Ryan O'Byrne played in parts of three seasons for the Colorado Avalanche. He always seemed like a popular guy amongst his teammates, who affectionately referred to him with nicknames like "O.B.," "Burner," and of course "Beauty Alert." O'Byrne was also fairly liked amongst Avs fans, although his popularity slipped this year, with his porous defense at times, but in his defense, the Avs defense as a whole has been just plain abysmal all year long.
Earlier today however, Denver Post writer Adrian Dater tweeted the below quote from O'Byrne:
Ryan O'Byrne: "Playing in Colorado you don't have the fan support & then you come to TO & you have that passion."
Since then, Avs fans have been laying into O'Byrne for trashing Avalanche fans. O'Byrne is not the first player to say less than stellar things about the Colorado Avalanche organization after his trade away from the team. Both Craig Anderson and Kyle Quincey expressed their contempt for Avalanche management after they were traded. The difference between their comments and O'Byrne's is that they both directed their animosity toward the Avs' front office; O'Byrne criticized the Avs fanbase.
All three players have taken heat from Avs fans for their comments, but were they wrong for speaking out? There is no sugar-coating the fact that the Colorado Avalanche, a team who won two Stanley Cups and used to be among the league's elite each and every year, has fallen very far since then. The Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche set and NHL record for winning nine consecutive division titles. This year will mark 10 years, a full decade since the Avs last hoisted a division title banner.
The Colorado Avalanche also set an NHL record for the longest home sellout streak of 487 games from 1995, the year the team debuted in Colorado until 2006. Lately, the Avs attendance has been in steady decline and is currently 26th out of 30 NHL teams. On any given night, you will find many vacant seats at the Pepsi Center for an Avs game. The few sellouts the Avs have had this year have been due to the other team's fans occupying a very large portion of The Can. When the Avs ended the Blackhawks point streak, the Pepsi Center was half full of Blackhawks fans. The Red Wings, still the Avs most hated opponent, will fill the stands with red whenever they come to Denver as well.
Which of course brings me back to O'Byrne's controversial comment. Of course, it can be interpreted that he is figuratively spitting in the face of Avs fans and essentially calling them bad hockey fans for not supporting their team the way Leafs fans support their club, who just clinched their first playoff berth in nine years. Obviously, they are excited to end that drought. It would be an understatement to say that they are passionate about their hockey up in Toronto.
I've lived in Colorado my entire life. Colorado sports fans are great! However, aside from the Denver Broncos, who will get round-the-clock coverage and support regardless of their record, Colorado fans can be sort of fickle. Case in point, the Colorado Avalanche. The Nuggets have a pretty consistent fanbase right now, but not so much 15 years ago when their position wasn't so favorable. The Rockies get a quick bandwagon following once in a blue moon when they make the playoffs.
So were O'Byrne's comments out of line? Personally, I don't think so. If you go to any given Avs game, you will find plenty of empty seats. Recently, you could find tickets to an Avs game for as little as $1 on stubhub.com, a very far cry from the heyday of the sellout streak and the Stanley Cups. Sure, O'Byrne could have expressed his excitement to be playing for the playoff-bound Maple Leafs without directly or indirectly throwing Avs fans under the bus, but saying that crowds at Pepsi Center enthusiastic sellouts, isn't an insult, it's simply a fact.
I don't think he meant to insult those of us who are filling the seats at Pepsi Center. Even through the tough times the Avs have been experiencing since the NHL implemented a salary cap, I have still been spending my money on tickets, jerseys, hats, and t-shirts, including a t-shirt signed by none other than Ryan O'Byrne from the Military Night mystery t-shirts last year.
I'm not alone. There are many of us faithful Avalanche fans who will not jump on and off the bandwagon, we will continue to support the team through thick and thin. While I don't think it was necessarily his intention, O'Byrne could have been criticizing the Avs fans who are no longer there. The ones who would gladly fill the Pepsi Center for a winning team, but are nowhere to be seen for team that is in the dreaded rebuilding phase. Honestly, I don't think he thought too much about it before he made his statement. I think the point he was trying to make was simply his excitement to be playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs in a Leafs sweater.
I don't blame the fans who aren't at the games though. It's tough to spend your hard-earned money to go see a last-place team and a team who will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year. You can't compare a Denver hockey fanbase to one up in Canada's largest city. There is of course one simple solution that will undoubtedly restore the energy and passion back into the Pepsi Center for hockey games, and that is simply to win.