From the moment the final draft rankings were published, immediate competition existed between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. From the moment they went first and second overall in the draft, fans drew their battle lines. It’s only natural that this happened; even over a decade later Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are still compared to each other.
Hockey fans have a terrible habit of cannibalizing the slightest bit of joy, ensuring no one can enjoy anything fun. Take a look at Twitter anytime there’s a new jersey release, a performance announcement for an event; all there seems to be is disdain and condescension. I’m not saying people can’t dislike things, far from it. My point being that we as fans need to stop ruining other peoples joy, because guess what? People can like different things, and the NHL has to market to an extremely broad range of fans.
This is where the fan driven competition between Matthews and Laine comes in, as a single day doesn’t go by without a comparison. Both players are incredible talents and easily the highlights of their teams, which are building themselves into contenders.
In the span of a week that had already grabbed headlines, Matthews scored four goals in his debut, Laine completed his first hat trick, in overtime, against Matthews and the Toronto Leafs. However, there was no celebration on social media outside of their respective fanbases. From my view point most of what I saw was “Laine/Matthews is better than X”. There was no pointing out that these children are among the NHL elite this season.
And this is where my gripe comes in. Why is it so hard for fans to just appreciate what is happening in front of us. Laine is an incredibly exciting, goal scoring machine and all that people seem to be about is how he stacks up to Matthews. In forty two games, he has thirty seven points, playing at nearly a point per game pace, just ENJOY IT. Matthews has thirty five points in thirty nine games, nearly a point per game, but from the outside it’s only mentioned when comparing him to Laine. Yet, fans beat the “OUR PLAYER IS BETTER” drum, and from the outside you just want to scream:
“JUST SHUT UP AND ENJOY YOUR TALENTED PLAYER!!!!!!!”
We get to see an era of hockey that is played with high level skill, not hits and grit like the old days. Yet fans insist on turning it into a contest of which player is better and it ruins the experience. We are still hounded by the Crosby/Ovechkin narratives a decade ago. It begs the question of why can’t fans just enjoy good players? Why does someone always have to be better than the other? Ovechkin is arguably the greatest pure goal scorer of all time, and Crosby does things on a nightly basis that seem impossible. And guess what, not every person is going to think your favourite player is better than theirs, and that’s okay. What isn’t okay is ridiculing and mocking them for their choice. Why does someone else on the internet enjoying their own player instead of your team’s player matter?
It’s time for fans to accept that not everyone is going to agree, and as a whole we need to take a step back and bare witness what is happening. The most skilled and enjoyable hockey in the history of the NHL is being played, and led by tons of young talent. Enjoy the ride and enjoy your players, but please stop dumping on others for how they consume the game and their favourites.