Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Hockey anyone?

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 23, 2008

How many of you out there know that the Stanley Cup Finals begin tomorrow?  Is anyone out there aware that this could be as exciting a series to decide hockey’s champion in quite some time?  There is no question that hockey has been an afterthought on the sports landscape for quite some time, particularly since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.  It is hard for the game to get exposure when the national telecasts are relegated to Versus instead of being on ESPN, especially when many fans still have a hard time finding Versus on their cable system, or in some cases still haven’t heard of the channel.  ESPN is much more interested in pumping the NBA on Sportscenter, making a big show of the NBA playoffs while giving the NHL a tiny fraction of time, even with the Finals being on the horizon.  In some ways I can’t blame them, of course they’re going to promote games that they broadcast.  That being said, the lack of coverage given to the NHL is downright alarming sometimes.  I have a hard time finding just a simple highlight many times during the regular season.  The networks say this is because hockey ratings are low, but I say it’s a two way street.  Ratings are going to be low if people are not familiar with the product.  Blame of course falls on the league marketing department as well, but it can’t help the NHL that it’s listed below NASCAR and golf on ESPN.com.  As a fan of the game, I want to see it given the treatment of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in terms of national coverage.  It is my hope that this Stanley Cup Finals matching the Red Wings and the Penguins, a matchup with considerably more sex appeal than the previous three combined (Ducks-Senators, Hurricanes-Oilers and Lightning-Flames before the lockout), will be a kick start of sorts for the league.  I believe this matchup is quite a bit more entertaining than the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Pistons and Celtics, and will be compelling enough that the casual sports fan will want to at the very least take a look.  If nothing else I have two words that makes this series a must see: Sidney Crosby.

In short, Crosby is by far the best player in the league.  He’s already in his third season with the Penguins despite being just 20 years old, and has already scored 99 regular season goals in his young career.  He is arguably the best player the game has seen since Wayne Gretzky.  I got the chance to seem him in person in November when the Penguins made an early season visit to the Pepsi Center to play the Avalanche, and needless to say he lived up to the hype, scoring two goals, both in spectacular fashion.  If the NHL were smart, they would be promoting his presence in the Finals everywhere because if they can get people to watch this series which is guaranteed to be exciting, the league just might be able to actually take some positive momentum into next season.  The fact that he and the Penguins are going against the best team in the league in Detroit makes the series even more compelling.  The Red Wings have plowed their way through the playoffs, and as one of the league’s Original Six franchises carry a lot of cachet to the series themselves.  This is not a ho hummer matchup folks, this will be a series that will be exciting because of the players on the ice, but also because it matches two of the more popular franchises in the league, two teams with a lot of tradition who have large fan followings compared to other teams. 

For the record, most experts are picking Detroit in a runaway.  I am picking the Penguins in seven, not because I just want to go against the grain, but because I think people are taking the Penguins for granted.  Sure, they’re young, but no one so far has had an answer for not only Crosby, but also for Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.  The Red Wings have dominated this postseason no question about it, and have all kinds of firepower themselves with Henrik Zetterberg leading the way.  I do believe that they would have had a tougher second round matchup against Colorado had the Avalanche not had half their team (literally) sidelined with various injuries and ailments (Full disclosure: I am an Avs fan, and while I don’t think they necessarily would have won the series, it would have been minimum six games had the Avs been healthy).  The player that really tore up the Avs, Johan Franzen, is out for the first two games against Pittsburgh and maybe more with an injury, so the Wings will be down one of their top playoff scorers.  Granted, the Wings rolled through the Dallas Stars without him, but the Stars don’t have near the offensive prowess the Penguins do.  The Penguins have rolled through their competition too and so far their so called playoff inexperience has not been a problem.  I see no reason why it would suddenly affect them in the Finals. 

Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch this series.  It might just make you (and the networks) realize that hockey belongs with the major sports.  Anyone who knows me knows I watch and follow the NFL, NBA, and MLB very regularly, and I love each of those leagues.  I just don’t feel that any of them are infinitely more exciting than the NHL to the point where hockey should be considered second tier.  To me, the NBA and NHL should be equal in coverage based on the time of year each league plays.  Particularly if the NBA Finals is Spurs-Pistons and the boring brand of basketball that comes with those team’s styles, it shouldn’t be a mystery to any sports fan why Wings-Penguins would be more exciting.  If the Penguins can win this series, perhaps Sidney Crosby can lead the NHL renaissance. 

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