To paraphrase Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding from The Shawshank Redemption: “Let me tell you something my friend. Twitter is a dangerous thing. Twitter can drive a man insane.”
I watched all of Tuesday night’s game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders. Or, more accurately, I split my time between watching the game when the clock was running, and checking my Twitter feed when play was stopped. Not so different from how many people watch hockey—or any sport—nowadays.
What was different about watching the game on Tuesday night was the increase in anti-Islanders opinion from the fan base online. True, the Isles didn’t play a good game—far from it. They held a 2-1 lead after two periods in a game against a struggling opponent and cross-town rival, but ended up losing 3-2 on home ice. It was no secret that the Islanders played poorly, and that the loss was a microcosm of the season to date.
But the more I scrolled through my Twitter feed, the angrier I could feel myself getting. (Tongue-in-cheek paragraphs coming up. Not for the faint of heart.)
By the time the game ended and I’d read the post-game analysis on my timeline from countless armchair GMs and (apparent) ex-NHL players and coaches (read: #IslesTwitter), I was convinced that the Islanders should forfeit the rest of the season, fire everyone on the staff, and erase the franchise from the history books. Why bother pretending the Isles even existed if they weren’t going to win all their games this season, right guys? RIGHT?
Based on the assessment of a large subset of Islanders fans, here’s what I determined: newly acquired winger Thomas Vanek was a bust after one game; general manager Garth Snow was terrible at his job because he didn’t land P.K. Subban and Carey Price for Aaron Ness and a bag of pucks; and last year’s late-season run and playoff appearance entitled the fan base to a Stanley Cup victory RIGHT %@&$*!# NOW.
I was starting to believe it all. I mean, I read it on the Internet; it had to be true.
On second thought, maybe I was overreacting. After stepping off the window ledge and back into my apartment, I basically checked myself into Twitter rehab.
I decided to engage in a personal social experiment: what would happen if I stayed away from Twitter in the aftermath of an Islanders loss? Would my opinion of the team change for the better? In the name of science, I had to find out.
It’s now been approximately 65 hours since I last accessed my account. I haven’t checked my timeline, my mentions, or my direct messages. I haven’t gone to Twitter.com. I haven’t opened the app on my phone. I turned off push notifications. I even stopped saying the word “Twitter.” (I might have typed it a few times, but that’s it.)
This is as off-the-grid as I’ve ever been since I originally signed up for the free service that I’m now pseudo-complaining about.
Because I refresh Twitter, on average, 80-100 times per day—and sadly, that might be underestimating my habit—this is a big deal for me. Suffice it to say that quitting Twitter “cold turkey” has been a shock to my system, especially since I didn’t have another social media outlet to fill the void. (Note: I don’t have Facebook because let’s be honest Facebook sounds like a ton of effort, and I don’t “do” Google Plus because come on.)
It took less than an hour before I started feeling the effects of my experiment Tuesday night. I was off social media and I was going through withdrawal.
But what have I found out? Rock bottom isn’t so bad.
I’ve been able to analyze the Islanders based not on what I read online, but on what I see on the ice. I’ve been trying to categorize what their major issues are, if they can be addressed in the short term, and what I can realistically expect from the team for the rest of the year.
And I’ve been doing this all in a vacuum. Without the Twitter noise and groupthink clouding my judgment, it’s been much easier to consider the team from a rational standpoint.
All of the team’s losses—with the exception of the 5-2 debacle against the Flyers—have been by a single goal. For a team clearly not playing its best hockey, one-goal losses aren’t the worst thing in the world. The games have been close. Wins are obviously preferable to losses, but the Isles aren’t getting blown out on a nightly basis.
Take that as a silver lining.
The defense has been sorely lacking. The injury to veteran D-man Lubomir Visnovsky has had a much greater impact on the team than could have been predicted, as young players and career bottom-pairing guys are being forced to shoulder a heavier workload to offset Visnovsky’s absence.
Without veteran leadership—Radek Martinek aside, since he’s still getting up to game speed—that unit will continue to struggle.
And just because Snow traded for Vanek—not a superstar defenseman to shore up the blue line—that doesn’t mean the team is doomed. It’s a long season and, truth be told, high-caliber defensemen aren’t readily available via trade. It’s not logical to blame Snow for the defensive troubles, being that he’s under budget constraints and doesn’t have players in the farm system to fill those holes yet.
(Side note: the trade deadline wasn’t Oct. 28. Snow still has time to make another deal this season, should he so choose. And the goalie situation? Who’s to say he has to trade for one? Guys like Jaroslav Halak, Jonas Hiller, Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller are all impending UFAs after the season.)
And this seemingly overwhelming belief that the Islanders should be 12-0-0 and cruising to a top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs? I mean…where did this come from? Granted, expectations on the Island are higher than they’ve ever been, but this team isn’t built to contend for a Stanley Cup for at least two years. It’s a hard truth, but it’s reality.
Yes, it’s time for this team to take the next step, but that doesn’t mean Stanley-Cup-Or-Bust this season. The Islanders are a seven- or eight-seed in all likelihood this year, and they’ll have to scrap their way through 82 games just to make the postseason. For a team barely exiting a rebuild, simply making the playoffs is the next step.
Now, let me get off my high horse for a second. Twitter isn’t all bad.
It’s OK for fans to complain about the quality of play on the ice when forwards aren’t playing with intensity and defensemen are missing their assignments. And it’s completely within the fans’ rights to criticize a coach or general manager who isn’t rallying the troops or trying to improve the roster. By all means: voice your opinion when the situation warrants.
It’s integral to being a fan.
Being frustrated is expected. No team in NHL history has gone 82-0-0. You have a right to be unhappy when the Isles fight back to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road one night, and then get blown out by the Philadelphia Flyers at home the next. What’s important is staying grounded and expressing that frustration in a rational manner.
Don’t do that thing where you beg for Thomas Vanek in June, then complain when Snow trades for him in October. Or that thing where you demand that rookies be brought up from Bridgeport, then say they were rushed into the NHL. Or that thing where you assume a playoff berth one year is a sign that a Stanley Cup is guaranteed the following season.
It’s not a good look.
There has to be some semblance of reality here. Progress isn’t always linear. This isn’t EA NHL 14, and there are real-world restrictions and ramifications to consider, many of which aren’t made public by the front office. Given all that Snow and Cappy have accomplished in the past few years, I think it’d be wise to cut them some slack.
Maybe I’m an optimist. Maybe I don’t understand bashing your favorite team at every turn. Maybe I can’t rationalize the thought of being able to run an NHL team better than the guys who are getting paid to do so. Or maybe I just need to take a break from Twitter more often.
Do I think I’ve been rehabilitated? Well now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.
If you’re out there, I want to hear from you. Follow me on the Twitter (@MichaelWillhoft) so we can talk Isles, NHL, unplugging from social media (ironic, right?), or whatever. I’ll probably lift my self-administered social media suspension in, like, eight minutes anyways.