We’re now over a quarter of the way into the NHL regular season. That’s not all that far, and there’s still time for plenty of twists and turns. But we’re starting to settle in, and by now there are certain things we’re starting to feel pretty sure about.
For example, we’re pretty sure that a few of these teams are terrible.
You can’t make the playoffs in the season’s first few months, as we’re often told, but you sure can miss them. And several teams are well on their way to doing just that, with starts around the league that range from concerning (Edmonton, Montreal) to outright bad (Buffalo, Florida, Philadelphia) to historically awful (Arizona).
If you’re a fan of one of those teams, or one of the many other early-season disappointments, it can be a tough time. So today, we present the 20 stages of realizing your favourite team might be terrible. This may not make you feel any better, but it will at least help you keep track of where you’re at.
Stage 1: Opening-night optimism
Ah, opening night. The one night of the year when everyone is convinced that their team will be fine. Like the old saying goes, everyone is tied for first place. But not for long. Soon, your team will have first place all to itself.
Look, is this team perfect? No, of course not. It’s the cap era, so every team will have its share of imperfections, and this one is no exception.
But is it a bad team? No, it most certainly is not. Nobody with half a brain thinks that. They’re going to be fine.
Bring on the season. You have a good feeling about this.
Stage 2: The first signs of a problem
Huh. You kind of thought they’d look better than this. Obviously, you knew they weren’t going to go 82-0-0, and a few losses are nothing to overreact to. But sometimes, it’s about the way that you lose. And you don’t like the way this team is losing.
Maybe it’s the goaltending, or the secondary scoring, or the veteran star who seems just a step or two slower. But once you notice it, it’s all you can see. And if it continues, it’s going to be an issue.
Still, there’s plenty of time to sort this stuff out. In a month or two you probably won’t even remember that any of this stuff was a concern. For now, let’s just put a pin in it and see how the rest of the season plays out.
It’s probably nothing.
Stage 3: Constantly repeating that it’s still early
OK, there’s no denying that this isn’t going well. But it’s early.
And yes, this is the point where someone will start quoting stats about how a team that finds itself a certain number of points out of the playoffs on Nov. 1 or American Thanksgiving or whatever the date is will almost always end up missing out. But you don’t buy that. Most of the teams who found themselves in those situations were bad. This team is good. Or at least not terrible. Probably.
It’s still early. Just keep saying that to anyone who tries to talk to you. Preferably before they even finish their sentence.
Stage 4: Mild annoyance at everyone who’s being negative
Are they watching the same team you’re watching? If so, why are they so sour? You get it, there may be a few cracks starting to show, but it’s not like the sky is falling.
Still, you’re holding your own. The self-appointed hockey expert at the office started trying to tell you about how this team was no good, but you shut him down quickly with a well-reasoned argument based on a solid understanding of the intricacies of the sport. You should have seen the look on his face when you cited the team’s strength of schedule.
Everyone who’s panicking is going to feel silly when this team reels off a few wins in a row.
Stage 5: The team reels off a few wins in a row
See? They just won three straight. They have points in five of their last eight. You knew it was too early to worry about any of this stuff.
Just a few days ago, everyone was freaking out about how they were falling out of the playoff race. But then they’ve been playing better ever since, and now if you check the standings they’ve gained… uh… one point.
Wait, that can’t be right. How can you win games and barely gain any ground? Stupid loser point. At this rate, your team isn’t getting back into the playoff race until… oh. Oh no.
Maybe it wasn’t too early after all.
Stage 6: The sudden interest in analytics
Wait, aren’t those stats guys always citing a bunch of numbers that are supposed to tell you more about a team than its record does? You’re pretty sure that every time you’ve tried to talk about hockey in the last few years, somebody standing off to the side has started clearing their throat and getting ready to “well, actually…” you about on-ice percentages and small sample sizes and regression to the mean, and how all of that is somehow more important than who actually won the game.
You’ve never paid attention before, but now you kind of wish you had. You seem to remember something about PDO. You don’t know what that is, but it sounded important. Does PDO mean that bad teams are secretly good? Because if so, you’re all in on PDO right now.
Stage 7: The point of no return
This is the turning point, the bridge too far, the line drawn in the sand. It might be a losing streak, or even one especially awful game. It could be a key player getting hurt. Maybe there’s some sort of off-ice controversy, or the coach has a meltdown.
But whatever it is, even a diehard fan can’t put a happy face on it. There’s no longer a debate over whether things are bad. They are. Now, the only question is how bad.
Stage 8: Blaming the injuries
That’s what screwed everything up. If this team had just stayed healthy, they’d be fine. But once guys started getting hurt, it all fell apart. And that’s not really anyone’s fault, is it?
In some cases, it’s an easy case to make — maybe a star player misses most of the season, or you get a case like this year’s Anaheim Ducks, where everyone seems to get hurt all at once. Other times, you’ll have to work a little bit at this stage. Maybe the only injury was to the backup goalie, and he only missed one game. But still, that kind of thing can throw off a team’s chemistry, or rhythm, or something. The point is that if this were NHL 94 and we could just turn the injury setting off, things would be different.
Stage 9: Blaming the media
What is their problem, anyway? Maybe if they tried being positive every once and while, things might be different. Instead, they spend all their time going on and on about how bad this team is.
I mean, yes, by this stage you also spend all your time going on and on about how bad this team is, but that’s not the point. Nobody listens to you. Does anyone listen to the media? It’s theoretically possible, so to be on the safe side they should back off. After all, if you wanted to hear the team get picked apart all day long, you’d speak to your friends or family or literally anyone else you know. But not the media. Screw those guys.
For reasons nobody’s quite clear on, this stage is permanent in Edmonton.
Stage 10: Blaming yourself
You did this. You’re not quite sure how, but it’s your fault. You had a system that was working, and somewhere along the line you did something to screw it up. You should never have moved your lucky chair, or thrown out that shirt from the playoff run, or had children.
Stage 11: Mild annoyance at everyone who’s being positive
Are they watching the same team you’re watching? If so, why are they so chipper? This team is a disaster.
This time, the self-appointed hockey expert at the office started trying to tell you about how this team might still turn it around, but you shut him down quickly with a roundhouse kick to the throat. You should have seen the look on his face as you were being dragged away by HR.
Stage 12: Slowly talking yourself into the comeback
I mean… it’s not completely out of the question, is it? Other teams have recovered from terrible starts. The Pittsburgh Penguins were bad enough that they had to fire their coach midway through the season, then went on to win the Stanley Cup. Twice.
Granted, that’s not exactly an ideal plan. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and all this team needs to do is win every game for a few weeks and they’re right back in this thing.
So yes, your team may be facing a double-digit gap to get back into a playoff spot, but is that really insurmountable? You’ll need a big win streak, sure, but those happen sometimes. Heck, the Columbus Blue Jackets won 16 straight last year, and you’re pretty sure they’d never won consecutive games in franchise history. If the freaking Blue Jackets can do it, surely your team can.
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and the month-long streak that saves the season begins with a single win. They can do this. You believe.
Stage 13: The soul-crushing loss
You no longer believe.
This loss will usually involve a big blown lead in the third period, although occasionally it will just be a terrible blowout where your team gets embarrassed for 60 straight minutes, often against a rival. It may also include an injury or two, at least one own goal, an indefensible coaching decision and some guy you’ve never heard of scoring the winning goal in his first career game.
In extreme cases, it may also involve your franchise goaltender quitting the team mid-game and being given away in a trade a few days later, but that’s relatively rare.
Either way, once you’ve reach this stage, it’s over. And that means there’s just one place to go next…
Stage 14: Fire everyone
Seriously. Everyone who had anything to do with this has to go. That includes the coach, his entire staff, the trainers and the sports psychologist. Does this team have a sports psychologist? You’re honestly not sure, but if they do, he’s terrible and needs a pink slip. Same with the scouting staff, the player-development people, the mascot and the organist.
And good lord, let’s not even get started on the GM. He needs to be the first one out the door. After all, he’s the one who built this roster, which anyone with half a brain knew was going to be bad on opening night. Everything that’s gone wrong has his fingerprints all over it. Fire him and everyone who looks like him, and then fumigate the office so that the loser-cooties can’t spread to whoever replaces him.
As for who that replacement might be… well, what about somebody from the best team in the league right now? Surely they’d want to abandon a Cup contender to come work for a team that’s terrible. Yes, that sounds like a plan. Somebody find their number.
Stage 15: Getting a little too invested in the top pick of next year’s draft
Have you seen this kid who’s expected to go first overall? He’s really good. In fact, he’s exactly the kind of sure-thing prospect your team needs. You could totally picture him making the roster right out of camp and turning this team around within a year or two. After all, that’s how you build a winner in today’s NHL.
I mean, finishing dead last wouldn’t be the worst thing that ever happened if it meant this kid was in the lineup next year, right?
Stage 16: Remembering that the draft lottery exists
If you are an Oilers fan, this will make you happy. If you are a fan of any other team, this will make you want to punch an Oilers fan.
Step 17: The moral dilemma
Wait, is it even OK to actively root against your own team? I mean, the NHL has set up a system where that’s the only rational move, and at this point slightly better draft-lottery odds are pretty much all that you have. It’s the smart thing to do.
But it still seems wrong somehow. This is your team. You’ve been with them for as long as you can remember. Hoping for them to lose goes against everything you’ve ever believed in.
Stage 18: Actively cheering against your own team
Screw it; we’ll let the ethicists sort it out. Bring on the losses. The more the better.
This team — not the team in general, but this specific iteration of this team — is dead to you now. You wish them nothing but the same misery and sadness that they’ve spent the last few months inflicting on you. Burn the boats, salt the earth and let’s hit rock bottom.
Nothing would make you happier than seeing them lose each and every game for the rest of the year.
Stage 19: The meaningless win streak just to spite you
Stage 20: The ray of hope
By this point, things are bleak, and the situation feels hopeless. But then, like the first green shoots sneaking through a pavement crack after a hard winter, something good happens. It could be the unexpected emergence of a young player on the roster, or rave reports of some prospect you’d forgotten about suddenly looking like a future star. Maybe it comes in the off-season, when your team wins the draft lottery or pulls off some sort of brilliant blockbuster trade. Maybe you even get that new GM and coach, and they actually sound like they know what they’re doing.
Whatever it is, it’s hope. It’s a reason to keep believing. And that’s really all a sports fan can ask for. Maybe the season was miserable, but it’s in the past. You and your team have made it through to the other side, and now the healing can begin. Hey, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Note: This stage does not apply to Sabres fans.