As I'm here sitting down on a warm, summer night and Hockey entrenched in the offseason, I'm thinking about the state of the NHL and how can the league improve. Ever since the lockout, Hockey in general has really plummeted when it came to casual viewers in the U.S. Understandable in a way, because any sport that takes a leave of absence for a long period of time is going to take a hit in a negative way. Today, Hockey is still arguably the 4th sport out of the four major sports in the U.S. I hear people constantly bickering about that issue and how it's not fair, but the fact of the matter is, Hockey is just not that popular in the mainstream audience. Why waste your breath about something like that?
Now, me being a person that bleeds Hockey and will watch any Hockey game on TV, it sucks that Hockey isn't one of the top sports, but I don't really care whether it is a top sport or not. I love Hockey so much and while I'd love to see it thrive and gobble up more fans in to the game, it's not like I'll stop watching if it doesn't get higher ratings from non-Hockey fans. If you can't get non-Hockey fans to start watching hockey now, what makes you think you can do it now? This is one of the biggest issues I have with Gary Bettman, and I haven't even gotten to him yet. The solution to this whole clusterfudge would be to improve the sport by caring about the people that love Hockey, the ones who pay tons of money to see a great product and support the game and their favorite teams. Not to mention the fact that they take their precious time when they could be doing something else productive by either driving to a game or watching a game on their TV sets. They're the important people that you need to keep the sport going and going strong for that matter. You don't, and I repeat, you don't want to lose the people that are already fans of your sport by trying to attract non-Hockey fans. That is extremely important because that is a case of high risk, high reward. You either end up at the top of the world, or falling flat on your face like a total idiot. I've always had an issue with people wanting Hockey to be more popular than the other sports. Why? Who really cares if Hockey is more popular to non-Hockey fans than a certain other sport? If anything, we should make an alliance and seperate ourselves from the rest and do our thing. What makes Hockey such a great sport is the fact that the fans can interact in a way that other sports can't even sniff to save their lives. That is very, very priceless and that is something that means a lot to me.
As I foreshadowed earlier, I was going to talk about Gary Bettman. He's like a bully who you just want to punch the lights out of. He irks many Hockey fans in ways that are unimaginable. There are so many things that he has done to degrade the NHL. I could go on and on about that snarky lil' fellow. The television pact, salary cap, marketing when it comes to certain players, blah, blah, blah. There are countless people that are gunning for his head, and Bettman deserves every single part of it. Here in Delaware, I have met maybe a few hockey fans that are only fans of the Flyers because they play not far from Delaware. I live right in the middle of the First State, and they're may be a few more hockey fans up north in Delaware, but I may be the only real Hockey fan in Delaware. It sucks living in a place where there are no hockey fans, no one that you can relate to when it comes to Hockey. Gary Bettman has done a terrible job as the commish of the NHL. There are no two ways about that. If you seriously take time to think about Gary Bettman and the type of person he is, do you really think he's a Hockey fan? It's a no-brainer in my opinion, he doesn't even look or act like a Hockey fan. I've said this on numerous occasions, but if you're even attempting to think about being a commisioner of a league, whether it's Hockey or what not, being a fan and having a pulse of the league helps a whole hell of a lot. Not only that, you need to be able to interact with the fans and know what their tastes are with the league. You may think that this means very little, but my goodness, this goes a long way because it can make a league look 10x better and cleaner. There are many hockey fans out there that are smarter than Gary Bettman and they would make great commisioners of the NHL. For the best of the sport, Mr. Bettman needs to get the pink slip.
Parity reigns in the NHL baby! It's amazing how there are so many competitive teams in the best sport in the world. Even if a team stinks up the joint one year, they don't become cellar-dwellers very long because they become competitive rather quickly. Look at Baseball, it's mind-blowing how the Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't made the playoffs in a million years...ok, ok, ok, you get the point though. Those teams finish last every single god darned year and yet they never improve. Same in Basketball and Football. However, in Hockey, the talent is so rich that a team can have a craptacular season and come back to contend for playoff spots the next season. With good free agent signings, good scouting and a good mix of players, an NHL team can easily make it back to the playoffs, or at least make it back to contention. That's why Hockey is such a fun, entertaining sport. Hockey is the one sport that makes your heart swell, it's amazing what these players do, if the NHL just had a better commish, think about how far it could go, not necessarily main-stream, but just in the Hockey world.
Hockey offseason absolutely sucks. Nice warm weather, but no hockey. I guess we gotta compromise, eh? However, there has been some interesting news and stuff going on in the Hockey world. There have been some big free agent signings, big trades and other interesting storylines. If I'm looking at who will be contenders in both the East and West, there will be the usuals and the sleepers. In the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be trying to defend their cup title, but a team like the Philadelphia Flyers could wreak some serious havoc with the big, mean, nasty Chris Pronger on board and with good goaltending from Ray Emery, who played in Russia, and Brian Boucher, a former Flyer that played for the Sharks last season, they could make serious noise. The Leafs revamped their defense in a huge way, by signing guys like Komisarek and Beauchemin, along with trading for Garnet Exelby. They could be a sleeper team in the East, but then again, with Brian Burke on board, I would erase the word "sleeper", and replace it with "door-knocking", because we know that Brian Burke is always out there voicing his opinion. In the West, I'm hoping the Sharks can make it to the Cup Finals. They're my second favorite team(Flyers being #1) and it's about time that a team other than the mighty Detroit Red Wings made it to the Finals. Chicago went out and shelled some big time chi-ching towards Marian Hossa, while the Flames traded for the big, lanky Jay Bouwmeester and the Oilers signing former Blackhawk netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. If there is one team that I'd watch out for, it'd be the Kings. They upgraded their team with veterans with cup experience by bringing in Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi. What makes it even better is that Scuderi has already won a cup, so he will be a huge help to that team. Not to mention the improving forwards like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and the defense with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Scuderi and possibly guys like Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert waiting in the wings. The Anaheim Ducks got a lot back in return for Chris Pronger, as they got Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and two first round picks. Saku Koivu will help their team offensively, and even with the big losses of Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin on defense, the Ducks are still a formidable team. At this point, I'd say that the Flyers would be slightly the best of the East, while the Wings are the best of the West, but a few teams are right on the cusp of the cup.
There is still plenty of time left in the offseason, more signings will occur and we'll see at some point how the rosters will shake out. With the schedule out, people are marking certain dates for when a big matchup occurs, like the first Penguins/Flyers matchup, opening night, and all the other doozies on the docket. Hockey is slowly rising and while there hasn't been a ton of news lately, we are shaping up to have a great season on the horizon.