Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finally My Take on Realignment

So have you heard all about that realignment talk? Seems that down Tampa way it’s time to put Gary Bettman’s head back on the platter. The diminutive commissioner has it out for the boys in black and is working on a masterful plan to snatch the team from the comforts of Channelside Drive and deposit them in Kansas City, or Las Vegas, or Houston…basically anywhere but Florida or Canada (because if there’s any region that the man in charge hates more than Florida, it’s our maple syrup-loving neighbor to the north).  Feeling persecuted much, Lightning fans?

Let’s face it, when talks of shuffling divisions around it was predetermined that at least one time would find themselves with the short end of the hockey stick.  Whether it be Dallas and Detroit forced to play west coast opponents or long-time rivals being torn asunder, somewhere, someone was going to bitch about how the chips settled.  Unfortunately for Lightning Nation (16 strong and growing!) the Florida teams are the ones on the outside looking in.

Being grouped into a division with Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Florida does mean that the team will be eating more peanuts on planes and standing longer in customs lines next season.  To some fans, having the players earn extra stamps in their passports is proof positive that Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL hates Tampa Bay and would love nothing more than to move that franchise somewhere else.

To those folks, I say ne ne.  Instead I offer you two words. Jeff Vinik.  That’s right, the savior of the organization, the man who brought this team back to respectability, the very man who harnessed electricity and stored it inside the Ice Palace. That man, that god, is only in charge because of Gary Bettman.  After all, it was Commissioner Bettman who introduced the idea of buying the Lightning to Vinik and paved the way for a smooth sale between the northern businessman and Those Who Owned the Team Before But Shall Not Be Named.

Proof that Betts doesn't hate Tampa (not sure about Canada)

That simple fact allows for a lot of leeway in my book.  So let us not look down upon the new schedule and curse our fates.  Instead, look forward to new rivalries being forged in the playoffs.  Think about how many “Lecavalier/Stamkos/St. Louis Return Home” articles get to be written by the Canadian press.
Let’s embrace the fact that the Lightning get to compete against some of the most storied franchises in NHL history - and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Let’s not forget one thing.  I am a greedy hockey fan living in a different city than the team I follow.  With the new schedule allowing every team to play every other team at home and on the road I know that I will be able to see the Lightning at least once a season.  That is awesome.

Most importantly, think about how much fun it will be to follow the team on the road now! Gone are boring cities like Raleigh and Winnipeg (we hardly knew ya’). Instead of going to see the Lincoln Memorial three times a year, Lightning fans can now go to Montreal. It’s almost like a slice of Europe in North America.  The only two cities missing from my favorite places to travel are New Orleans and Honolulu, and there is a 36% chance that Bettman will expand to those cities in the next 6 years.

Let me give you a personal experiences breakdown of the cities where the Lightning’s newest foes are located.

Sunrise- Oddly enough, the only arena I haven’t attended and it’s the one closest to the Lightning.  I probably should have checked that out when I lived in Florida.  The closest I came was watching an Argentina/U.S. soccer match at Joe Robbie stadium.  Afterwards, we went to an Argentinean restaurant where not a lick of English was spoken, but the meal was delicious.

Montreal - In the top three of favorite cities to visit.  The first time I went was with legendary travel mate Hambone and I had a picture taken.  The bartender swore his name was Jimmy Walker and made us take a picture in front of  “The Jersey”.  I think it was Henri Richard’s jersey, I’m not sure because I got pretty drunk that night.

The jacket - real pleather baby!

On top of the drinking there is beautiful architecture, wonderful museums and a restaurant called Au Pied Cachon.  If you ever want to see if you can give yourself a heart attack with one truly exquisite meal then go to this place.  After all, it almost broke Anthony Bourdain.
I love having reasons to post pics of Downie fighting

Ottawa - Haven’t seen a game here yet, but did attend a session of Congress.  They were debating something about marijuana laws I think.  Cool city, would definitely hang out there again.

Toronto - Hockey Hall of Fame.  Clean city. Watched Zac Beirk take a puck to the throat in warm-ups. This would probably be the first city to take a weekend trip to watch the game for me.  I’ve been twice (once for business) but never stayed long enough to truly explore the city, although Link and I did have a robust game of air hockey in the basement of the CN Tower.  (Holy Crap! They have a rotating restaurant in the CN Tower, I’m a sucker for those things!) .

Link and I ended up getting standing room tickets to watch the Lightning and the Maple Leafs and I must say, we weren’t disappointed.  We had a decent view of the ice and a counter to lean against.  The beer was fantastic and we had a decent time.

Buffalo - On the same trip that took us to Toronto, Link and I stopped in Buffalo to watch a Sabres/ Pittsburgh Penguins game.  Based on my hazy memory the Penguins won in overtime.  I can’t say much about the city since we were basically there only long enough to watch the game, but it’s close to the border and there are casinos close by.  So is Niagara Falls, which every American should see at some point.

Boston - I've only been once, but I liked the city.  Although I will say Wrigley > Fenway.  There are tons of historical sites to visit and places to eat.  Why I didn't research the Freedom Trail Pub Crawl before I went is on the big regrets in my life.

So get ready to look at those calendars and book those flights Lightning Fans.  You have some new cities to start exploring!

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