May 12, 2004

NHL Hockey! Its FAN-TASTIC! is anybody paying attention?

How excited is Gary Bettman over the prospect of a Calgary-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup final? Why, so excited he’s probably trying to hang himself in the executive washroom.

Look, I love the NHL. As I’ve said before, it’s the most exciting live sport on Earth. In addition, it has a diehard following who, on average, are the most knowledgeable fans of any sport. However, the NHL got greedy about a decade ago, and it hasn’t yet recovered. It had a slight up tick in ratings, mostly due to Gretzky’s Kings, Lemeuix’s Penguins, and the Rangers first championship in decades. The owners decided that they weren’t a boutique sport, that they could become a legitimate contender, maybe not to the NFL, but certainly the NBA and MLB. In hindsight, they were mistaken. Unfortunately the damage has been done: skyrocketing salaries (without the television revenue to make up for it), overzealous expansion, one work stoppage past, and one looming in the future.

Its nearly guaranteed their will be a work stoppage after these playoffs are over, and the real question is what will the league look like if it comes back. Ownership seems determined to stuff the genie back in the bottle, and go back to the cult spot they never should have stopped being. The players union will fight this, but might give more ground than expected. I heard an ESPN Radio interview a couple weeks ago with Jeremy Roenick who actually admitted the union is expecting a couple teams to fold.

The real shame in this is how ignored the playoffs have been. The fight for the Cup has been as brilliant as ever. The Flames, who have been terrible for years, have the look of a young team coming into their own, building around a superstar goalie in Mikka Kiprusoff. They squeaked past the faltering Canucks, killed the Red Wings (one of the NHL’s few glamour teams) and have taken a commanding 2-0 lead over the Sharks without playing at home. In the East, the Flyers, who feature an actual “Name Player” in the aforementioned Roenick, take on Martin St. Louis and the speedy, exciting Lightning. To bad hardly anyone seems to care.

Posted by Frinklin at May 12, 2004 07:33 PM

**chirp** **chirp**

Posted by: Madfish Willie at May 12, 2004 09:14 PM

No doubt about it...the NHL in 1994 got the team in the biggest market to take the Stanley Cup and they failed miserably to take advantage of it.

Out of the four major sports, the NHL has the best playoffs as a whole from the first round to the finals. There's something special about the Stanley Cup Playoffs that not even subpar stateside ESPN coverage can diminish. Even if it's Steve Levy I'm hearing (ugh) through the TV set, it's still special.

The Canuck brass says they are reassessing and are looking at shaking up their core. This is after a division championship, though bowing out in the first round three of four years. By this rationale, the Mariners are long overdue for at least a shakeup.

For now, I'm hoping the Canucks don't blow up as much as the Mariners do. Remember when the Mariners were a good team?

Posted by: David at May 13, 2004 02:04 AM

I agree that the Stanely Cup playoffs are great, but I can't help wondering if the number of teams who qualify and the length of time it takes to get to the finals are the reason that so much of the regular season hockey seems like pre-season.

There's just not enough intensity in regular season hockey. Too many really dull games with half empty stands.

By the way, I'm rooting for San Jose, but doesn't look good for them.

Posted by: John at May 13, 2004 08:08 AM

I'm a hockey diehard myself, but I can't stand the trend of franchise expansion and relocation. Hockey is meant to be played in cities where the temperature actually drops below freezing in the winter. Minnesota to Dallas? Winnipeg to Phoenix? Hartford to North Carolina? Ick, ick and ick. The NHL's business plan for the last decade or so has basically been designed to punish anyone who actually likes hockey.

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at May 13, 2004 05:37 PM
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