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Monday, February 14, 2005

Sports: Bye-Bye, NHL... 

The Stanley Cup won't be going anywhere in 2005, as NHL execs will cancel the entire season within the next few days.

Having suffered through a similar situation with baseball in 1994, I feel bad for all of the NHL fans out there. But do I feel bad about the NHL's absence? Not at all. In fact, the only time I even notice the league isn't playing is when they mention it on the news.

Hockey people are making a huge mistake. They need to realize that their league is one rung up from Major League Soccer and barely among the top ten sports that people in America care about. And before we start talking about the Canadians, remember that if that country could support the NHL, then the majority of its teams wouldn't have relocated south of the Great Lakes in the past decade.

The NHL is done. It was a neat fad back in the mid-90s. The league regained major sport status with an ESPN contract, Wayne Gretzky brought the sport some exposure in SoCal and labor issues in baseball and image issues in basketball gave the NHL an opportunity to showcase its stars and teams on the big stage. The Red Wings and Avalanche fueded WWF-style in sports' best rivalry of the day, and with teams sprouting up in non-traditional areas, and an influx of fun video games, the league suddenly saw a Spice Girls-esque explosion on American pop culture.

The NHL just couldn't keep it up. They tried to capitalize on the game's popularity with over-expansion, thus diluting the product. Television ratings have plummeted to abysmal depths it seems that every team is on the verge of bankruptcy. On top of that baseball's late 90's Renaissance relegated the NHL back to second-tier status, and with more than a century of Americana behind it, the national pasttime is much too formidable for ice hockey.

The simple fact is that few people south of the Mason-Dixon line really care about the NHL anymore. Folks in the Northeast and Midwest still love the game, but the fervor in the warm-weather areas melted away, and what's left will probably be gone once the NHL finally resumes in the Fall. Without that base of support, the NHL reverts back to the regional game that it once was. That's not good for the NHL and it's not good for hockey in America. Sadly, for real fans of the game, it's the reality that the sport faces now, and it will be enhanced by not playing this season.

As for myself, the sun is out, the temperatures are rising, and one sport's death means that it's time for another's rebirth. Forget the NHL. It's time to play ball.


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