Let's be honest, the big four of professional sports hasn't been the big four in a long time. The NHL fell out of that category by letting goons and dirty play annoy fans to the point that they stopped caring about the sport. It reached an all-time low when the league missed the entire 2004-2005 season to a lockout.
Well, with the NBA announcing today that they will begin their own lockout tomorrow, and the NFL isn't as close to a deal as some initially reported, the NHL has an opportunity this fall and winter to gain some ground.
The big question is whether the NHL can take advantage of the potential losses of these other sports' seasons when their games are on Versus and NBC.
As much as it pains me to say it, this won't happen. The NFL will have a season. It's way too much money for these players and owners not to come together and get something done. The NBA may not have a season, but I don't think their fans are really going to flock to NHL arenas as a substitute for their basketball fix. Rather, fans will probably pay closer attention to college basketball, as the NCAA has more games on major networks like ESPN.
On the bright side, the NHL may be on the right track to gaining more attention. Colin Campbell is gone (Best sports firing of 2011?). OK, so he technically resigned, but we all know Gary Bettman just got sick of having to defend the dumbass. The league is also going to look at ways to eliminate dangerous hits to the head, which could also help reduce retaliation fights that scare non-diehard fans away from the game.
The NHL has also shown that they are open to new ideas. They had players draft the All-Star teams this year. It was really boring, as the captains were boring. The most entertaining part of the night was when Kris Letang tripped going to his seat.
The end result kinda sucked, but at least they did something different. Now they are talking realignment to stir up the pot. I love the idea. But it won't happen this season, when they have an opportunity to gain new fans. They need an idea this year.
One thing that would make the game more fun to watch is making the playing surface as big as the International ices. It won't happen, but it would open up the game and make it easier for people to watch on television.
I would also like helmet cams on players. OK, this one is ridiculous but wouldn't it have been great to see what Brooks Orpik was seeing when he destroyed Steven Stamkos in Game 1 of the playoffs?
On a more serious note, let's spice up the All-Star game a little more. Have players challenge others to competitions. Let's see Ovechkin challenge Crosby to a shoot out contest. Let them pick their opponents for different events and hope that some fun smack talk ensues.
Clearly I will never be running or working for a league. My ideas are not very good. But the NHL needs to do something with the opportunity they have been presented, especially if the NFL misses any time. People will be frustrated with the NBA and NFL. The NHL needs to fill that void with great hockey and fun ideas to reach new fans.
Of course, with Bettman running the ship, chances are the league will somehow find a way to harm itself and turn off more people from the game. At least Campbell is gone!
Mumford and Sons - Winter Winds