When Do Expectations Get Too High?

Nicklas Lidstrom remembers he's meeting Chelios at Denny's for the senior special later as his back acts up. (He's only 40 though, I think Cheli is 102)

This past season the Coyotes were expected to do absolutely nothing. Mired in a financial and ownership nightmare everyone picked them to finish dead last in the league, crushed under the weight of bad press and the franchise's uncertainty. But that's not at all what happened. The Coyotes cruised past even the most optimistic of expectations to finish 4th in the Western Conference and 5th overall in the NHL. The fans were excited. The franchise was rejuvenated, the team was no longer a joke on the ice. The expectations were in the basement and because of that when they were exceeded by a large margin everyone was talking and everyone that liked the team was excited about them. 

This year the expectations are higher. It's not some low point bar or just squeak into the playoffs or not finish last. Fans and others expect the team to make the playoffs and be competitive. I'd say the organization expects to improve on last year and at least advance into the second round of the playoffs. Even so there are ways to exceed that goal. Go to the Conference finals, win the division, win the Stanley Cup even, there are plenty of ways to exceed expectations. That got me thinking about other teams though and where can they exceed the expectations of their fans and organizations?

What do teams that have had success do to exceed their fans expectations and do something magical and surprising? Can they? For example, what could the Detroit Red Wings do to improve themselves? Sure they were "only" a 5th seed in the playoffs last year, but they've been so successful for so long that they're practically committed to winning the cup every year. As I was watching the game from Detroit last night against the Avalanche I was struck by how some of the fans were just kind of there and enjoying the game, but weren't really into it. That's not an indictment against Detroit fans, just the observation that for teams that have had so much success that the regular season is somewhat fun to watch, but in fans' minds they've already got visions of April going on. 

See I'm optimistic and have penciled the Coyotes in for the playoffs, but fans of successful teams practically have them written in in Sharpie already. Where's the fun and the drama in that? Why play 82 regular season games if the journey isn't just as fun as the end goal? The players will go out every night and play hard, but if the fans get a bit jaded by the success of a team to the point that the only outcome they're satisfied with is the Cup is that a good thing? Sure you want your team to compete for it every year, but to expect it? That seems like a letdown waiting to happen. 

Basically I went through all of that to ask this... Is there a point for a franchise, in any sport, where it's a good thing to have a year or two out of the championship or even the playoff picture after a long streak of success? I'll go back to the Wings because it's a good example. The Wings are an old team age wise. They're in a unique position to be able to bring in players cheaper than most teams because of their success, but at some point they need to get younger. At least by a little bit. Would it benefit them to have a season or two to "rebuild" and come back with expectations lower than before? Where fans were excited about seeing the young guys in the regular season and over achieve a-la the Avalanche of last year? Another example could be the Devils. They hamstrung themselves (in my opinion) with the Ilya Kovalchuck deal. Martin Brodeur is getting up there in age and they've got a ton of cap issues. Might in not benefit them to have some time to clear out some cap space and fall out of the spotlight for a year or two to develop some young talent?

I just want the conversation, I'm curious to know when do franchises and fanbases need a reboot after a streak of success? Or do they really need one at all? Am I just a crazy person? Talk it up in the comments. 

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