Sometimes it's tough to remember that even though you might want to see specific talent in your organization on the ice, at the end of the day every one of those players still play for your team.
Last year, you could almost feel the tension every time the Habs took the ice. When Price took his place in net, the people who wanted to see Halak play 82 games were pissed. It was almost like they wanted him to fail so they could see Halak take over the No.1 spot and play more often. Likewise, Price's backers wanted Halak to cool off so the media would lay off their boy.
But if you stop and thought about it—that was nothing more than Canadiens fans rooting for their goaltender to battle adversity. Who cares what their reasons were; they were rooting for their team to struggle.
Kings fans have already had a few of these internal battles to deal with. In training camp, we watched as Jake Muzzin and Thomas Hickey battled for the last spot on the blueline to begin the season. When the season started, we watched Andrei Loktionov and Brayden Schenn battle for the fourth-line center role. Since then, we've watched about 900 players compete for the open left wing spot on the top line. Oh, and we've watched as Kevin Westgarth battled against competent Kings players while he carried the banner for every fan who thinks a team needs an enforcer.
All the while, fans argued back and forth. This guy is better than that guy and we watched as some fans wanted one player to fail so they could watch "their" player get inserted into the lineup.
Take some of the people who wanted Hickey to get a shot, for example. Deep down, some of them wanted Muzzin to struggle so Hickey could finally get a chance. Loktionov fans wanted the young Russian to play better than Schenn because then their player would stick. Some fans wanted to see Westgarth fail because it would prove that the Kings need NHL players in the fourth-line spot instead of a guy who plays five-minutes per game.
It's sick, twisted, and counter-productive, and a lot of us were guilty of it. I know I was.
Here's the thing though: at the end of the day, when any player performs well, it's a good thing for everyone. When Muzzin was thriving at the beginning of the year it was to the benefit of ALL Kings fans, not just Hickey haters and not just Hickey fans. All Kings fans reaped the benefits of a young player making a successful transition to the NHL, and all will enjoy the benefits if he comes up later in the season and flourishes.
You see it in goal, as well.
At the beginning of the season, there was a sizable portion of fans that were just chomping at the bit for the Jonathan Bernier era to begin. While they wanted the Kings to succeed, it wouldn't have been a horrible thing if Jonathan Quick got off to a bad start and opened the door for Bernier. Quick is in the Top 5 in goals against and save percentage, so should Kings fans who wanted Bernier to play most of the games be upset? I don't care who is putting up those numbers. Ideally, both guys would be playing out of their mind; but I'd much rather have one guy playing well than both of them playing like Dan Cloutier.
If the Kings and their fans want this team to achieve the success they think it's capable of, then they're going to need all of these players to be good. That's just a fact. Quick will have to be good when he's in net and Bernier will have to have confidence when he's between the pipes.
Muzzin, Hickey, Davis Drewiske and any number of other defensemen in the organization may be called upon over the course of the season. When they're with the big club, all of them need to be capable of playing well. When the team is struggling on offense, both Loktionov AND Schenn could help the team. When Westgarth isn't in the lineup, Kyle Clifford's development can add needed grit to the team. When he IS in the lineup, Clifford won't have that added responsibility.
As cliche as it is, each player makes up the team. Everyone has a role. Even if there are two players who are battling for the same spot, they'll both have important roles before the season (and post season) is over. Every team needs a competent starting goaltender and a competent back-up goaltender. Teams need young players to step into the line-up who can be trusted on the back-end and can be productive when inserted as a forward. Everyone is a needed piece to complete the puzzle. Yes, even John Zeiler.
Who knows what role each player will be in by the end of the year? The point is that for a team to be successful, fans should realize that just because THEIR player isn't in the role they think they should be, it doesn't mean they aren't important to the team.
Hey, you never know. Maybe you'll need the guys on your team to be productive so you can trade for that left wing you need? Everyone has a role, even if its trade bait.
Matt Reitz covers the Los Angeles Kings for TheFourthPeriod.com