The NHL playoffs are always great for those who actually watch them. Even those would say that hockey is no longer one of the "4 major sports" in America would agree there is nothing quite like the Quest for the Cup.
But when talking about showcasing the league's product and consequentially helping the NHL gain market share and visibility in the long run to help the league, both financial-wise and respectability-wise, this could be the best playoff the NHL has had in awhile. And with all due respect to the fans north of the border, I'm talking about the NHL in the US as that's where the popularity of the game can really grow and therefore the money and ratings grow as well.
New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, and even include New Jersey since they're playing a local team in the mix of big markets in the Eastern Conference. Those cities are big enough to bring in ratings in their respective markets plus add in the marquee players on those squads (Crosby, Malkin, AO, Jagr, Briere, just to name a few) and that should lead to interest across the board in the East.
No offense to those clubs or cities, but we all know Gary Bettman & Co. would much rather have New York, Philly and Boston over Carolina, Buffalo and Tampa as playoff markets.
Detroit, Denver, Dallas are solid markets in the west and even the California teams have developed a loyal following (winning helps). There is also some star power out there with familiar names such as Modanno, Pronger etc (I'm talking about "familiar" to Joe Public, not us puckheads).
Factor in the Canadian teams who, while they won't help US ratings directly, will certainly draw buzz when people see a World-Cup-like crowd, and you have a great show coming up over the next 6 weeks.
It should draw numbers, respectable by regular standards and great by NHL standards, over the air even if its on Versus. Someone at the bar will turn it on. And THATs the crowd the NHL needs to capture.
Apparently, an ESPN deal will be announced during the Cup Finals. Of course those 4 magic letters will help tremendously. But this Playoff should certainly generate some much-needed buzz for the NHL leading into.
Please Versus, you don't have to be ESPN, just don't screw this up for us.
Mike Mreczko is the Flyers' reporter for 950 ESPN Philadelphia. Send questions or comments to [url][email protected]