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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Smarks by @ToonsBrian



smark (n.) fan of an industry, particularly in entertainment, familiar with the general backstage workings of that industry.

I first became aware of “smarks” when I joined twitter and started following fellow professional wrestling fans. To that point, I really had just watched wrestling as an entertainment format that I have been around my entire life. I’d watch the AWA events with my grandfather on his push-button Zenith television (the only time I’d ever heard him swear, calling Ric Flair a bastard). At the Civic Arena, I got to see Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, the Honky Tonk Man and Kamala, whose name still invokes a little fear leftover from Little Brian’s memory banks. And the Attitude Era of the WWE reflected where I was at in my own life at the time it was going on.

However, smarks, to a large degree, ruined wrestling for me because I became one and hated myself for it. It did, however, teach me a valuable lesson: Don’t take other fans too seriously. This especially rings true with hockey fans (and sports fans, in general).

Whether the existence of the smark is the result of having access to statistics, news and data within a few keystrokes that we now enjoy or vice versa, I can’t say. All that is certain is that when you couple that information with knee jerk reactions, the availability of a media that allows for the mass spread of those reactions and a major case of mass ego-centricity, dealing with it all becomes unbearable.

Case in point, this Wednesday, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero announced the two year contract extension of head coach Dan Bylsma and assistants Todd Reirdon and Tony Granato. Pens fans ranged from being indifferent to throwing a tantrum over the decision, particularly with Bylsma. Why? Because they thought they know hockey better than people actually in the industry.

Photo(shop) by @Evil_Shero



Fans have been calling for Disco Dan’s ouster since last season’s embarrassing Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Championship loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

They want him gone because he’s a “player’s coach” and gives his players too many scheduled optional skates.

They want him out because he sits Simon Despres.

And they want him gone because of a 4-0 series sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Fans that think Dan Bylsma is at fault for many of the Penguins problems are at least partially correct. He is at times stubborn. It would be nice to see him a little more animated during games where the team struggles. He uses his timeouts at seemingly questionable times.

Despite all of these assumptions that we, as fans, make, he  is an NHL coach and @TwitterNHLHeadCoachAndGeneralManagerExtraordinaire is just some random twitter personality that thinks they know better. He is the fastest coach to 200 wins in the NHL’s storied history. His name is on the Stanley Cup. He is a Jack Adams Award winner for contending without his top two players - which many say he or Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't win without - in the lineup for a great deal of the 2010-11 season. But leading up to the Bruins series, the Pens did exactly what they were supposed to do, defeating the speedy Islanders in 6 and the Senators in 5 thanks, in large part, to the decisions Bylsma and his staff made, particularly with starting Tomas Vokoun.

These supposed problems pale in comparison to the fact that some of the “greatest players in the world” failed to show up in the Conference Finals. Yes, on paper, this year’s Penguins playoff roster would rank among the greatest teams of all time. And forgotten is the fact Boston played the Pens to perfection for those four games.

Meanwhile, @TwitterNHLHeadCoachAndGeneralManagerExtraordinaire can send out 13 tweets per second calling for somebody’s….anybody’s…head.

One of my favorite twitter responses – which I saw numerous times – was that, by extending Bylsma for two more years, Shero has assumed responsibility for the future success or failure of the team. He knows this. He acknowledged it in his press conference. As GM, this has always been the case. Every move he’s made since his hiring in 2009 has been made knowing that.

Dan Bylsma is the Penguins coach, theoretically, for the next two years because the organization believes in him. Not just Ray Shero. Ron Burkle has faith in him. And Mario Lemieux still believes in Disco Dan. Their faith has not been shaken. And, in case you’re wondering, each of those individuals has both more knowledge of the sport and more to lose by being wrong than @TwitterNHLHeadCoachAndGeneralManagerExtraordinaire.

The only thing that has changed is the smark. They’ve been exposed by the loss. “In Shero We Trust” is merely a trendy, conditional statement because, at the end of the day, they know better than anybody else.
At the beginning of the season, many (myself included) wanted Paul Martin gone. Serious discussions were held in very public forums about trading Martin for Sergei “I’m Exactly Like Kris Letang But Older And Slower And As A Penguin Had A 50-50 Ratio Of Scoring Or Giving Up A Goal When Joining The Rush” Gonchar.
It doesn’t stop with Bylsma either. Now people want Kris Letang gone because of turnovers. We wanted Malkin gone because of money and penalties. They want Fleury gone, retroactive to Game 2 of the Islanders series, because regular season wins simply aren’t enough. They want Tyler Kennedy gone because of his inability to consistently find the net.
Win/Score/Succeed at (insert fan’s expectation) or (insert player/coach’s name) should be traded, fired or benched. Whichever is the worst possible outcome for the individual in question. This is the gladiatorial society in which we live today.

When these moves don’t happen, fans and the “media” get upset because in their hypothetical world, they would have done it. Especially @TwitterNHLHeadCoachAndGeneralManagerExtraordinaire.Never you mind realistically replacing that person in the organization or recognizing the cogs that would have to work together to make that replacement happen.

I can’t totally fault them, though. Being a fan is an emotional role to assume. It can destroy the parts of your brain that allow for rational thinking. It’s like love. Only it's worse because we have such little control over what actually happens. Nothing we can say will change things because really we’re all simply along for a ride.

It would do us all well to remember this before jumping on our soap boxes.

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