It’s finally mid-November, the flowers are blooming in the Southern Hemisphere and I’m pretty sure the sun is shining somewhere above the blanket of rain clouds that now call Stanford home. That all means one thing: It’s a great time to be a hockey fan, especially here in the Bay Area.
After a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Western Conference last season, San Jose was in second as of Tuesday with an 11-4-1 record, just one point out of first place. Fan favorite Patrick Marleau – who I think should be forced to show up to games wearing a Beyda jersey whenever I sport his teal sweater in the stands – leads the league with 13 goals, and Ryane Clowe is having a bounce-back year with 10 of his own. Meanwhile, both Joes (Pavelski and Thornton) are among the NHL’s top five assist-getters, and Jason Demers has more helpers than any other defenseman in the league.
Most importantly, the four worst teams in the West right now are the Blues (the Sharks’ 2012 playoff nemesis), the Red Wings (the Sharks’ perennial postseason enemy), the Kings (the Sharks’ L.A. rival) and the Ducks (the Sharks’ other L.A. rival). I couldn’t have drawn it up better myself.
If all this comes as a surprise then you’ve been living under a rock. You can point to that pesky NHL lockout thing all you want, but labor issues are nothing to stop us true hockey fans.
ESPN, which – still being sarcastic here – we all know and love for its top-class hockey coverage, has taken the initiative to bring us all the hockey we’ve missed over the last month or so. With some help from EA Sports’ NHL ’13 video game, the network is simulating the entire hockey season and reporting the results on its website, making for a nice dash of comic relief in between depressing bits of news about the stagnating labor negotiations.
The fans are frustrated, and many of them are seeing the simulations as just one more slap in the face; among the comments below this week’s online results are “This is pathetic” and “Thanks, but no thanks ESPN.” But most of the commenters are embracing the levity that ESPN is going for, chiming in with “What the heck is wrong with my fake Pens????” and “Fake Red Wings at the fake bottom of the fake conference…I guess we won’t be making the fake playoffs.”
ESPN’s tongue-in-cheek approach is much less silly than the owners’ and players’ squabbles over how many millions more they deserve than their counterparts, their insistence on a fourth labor stoppage in 20 years and their faith in the loyalty of a fan base that’s feeling quite disillusioned right now. Because even though I love NHL hockey more than any other pro sport, ESPN’s league is acting much less fake than the real deal.
As Viggy Venkataraman pointed out about a month ago, the NHL quickly alienated fair-weather fans at the start of the lockout. But by now, even the most devoted followers of hockey – those of us who constantly fight the perception of the NHL as an inferior league in an American market dominated by football, basketball and baseball – are having trouble holding on.
Fellow Daily editor Ed Ngai, a rabid Vancouver Canucks fan, and I have joked that we’re going to start signing our emails with “F*** Gary Bettman” instead of “Sincerely,” because there’s some pretty sincere displeasure with the NHL commissioner right about now. (Plus, Bettman is the last one to touch the Stanley Cup before it’s handed off to the captain of each year’s winning team, and he has not once chosen the Sharks or Canucks during his tenure.)
If a deal can’t get worked out in the next couple weeks, ESPN will be all the hockey we’ve got for the coming year. That’s truly a shame, because as wrong as it is to say that Joey Beyda has played in as many NHL games as Patrick Marleau has by mid-November, it’ll be way more embarrassing to the sport if we can say the same thing in six months’ time.
In any case, I’m locked out and loaded for an awesome season of fake San Jose Sharks hockey. Now please tell me you can’t fake choke in the fake playoffs…
Joseph Beyda is the only injury of ESPN’s fake NHL season thus far. To check Joey’s status for the 2013 Ink Bowl, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.