What is going on in the hockey world? The hockey is great and some TV ratings are up. Corporate dollars appear to be returning to the NHL and overall interest appears to be growing.
Sounds like some sort of conspiracy to me!
It’s great news in Phoenix. All those people in white T-shirts and people in Winnipeg taking credit for the white out. By my recollection, the Jets created the white-out in the mid-1990s, but it was the spring of 1986 in Calgary when the then PR man for the Flames came up with an idea to distract the Edmonton Oilers in a second-round series. Al Coates, who became the Flames GM in later years, was the inventor of the Sea (or “C”) of Red at the Saddledome that year. He had asked Don Wittman, who was announcing the playoff games for HNIC, to tell the fans to wear red when the series returned to Calgary for Game 3. It was a roller-coaster, seven-game series that ended with Steve Smith’s bank shot off of teammate Grant Fuhr, mid-way through the third period of the last game. The Flames went on to lose their first Stanley Cup final appearance in five games to Montreal, but a tradition was born.
Speaking of strange goals, it won’t surprise me if the Sharks go on a major playoff run now after Dan Boyle’s shot (and Ryan O’Reilly’s deflection) ended Game 3 against Colorado. The Sharks seemed to learn something from the mistake and grew stronger through the last three games, not losing to the Avalanche again. And mind you, they won round one without point production from Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley. For Sharks fans, one can only hope the coaches see something out of the ‘Big 3’ that you and I don’t.
Mentioned earlier that TV ratings are up, but there needs to be a little light shed on those numbers. Versus is discussing very good ratings in the first round with 731,000 and 739,000 viewers nationally in the US. Those numbers do not include the local markets, where the network is still blacked-out. So, in fact, that is very positive. The numbers are, however, quite small for a nation of more than 100,000,000 households. By comparison, the Toronto Maple Leafs exceeded the 800,000-viewer mark a total of five times during the regular season, on a regional basis which would be measured in approximately 35 per cent of Canada’s 11,000,000 households.
Lots of numbers, I know, but growth in the U.S. is relative to the small, passionate fan base. It is also very reflective of an audience that follows a particular team, rather than NHL hockey. Fans in Dallas, Carolina and St. Louis love their teams, but don’t necessarily like the sport. The league office is aware of this fact and is constantly trying to fix it.
Video review has been in the news almost as much as those too many men on the ice penalties. Speaking with a bit of an inside knowledge of how the process occurs, I feel the hockey operations group has done a commendable job during the playoffs. I also think that taking the time to do a thorough job is well worth the wait. When you consider the amount of money at stake, taking a few minutes to get it correct is the way to go, particularly when we will all roast them for days, weeks and months if we feel they got it wrong.
And finally, there are some stories that just won’t go away:
1. The Oilers’ house-cleaning will continue. Some key players will be moved, in hopes of acquiring another first-round choice.
2. Up to six teams throughout the US are struggling big time. The league has advanced some TV dollars and a percentage of revenue sharing that teams would normally get in September.
3. The Stars’ sale will occur this summer and one of the potential ownership groups is led by a former Star. No, it’s not Brett Hull, but rather Jim Lites, the teams’ former president and the man who helped grow hockey throughout the state of Texas. That would be great news for the team and league.
4. The Winter Classic will be in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011. With the Steelers playing at home on December 23rd, it would make it a tight turnaround. Do-able for Dan Craig and his portable ice surface, but it would eliminate any chance of the locals skating on the rink. That was a key to the success of the event at Fenway. The baseball stadium down the street might make more sense.
5. The rumours of dressing room friction in Philadelphia have gone away for now. It’s supposed to be the old guard led by Chris Pronger against the Young guns led by Mike Richards. Not much time was spent on the gossip in the first round when the team defeated New Jersey in five games. Once again, winning solves everything.