Are the Penguins and Capitals Siphoning Fans from Other Teams?

Allison SenecalCorrespondent IMay 19, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 09:  Fans of the Washington Capitals cheer their team on prior to the start of a NHL game agaisnt the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 9, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Remember when the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh found itself drowning in season ticket requests?

Remember when Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals made it to the playoffs last season and the Verizon Center became filled to the gills with new Capitals fans?

I'm not going to talk about that.  Those two instances show cities being revitalized by the biggest superstars in the game.  That's fine because it increases interest in hockey.  Isn't that what the NHL was trying to do? 

I'll fast forward to my calculus class at the University of Pittsburgh.  A girl wearing a Crosby jersey sits down next to me.  I'm wearing something Rangers, because she smiles and says, "You're a Rangers fan?"  I reply positively.  She continues.  "I used to be a Rangers fan."

After drawing in a deep breath, because that's never a line that makes me cheerful, I asked her why she was no longer a Rangers fan.

"Oh, well, you know...Crosby's such a great player.  I got tired of watching the Rangers lose.  No offense or anything.  So now I'm a Penguins fan." 

I got up and moved to a sunnier seat in the back of the lecture hall.  No offense taken.

This seems to be a fairly regular occurrence.  Fairweather fans are one thing.  Homegrown fans who get fed-up or bored and just switch to a different team are a completely different animal.

A friend of mine who was a huge Sabres fan (read the Ryan Miller jersey, Vanek bobblehead, and other miscellany) gave up after the Sabres failed to make the playoffs this year and traded it all in for an Ovechkin "Language Barrier" tee and a ticket to Capitals' Nation.

First of all, this kind of switch is fiscally irresponsible.  Not only have you wasted the merchandise from your (now former) favorite team, but now you have to buy new stuff.  For me, it would be nigh impossible to fathom the cost of this.  Take inventory of the jerseys, the water bottle, the cardboard cutouts, the bar stool, the pennants, the vintage tees, the mini-sticks.

Then there is the emotional cost.  How do you split with a team you've been raised on?  A team whose games you've been attending since childhood?  I can try to quiet those thoughts by telling myself that these switchers just aren't big fans, but that's not true in many cases.  They're simply creatures trying to adapt to a new environment.

Take another friend's father, for example.  The man was a lifelong Devils fan.  One day he decided that he couldn't stand watching Devils-Penguins games.  I guess NBC finally got to him. 

He's now a Caps fan.  His reasoning was that if he refused to be a Penguins fan, he could at least cheer for a team that got as much attention as the Penguins, rather than simmer in front of his television while Zach Parise gets ignored in lieu of another Sidney Crosby montage. 

It makes sense, in a way.  Similar thoughts have crossed my mind, albeit briefly.  It would be much easier to be a Penguins or Capitals fan in this era. 

Then I recall that I will never abandon a three-time Vezina nominee and Olympic gold medalist for an ultra-talented Nova Scotian or a Russian goal-scoring juggernaut.