Somewhere, Gary Bettman is banging his head against a wall.
Like most hockey fans not based in New Jersey, it’s unlikely that Mr. Bettman is thrilled with the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final.
While no one from the league offices would ever admit to this, it had to be a huge disappointment that the New Jersey Devils prevailed over the New York Rangers. Had the Rangers been able to join the Kings in the Finals, the NHL would’ve had a dream matchup to end their season.
Instead, they are left with a mediocre one.
After saying this, let me be clear this isn’t a knock on the Devils. Obviously, New Jersey deserves to be there after ousting the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Rangers. There’s simply no disputing that.
However, in terms of what would’ve been best for the NHL, there’s no doubt that it would have been a Kings-Rangers series.
A series between Los Angeles and New York would have involved two of the biggest markets in the U.S. Anytime markets as big as New York and Los Angeles are involved it is simply more likely to attract the common fan and thus generate higher ratings and more revenue for the NHL in the long run. The NHL is no different from any other sport in their desire to showcase their big market teams.
Just think about it for a second. Would a casual fan rather watch a Super Bowl between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins or a Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars? Would a casual fan rather watch a NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks or between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors? Again, this isn’t to knock small markets, but the answers are pretty obvious aren’t they?
Just look at the teams the NHL has chosen for its Winter Classic. Aside from the Buffalo Sabres, there isn’t a small market team among them.
In fact, the NHL has chosen to put three of its marquee franchises in the game twice (Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) as opposed to allowing a smaller market team a chance to play in the game. The league has yet to throw teams like the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Phoenix Coyotes a bone and let them play on the big stage. It wouldn’t be a smart business decision because it wouldn’t generate the same interest in the game that the more well known teams are able to.
So, if it was up to the NHL, you can bet that they would’ve chosen the Rangers over the Devils without thinking twice about it. Besides being located in Newark and lacking the intrigue of the Big Apple, New Jersey is just not an exciting team for the casual fan to watch.
Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are both talented players, but that’s all the Devils have up front with regards to star power. Martin Brodeur is long past his prime and isn’t the player he once was. The Devils defensemen are solid as a group, but no one player stands out. Compare that group with the Rangers and it’s clear that New York would’ve been a bigger draw due to players like Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, and Henrik Lundqvist.
Again, the Devils were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference and should give the Kings a run for their money. New Jersey plays a strong team game, forechecks relentlessly, and has more offensive firepower than Devils’ teams of the past.
For the serious NHL fan, a Kings-Devils matchup should prove to be an interesting one.
Unfortunately for the NHL, just not the one they were hoping for.
At least, for the sake of the walls in Mr. Bettman’s office, they avoided a Devils-Coyotes final.