Of Hearts and Minds

Around 1AM Thursday morning, news hit the hockey scene that Shea Weber had signed an offer sheet with Philadelphia that runs for 14 years and amounts to $110MM. After we picked our collective jaws up off the floor, more details were released and we learned this contract is insanely huge, and insanely structured with $26MM alone being due in year 1 in salary and bonuses.

Predominant themes quickly arose from hockey-land. Many were shocked by Holmgren’s brazenness and creativity; others were stunned by Weber’s willingness to leave Nashville; and yet another group wondered if Poile would have the guts – and the pocketbook – to match the offer.  As Jackets fans, we’re used to being the target of jokes and potshots. We’re used to suffering through situations such as “Nashpocalype”. I found myself in a position of not having a horse in the game of “who can we poke fun at for poor hockey dealings”. I watched as Nashville fans went through “accepting that you’re about to lose…something”. My curiosity led me to the weekly chat hosted by The Tennesseean. I read along with the comments in the wake of the Weber bombshell, and those Nashville fans? Well, they sounded a lot like Jackets fans.

Consider this. Read the phrases below and tell me which one was written by a Jackets fan:

[A] “At what point do you have to start holding [the GM] responsible? It seems that from last [significant dealing on major player], he’s really losing the public perception battle. Fair or not, he is seemingly losing the confidence of his players…”

[B] “…losing [all-star player] would really make it seem like the [NHL team] simply cannot compete. Would make me think long and hard about cancelling my season tickets.”

[C] “Bottom line I think they ask him if he wants to be here even if we rebuild or will he be disgruntled, if he wants to be here i believe he stays if not i think they let him walk.”

[D] “[young hot player not on your team's roster but possibly available via trade] is still young. He can still blossom. You just have to wonder if he can blossom with those coaches. Kinda like how [current/former young hot player's] blossoming has been a little stunted because of [NHL team's] coaches.”

[E] “Players that spend a significant amount of time in [your NHL city] seem to love it here. Players in the twilight of their career looking to establish a location for their families love it.”

Did you guess correctly? 

The answer is NONE OF THE ABOVE. All of the above statements came from Predators fans during the aforementioned chat. I’m not taking shots at these fans. Lord knows the painful cries that have come from CBJ land. But, the chat was enlightening because Nashville became interchangeable with us when it comes to the passion, fear,  love, and desire for winning that we all have for our teams. When you boil it all down – we’re all the same:

WHAT FANS WANT. We as fans want our team to win and we want our players to want to be here. Fans embody the never-ending debate of “intangibles”. I am a firm believer in “intangibles” such as character, leadership, passion and dedication being necessary elements of success. Our own Jack Johnson received rave reviews for his focus on winning – when he hasn’t been able to step foot on ice in Union Blue since April.  We do – and should – hold statistics and facts in tremendously high esteem, BUT, when a player, be it Suter, Nash or Weber says “I’m done with this team”, fans hurt. Union Blue Star, Maple Leaf, or Penguin on the front, losing a key guy stings. While of varying degrees, many of us fans lead with our hearts.

WHAT OWNERS WANT. Owners want to win. Owners want to make money – and not necessarily in that order. A great piece from Adam Proteau today pointed out the brazenness with which Snider executed this deal. Adam points out that Snider and his team are keenly aware of potential impacts to Nashville’s fan base, the relationship between the two organizations, and the impact on “smaller market teams”; however, the insinuation is they don’t care about any of that. Or, they don’t care enough about it to stop striking the deal. When the cards are on the table, it’s dollars and cents, wins and losses. It’s business. Right or wrong, owners are just more willing – or perhaps able – to be ruthless about doing what it takes. Owners are businessmen with assets – they just have a really cool product. They lead with their minds.

But there’s one last piece to the puzzle…

WHAT THE PLAYERS WANT. I can’t claim to know the inner workings of Shea Weber’s logic, nor the nuances of Rick Nash’s ultimate desire for his career. Isn’t it interesting that the players seem to be the mix of the two groups already outlined, and yet they have the least to say? Of course players care about performance and they care about winning. If we look to Suter and Parise its clear that “intangibles” are also within their consideration. But when the game is on the line, we want our team to act with the cold precision that owners do – go after it, get it, WIN. Players also want to make money. They want to get while the getting is good. There’s no shame in that. But the Predator’s laments about Weber today, and the Blue Jackets’ woes about Nash since like…February illustrate a reality that is hard and cold – particularly when our team comes out on the wrong end of a player’s decision.

So what does it all mean? It means that I look to the current CBA negotiations with great interest. While the two sides are seemingly far apart right now, moves that are being made such as Shea Weber’s deal deliberately thumb their nose at the main points that the owner’s proposal seems to seek. The CBA will reveal goals of the business side – the brains side – of the NHL and shows us where the ultimate priorities lie for players and owners. That’s what my mind looks forward to…

But don’t forget our hearts. What does all this mean as Blue Jackets fans? Well, it can be bad sometimes, but really, everybody has it bad. This off-season has shown unprecedented movement, particularly within the Central Division. We’re not the only ones who are currently terrified about what our team will or will not offer come October.  We may now even have it better than some teams. So no, the sky is not falling…at least not in Columbus anyway. This week, that privilege seems exclusively reserved for Nashville.

Keep Carrying the Flag.

One Response to 'Of Hearts and Minds'

  1. FlaggerX says:

    This deal puts me in the unwelcome position of sympathizing with Nashville fans, who have had the strength of their team torn apart by free agency. I’m a lifelong Indians fan, and am tired of watching my team develop good young players and having the Yankees or Boston come along and poach them just because they can pay exhorbitent salaries and the Tribe cannot. Were I a Predators fan, I would understand and agree if they let Weber go.

    This is why the league needs a meaningful salary cap, and a meaningful limit to the length of contracts. Games survive when fans have hope. Each new training camp brings fresh hope. If the best we can hope for is a couple good years before young stars depart for large markets no small market team can ever hope win.

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