Parity vs. Mediocrity – the Joey Tribbiani theory

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The year is 2001. The popular and undeniably classic television sitcom “Friends” is six episodes into its eighth season. Chandler and Monica are hosting a Halloween party. Chandler is, much to his dismay, dressed in a full-sized pink bunny costume. Ross, being a gigantic nerd and purveyor of punny portmanteaus, arrives to the party as “Spud-nik” – a large potato with bits of wire sticking out the top, and a play on Sputnik, the Soviet satellite.  

Only here’s the problem. Ross doesn’t look like a space potato. He looks like a literal piece of shit. Chandler, being his usual sarcastic and witty self, is quick to point out the likeness. Of course, he’s achieving almost equal levels of ridiculousness as a giant pink rabbit. Ross gets bitter. Chandler gets even more snarky. Shit is about to go down.   

So what do two grown men in embarrassing costumes do to sort out their differences? Why, they arm wrestle of course. And, predictably, neither can get the upper hand. Seemingly forever, they struggle. Looking on, Ross’s love-interest-who-isn’t-Rachel of the week observes that they both must be really strong. To which a skeptical Joey replies, “Or equally weak.”  

I can’t help but replay that scene in my mind every time the Red Wings beat the Blues just a few short days after St. Louis force fed Detroit its lunch. Or when the Maple Leafs beat the Penguins handily, before getting demolished by the New York Islanders a day later. It just doesn’t make sense. Gone are the days of the powerhouse, and the results are mixed.

Sure, it’s good for the game if every team is in the playoff hunt late into the season (though TERRIBLE for TSN Trade Centre). If the Detroit Red Wings were still the all-star laden powerhouse they were in the late 90s and early 2000s, would Columbus Blue Jackets fans enjoy Detroit’s trips to town? Probably not.

That said, a mediocre, inconsistent product can be equally frustrating. As of this posting, the longest winning streak in the NHL currently stands at three games and is held by Pittsburgh. The longest losing streak? Winnipeg, also at three games.

But teams aren’t losing in a shootout one night, then winning by a goal the next. It’s not every team playing at such a high level every night that it’s impossible to string together wins. It’s a league-wide bi-polar disorder that has would-be contenders dominating traditional bottom feeders on Monday before trotting out an effort reminiscent of Ross’s poop costume on Wednesday.

As a fan of the on ice product, is that really fun to watch? Is it worth watching the Los Angeles Kings struggle to score all year as long as there’s a possibility they could squeak in as an eighth seed and win the Stanley Cup? I’m not so sure.  Excitement shouldn’t be generated by the standings, it should be generated by the way the games are played.

Of course, there are still teams that emerge every year as consistently excellent. It’s hard to imagine the San Jose Sharks or Chicago Blackhawks going through a 20 game streak of alternating wins and losses any time soon, given their dominant starts. But a month ago, it was also hard to imagine the New York Rangers as a .500 team and the Kings as a cellar dweller.

It must be tough for new or casual fans of the NHL to get behind their local team when play is so maddeningly inconsistent. How long until “parity” has folks tuning out NBC Sports in favor of “Friends” reruns on TBS?

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