Canucks and Beyond

Hockey Nihilism

03/31/2009 at 3:25pm EDT

imageThe other day on Inside Hockey, James Murphy asked me if the Vancouver media are unreasonably negative, in response to GM Mike Gillis’ accusations last week where he pointed out that he himself is someone who looks “forward” not at the past.

“The slowest group to come around is clearly the media because they look at everything as if it’s 20 years ago and something is going to blow up and explode. [...] Our preference is not to reflect back and look at history but to look forward and look at the things we’re doing and know we’re going to get results from those things. So that’s why it’s probably easier for me to be optimistic than a lot of people, because I don’t share that history and I’m not going to.”

My first thought upon hearing this was “how very nice for him” and that Gillis would do well to remember he’s new to this show, while many of the rest of us have been enduring the experience for decades now.

I’d say we’ve earned our wary cynicism fair and square, and that it’s perfectly reasonable to be a bit suspect about this team’s management and execution at this point.

But I also understand why Gillis made the comments he did.

To his mind, it’s “Us Against the World”, as he creates an underdog mentality to drive his team forward into the playoffs. It’s good management, really. The team is on a roll, but needs to be sure it never gets complacent. Developing a persecution complex for them to focus isn’t a bad thing.

Anyway, after that interview on XM radio I was surprised to be (politely) accused of being too negative by a couple of listeners/acquaintances. In mentioning my befuddlement to my friend Michael yesterday (you’ll know his book and tv series on the history of hockey) he responded with this funny-yet-grisly assessment of the last 4 decades:

“That’s funny about being thought too negative. Vancouver Canucks, founded in 1970, championship titles 0, trips to the final, 2, implosions, self-destructions, and general disasters: priceless, in psychotherapeutic terms. The fact that we even pay any attention to them at all makes us raving optimists of the ilk that would make Candide look like dour nihilist.”

Perfectly stated, I think.

Bottom line, the fact that I attend games when I can, keep buying PPV broadcasts, own jerseys, jackets and other Canucks merchandise, and generally manage to maintain any hope at all about this team (and I do, I live on foolish hope as much as everyone else) is a testimony to the fact that I am one of those “raving optimists.”

But that doesn’t mean I can’t also execute common sense when it comes to critique, and an eye towards history is part of learning to be better in the future.

Mike Gillis wants the media and fans to give his team a chance, and I don’t blame him. But he shouldn’t begrudge our sometimes-cynical attitude for lack of optimism about the future. If we were really all that negative, would we keep selling out the building and coughing up our time and cash on this team? Not likely.

We are all Canucks, as the marketing slogan goes. Hopeful for the future, and masochists to the core.


Regarding the title, I was thinking about what a really negative hockey fan would be like, reflecting on this definition in the Wikipedia:

“Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. It can stem from scientific analysis that shows only the physical laws contributed to our existence. With respect to the universe, a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant and without purpose and can make no real change in the totality of existence.”

Now THAT’S a cynic. Canucks fans and media are all sunshine and musicals by comparison!

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