There are points during the year when we can take a step back and look at how our team is doing. Maybe we’ll look at the division, conference or league standings with a different perspective to see if things are going the way we expected. But sometimes, we need to take a step back and look at the health of our league and game as a whole. How is the NHL doing in the greater sports landscape?
I recently asked one of my good friends what he thought of the NHL. He’s your typical sports fan: he loves just about every sport and likes hockey as much as the average fan in the States. When I asked him what he thought as an outsider, his answer was telling. “I don’t know man… the same I guess.” If you’re a doomsdayer, it shows that things aren’t as bad as you think they are. If you’re an optimist with your head buried in the sand like Gary Bettman, things aren’t booming like you think they are. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
In honor of the President of the United States delivering his annual State of the Union address and the hype machine that has been revolving around it all week, I figured it was time to put all of this to good use. It’s interesting how many of the President’s talking points can be applied to today’s NHL. We’ll look at how a speech about the economy, health care, technology, a stimulus package and the future can all be applied directly to the world of hockey.
Please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comment section some of the things that YOU think are going on in the hockey work today. What is making the league thrive? What is holding the NHL back? I’m sure there are plenty of ideas out there!
The Coyotes ownership situation has settled since the off-season with Ice Edge Holdings Group submitting a bid and presumably taking control of the team by next season. Their original plan called for “home” games in Saskatchewan to maximize the profitability of games against the likes of the Oilers and Flames. Ice Edge’s intentions are still up in the air—but at least the team looks like it’s going to be owned by someone other than the NHL. The situation could be worse.
After the much-publicized bankruptcy hearing to determine ownership for the Phoenix Coyotes, there have been a few stories slipping out about teams remaining solvent and moving to greener pastures. Ilya Kovalchuk is most likely on the move because the Thrashers aren’t willing to spend the type of money that he’s looking for long-term. Also, he wants the security of knowing that the franchise will be running (and in Atlanta) by the end of his potential 10+ year contract.
Since then, the Thrashers management has been openly shopping the Russian sniper—but demanding current NHLers in return as to show their fan base that they aren’t simply giving up. Can you imagine an NFL player refusing to re-sign with his current team because he’s unsure that the team will be in town for the duration of the contract?
Speaking of teams staying in town, the repeated problems on Long Island with the Lighthouse Project can’t be what George Wang had in mind when he bought the Islanders. As more time passes, one has to wonder if Kate Murray will ever step aside to let the project proceed. Commissioner Bettman is already on record stating that SOMETHING needs to be done about Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. So if not the Lighthouse Project, then what is the next step for the organization? Stay tuned.
We’re not talking about the kind of package that Patrick Kane was trying to use to stimulate women in Vancouver.
If you want to know where the NHL should be devoting its resources to stimulate growth, look no further than the big 46” box that’s sitting in your living room. Unfortunately, there are serious problems in every corner of the television universe for hockey.
- Versus vs. DirecTV: There’s absolutely no question that this is one of the most embarrassing situations for the NHL today. DirecTV is the biggest satellite provider in the United States—yet hasn’t carried the NHL’s broadcast partner all season because of a prolonged right’s fee dispute. We’re 4 months into the standoff and DirecTV customers are still missing games every Monday and Tuesday night. There are rumors that there will be a resolution before April—but can you imagine if the playoffs started and a sizeable percentage of the United States couldn’t see the games? As if the NHL on Versus didn’t produce enough jokes as it was.
- NBC’s ratings were down for this year’s Winter Classic in Boston. Casual fans would tune in to see a rink in Fenway, but would stay to see superstars doing super things. Alexander Ovechkin would have helped—but the powers that be at the Peacock insisted on the Flyers for better ratings. Then again, this is the same network that just gave the boot to Conan O’Brien so he could be replaced by a man that goes by “The Chin.” Then again, how much damage can NBC do when they only televise 10 games per year?
- ESPN continues to not mention hockey games until 40 minutes into their SportsCenter broadcast and overall ignore the sport. Then again, they let Barry Melrose continue his 20 minute podcast once a week. Yeah, the NHL’s presence with the Worldwide Leader is awe-inspiringly bad.
- The less publicized cousin to the Versus dispute with DirecTV is the current problems that Dish Network subscribers are having in certain markets with Fox Sports. Fox Sports Southwest is not broadcasting all of the Stars games in Dallas; likewise Fox Sports Midwest isn’t broadcasting all of the Blues games in St. Louis. Here’s the kicker: they’re televising the game—just not distributing the games on Dish Network. Nothing says sensible and stable television packaging like squabbling networks and distributors.
The NHL might be clueless with television, but they certainly know what they’re doing on the interwebs. The NHL’s New Media department was one of the first high-profile organizations to utilize Twitter Lists to mobilize and organize the sport’s fan base. In addition to Twitter, the league has a thriving community on their Facebook page. NHL.com provides an avenue for fans to watch games through the GameCenter portal. Yeah, they have this internet thing down.
Something that has been on the backburner for a few years has been the increasing amount of headshots in the league. Interestingly enough, it might be two plays in JUNIOR hockey that serve as the catalyst to create real change.
Team Canada’s World Juniors captain Patrice Cormier had one of the worst elbows that hockey has seen in a quite a while on Mikael Tam. Soon thereafter, Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian was suspended for 20 games for his brutal headshots in his first game for the Windsor Spitfires.
The IIHF might be on the right track with their “any hit to the head is a penalty” policy. Who knows? Maybe the NHL owners and GMs might be motivated to do something about this before someone is SERIOUSLY injured.
The Hope of the Future
Every sport is always talking about how many young superstars they have stepping onto the scene. No one can compete with the quality of product that the young players in the NHL are bringing to the league. For the NHL, the next generation is here.
Not only are young players starting taking over the scoring leader board, but they’re developing into leaders as well. The fruits of the 2008 and 2009 drafts are getting better with every passing day. Guys like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, John Tavares and Tyler Myers are some of the most important players on their respective teams.
The players of the vaunted 2003 Draft are the ones that truly demonstrate the bright future of the NHL. They are developing into leaders on their team and superstars all over the league. Mike Richards, Dustin Brown and Eric Staal are already wearing the C. And those players—they’re only 23 or 24 years old.
The NHL has its fair share of problems—but there are some real bright spots as well. Young players are leading hockey into the next era of professional hockey. With the league’s use of various online outlets, they’re bringing the game to fans in new and exciting outlets. Not only that, they’re bringing fans together like never before.
Sometimes we get caught up on the things that could be fixed—but when we take a step back, things are going pretty well. The product on the ice is second-to-none and with so many teams in the playoff mix, the regular season looks like it will provide an exciting finish all over North America.
I’m sure if you want to hear anything more about the traditional State of the Union, you can check out CNN, Fox News or Comedy Central—depending on your level of interest. Just don’t go to ESPN or Versus (DirecTV customers), because they won’t have anything for you.
Yes, the NHL still has problems too.