tradition.

Once you lose, the tradition starts – we have to think of all the things that went well, lot of good signs out there this year, guys really gained that valuable experience (of losing) that you need to win.

Nobody in this country memorizes Shakespeare any more, but they do put to memory the Canadian scripts of failure. Anyone who watches hockey knows those by heart.

Given recent history, something is broken on the Canadian end of the NHL. Something fundamental does not work.

A terror of change is one thing. How long will the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs bang their heads against the wall with superstar-heavy rosters that have repeatedly proven they don’t have that special winning sauce? Until those players retire or flee the country, obviously.

To do otherwise puts too many people in danger of looking foolish. NHL coaches and execs don’t fear losing their jobs. There’s always another job in the NHL for a guy who’s already been in the NHL.

What scares them is looking silly. The easiest way to avoid looking silly is never taking a single risk. Never do anything that isn’t obvious. If that means losing forever, well, you can’t blame a guy for not trying.

Fear of change is the symptom, but mattering is the cause.

If the Vegas Golden Knights or Florida Panthers lose, people will still come to the games. The players will still be paid and the franchise will still increase in value.

A losing hockey team in those places will survive, but it won’t matter. No one will care, or watch, or talk about you. In those places, it will be as if you don’t exist. Who wants to do something that doesn’t matter?

In Canada, a losing team matters. In some ways, it matters more than a winning team. Nothing bonds a fan base like going to war with the despised executive of their favourite team. Look at what’s happening in Toronto right now. When was the last time people were so ginned up to talk Toronto hockey in June?

Another favourite Canadian hockey excuse is that only one of 32 teams ends a season happy. Not true.

Every Canadian team ends every season happy because they all still matter. Just open a newspaper or turn on the TV. There they are – losers, leading the broadcast and on the front page. What they do is important. Just because they do it poorly doesn’t change that. They can do it poorly for 50 years and they’re still No. 1.

It was a truism of my childhood that if the Montreal Canadiens lost a few games in a row, the Forum would be empty. That was how Leafs fans explained to themselves why the Canadiens were so great, and their team was so terrible.

The Canadiens lost 51 games last season. They led the league in attendance.

Fear of irrelevance, of not mattering, won’t make a bad franchise good. The Arizona Coyotes are slowly disintegrating into nothingness and you don’t see any jump in their game.

But if you know you will be relevant regardless of how you play or what you say or whether or not things change, that takes fear out of it. If you don’t fear failure, then how far will you be willing to go to avoid it?

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