No league’s postseason has the volatility that the NHL does year in and year out. This year before the Conference Finals even got started the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins with Gold medalist Sidney Crosby were sent home, along with the regular season’s best team, the Washington Capitals, and arguably the best sports franchise of the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings. Or in the likely words of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman… “Yikes!”
The league was hoping to capitalize on all of the great attention the Vancouver Olympics had garnered with a strong showing and a boost in their ratings and the Q scores of their stars. But the two brightest lights, the only two men the league has really gotten behind from a marketing standpoint, are now both watching the playoffs on television with the rest of us. Will the 2010 NHL playoffs thrive or suffer without Crosby and Alex Ovechkin?
After the Olympics were over I wondered if the NHL could capitalize on Olympic hockey buzz. In talking about the opportunity to create more prominent stars from those games, I wrote: Let’s see more of these guys. You can’t just ride Crosby and Ovechkin, as great and as marketable as they and the rivalry between them and their teams are.
Now is the NHL’s chance to do just that. The problem is that goaltender Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and dynamic scorer Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, the two best candidates to break through and remain in the national spotlight, were both sent home before anybody could get a closer look.
But all is not without hope for the NHL and the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks, an Original Six franchise, are in the Western Conference Finals. They have a handful of Olympic players, including young American star Patrick Kane.
Another Original Six franchise, the Montreal Canadiens, is in the Eastern Conference Finals already, a much needed playoff run for a Canadian franchise. Pending the results of the Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers series, it’s possible that three of the four final teams will be from the Original Six.
At the worst, you have two Original Six clubs, including the golden Canadiens franchise, the intriguing number 1 seed underdog San Jose Sharks, and a prominent East coast market to work with. That’s not a bad cast, even if there is no Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
So go ahead NHL, make my day. Turn Patrick Kane into another star for your league. Boost hockey interest in the major markets with Original Six fandom. Put on an exciting show with talented players. It’s all there to be taken, but we’ll have to wait until the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are over with to see if the league thrived or if instead it plodded along per usual, muttering about the misfortune of both the Penguins and the Capitals being eliminated.