Life, economics, politics, psychology, sociology, racism and other isms, law, history, journalism/media…all through the lens of sport.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Domination vs parity

I miss the good old days.

I liked following a team of destiny, knowing from mid-season who the team to beat was, watching contenders try and fail to take them down, watch them win the championship and then figure out how to do it again.

From a hockey perspective, there were the 70s Canadiens and their five Stanley Cups. Then there were the Islanders and their four straight. Then came the mighty Oilers and their four with Wayne and one more for good measure with Messier at the helm. Then the Penguins went back to back in the early 90s. Then the Avalanche, Devils and Red Wings traded punches for multiple victories each...
I like seeing a team that is the standard, the team that puts on a clinic for how the game should be played, the team that everyone wants to beat. I like seeing that excellence last.
In these playoffs, even the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins aren't a shoo-in for reaching the finals. That's great for the bookies out there trying to balance their books, but not for drama.
We do like upsets. But that's partly because there's a story when the team that's not supposed to get by finds a way. What that means is, there was clearly a team that should have won, and that's what I'm talking about. But seeing top-seeded teams struggling to get through the opening round against another team who snuck into the 8th seed on the last game of the season is just no fun for me.
Some like that any team has a chance to win. Sure, I suppose that's fine. But, I'd really like to see a team that has put together the personnel, the chemistry, the system, that leaves every other team in the dust. Not sure that'll ever happen again like it did in the good old days.
I miss those good old days.
Part of the problem (at least, as far as I'm concerned), is the lack of depth on a single team. Back in those days (Canadiens, Islanders, Oilers) you had many Hall of Fame calibre players on one team - heck, on one line! Imagine playing against both Robinson AND Gainey AND Steve Shutt AND some guy named LaFleur all at the same time? And toss in some guy named Ken Dryden in wonder they won 5 Stanley Cups. That line could have been the starting line up on the all-star team.
Why is there so little depth on today's teams? I'd say it's because there are too many teams. Developing top talent isn't easy to do, and the more teams there are, the less talent there is to go around, and players come up who would (obviously, from a numbers perspective) would never have played in the NHL as I remember it. I've seen guys on the pro ice who literally cannot skate to keep up with the competition, and do things we as kids would get yelled at for doing, and we weren't getting paid to do it professionally.
That could be, in part, why the entertainment level is down so that a TV deal isn't making them a lot of money. Who wants to watch mediocrity? Even back in my day, a guy like Marcel Dionne could have used some help - he's the only pure goal scorer in the NHL's top 10 all-time to not win a Stanley Cup - well, Mike Gartner didn't either but then he wasn't a top star like the rest of the top 10, never won an individual award, was never named to an all-star team. As a quick comparison, Phil Esposito in 5th spot won two Stanley Cups on a team with some guy named Bobby Orr.
Domination inspires. Domination creates new standards. We all remember the 90s Bulls. Of course we all remember the back to back Blue Jays World Series wins. Sure the Diamondbacks and Marlins can jump up and win won, but who remembers them? They were just one-offs. If you're good, come on back and contend for a couple or three seasons.


  1. I'm against domination. It takes away from the enterainment value of the product. Dynasties are great, but only if you're a fan of that team - else, they do nothing for the whole.

    The fun part of parity is the fact that you don't know who could win - you want it to be a tooth and nail battle to see who comes out ahead - what fun is it to watch the movie if you already know how it's going to end? I would submit that dynasties are great for the history books, and amazing to see the stats, but when they're in action they are hardly a great thing.

    That being said, perhaps it boils down to what people seek to get out of sports - some people like the pure competition, others admire the athleticism and skills, while others enjoy the gambling aspect of it, or even live out their dreams vicariously through their favourite team. I probably fall a little bit in all of those categories, but when one team is constantly crushing others, it's really only keeping a smile on the home team fans.... and ownerships accountants.

  2. Ah, but there is a fun factor when you're not that dominant team. Remember how the Oilers pecked away at the Islanders?

    The lost to the Islanders one year, came back and avenged that loss with their first Stanley Cup win. Recently, Pittsburgh lost to Detroit, then came back the next year to win over Detroit.

    That's story. That's drama. And it provides a target to hit. If there's a clear favourite, then "there's a target to aim for, there's the team style with which we have to contend."

    This year, Pittsburgh should be the clear favourite. Not knowing what kind of team we'll see on the ice, to me, says these teams are not masters of the ice; on any given night, if we don't know what they're capable of doing, where's the excellence?

    But, you are right, there are many reasons people watch sports. And if one team is crushing the others, the others better find some professional pride and step up, and it's fun to see that develop.