by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (5-31-13)
[Part One - 'Now with Real Value']
The NHL now rewards a point for overtime losses, so each individual regular season game's effect on the end is so minuscule it is comical. Albeit a lockout-shortened year, in 2013 the New York Islanders lost 24 of their 48 games. In the West, Detroit also came up short in 24 of their 48 games. Both of these teams comfortably made the playoffs. In fact, Detroit was on the brink of making the Stanley Cup Finals. The Islanders and Red Wings each lost half of their respective regular season games, either in regulation or in overtime...and it really didn't mean squat.
No matter how hard guys are playing or how into it the crowd is, the ultimate test of a game is still going to be the game's worth. If you're attending a sporting event, ask yourself how much this specific win matters to the two teams. A playoff hockey win is up near the very top; a game seven victory is the pinnacle. A regular season hockey game is whatever the opposite of pinnacle is: the nadir, AKA rock bottom.
So do we congratulate the NHL for getting the more important half of their sport right or shouldn't we be striving to legitimize the other half, the longer half, the larger than 50% half?
I have to congratulate the NHL on nailing their post season. Hockey is the least popular of the major American sports and yet its post season is probably the most thrilling, for those that actually tune in. I'd argue that if the NHL could do what you're asking, increase and legitimize the regular season to any degree, the sport would sky rocket in popularity and potentially over take the other sports in time. Stay with me. I don't watch hockey, but I think hockey is awesome to watch. This is a fixable problem for the NHL.
Hockey combines the nonstop action of basketball, the difficulty in scoring of baseball and the aggressiveness and hitting of football into one. And then everyone wears skates. How awesome! I love seeing the Yankees play in person, but nothing has topped a hockey game for all around fun and excitement in the arena. Take all of that into the playoffs and the NHL has got it down. Except America only sort of cares for two reasons. First is what you mentioned about the insignificant regular season. The other reason is the absurdly poor manor in which the league has dragged its fans through multiple lockouts in recent memory. Bad management will sink a ship every single time. But we can set that aside and tackle the regular season which no one cares about. The NFL is currently immune to this, having a small number of games in total. The MLB and NBA both deal with this, however, to varying degrees of success.
What the NHL is missing are stars. Star players keep the NBA relevant throughout the regular season even when the games mean little to nothing. And star players have always driven baseball. But the NHL lacks cache and star power. Its made strides in recent years, don't get me wrong, but the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings won the last two Stanley Cups and those victories barely resonated outside the cities themselves. When the Lakers or Celtics win the title, the entire country takes notice. Same goes for the Red Sox and Dodgers. Something is missing.
I agree something is missing, but you missed what it is. A lack of stars is not the problem. Sidney Crosby is one of the most famous hockey players of the past few decades. Alex Ovechkin is a famous man; so are Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Lundqvist. Perhaps the problem is a lack of American stars; that argument I'd buy. I don't even know who the most famous American in the NHL is...
By the way, I absolutely nailed the spelling of all those names. I only looked them up afterwards to make sure they were correct and BAM, zero mistakes! That might have something to do with this problem as well; if you can't spell someone's name or pronounce it correctly, doesn't it make you less likely to talk about them?
You also are off-base about the lockouts hurting the league. That is only the case if the fans weren't that interested to begin with. Has a single person not returned to the NFL or NBA after their lockouts? Lockouts do not turn fans away if the product is still desirable. And that is a fact that has played itself out in front of our very eyes.
You did get one thing right though: the NHL hits a lot of the desirable qualities a sport should have. Unless they revamp the entire system of how many regular season games, how many teams make the playoffs, how points are awarded, etc. I don't think this problem is going away though.
I don't want to sound naive or misinformed here but, watching these past few playoff rounds, I noticed another problem that is ingrained in my mind now. Don't all hockey games look and feel the same?
Every scoring chance is either an odd-man break or a power play. I don't know enough about the sport to notice nuances of offensive game plans. And the same thing could be argued about the NBA if you replace odd-man breaks and power plays with pick and rolls and isolations. BUT STILL! The NHL has a fun product but, to the casual fan, a lot of it looks the same and gets repetitive.
Sitting in front of my television during the game sevens of the Western Conference semi-finals, a sudden realization hit me. I was enthralled not by the play but really only by the stakes. It was game seven! Winner goes to the conference finals! And the Wings-Blackhawks went to OT! Sudden death! It was exciting only because of what was at stake; I could take or leave what was actually happening on the ice...which seems like a whole other problem that could only be solved by becoming an informed, die-hard fan. No thank you.