Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
There was a funny story in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday morning, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings' Game 7 date with the defending champion Blackhawks. In it, it was posited that if they were to advance, moving to their second Stanley Cup Final in three years, then maybe this would finally be enough to “close the popularity gap” between the Kings and Los Angeles' more famous teams.
The Lakers were miserable this year, the Dodgers are decent but not great, and the Clippers are currently the second-most embarrassed franchise in North American professional sports (thanks, Dan Snyder!) and so maybe this run to postseason glory, such as it was constituted before last night, might get the job done.
But here's the thing, right? The Kings won a Stanley Cup two years ago. We were told at the time that such an accomplishment was going to make them popular in their local market. How are they not seen as legitimate? How would a second Cup in such a short time make them more so? This was their third straight Western Conference Final. No team has been to three straight Conference Finals since the Red Wings from 2007-09, and they're rightly regarded as being one of the two or three best teams in the salary cap era.
The point is that the Kings are never going to have the mainstream popularity, even in their own market, of the Lakers or Dodgers. They could win 10 Stanley Cups in a row. It's never going to happen.
Even now, their TV ratings for the year are extremely low — as of late February, they were 27th in the league in this regard — but it doesn't really matter.
As much as we hate to admit it, the NHL is still an extremely parochial sport that's more reliant on gate receipts than television money, and while it's making gains in some warm-weather markets, this is probably the best we can hope for when it comes to a lot of those teams.
But it doesn't matter. In terms of total attendance, the Kings finished eighth in the league this season at more than 19,000 people per night, almost 108 percent of the Staples Center's capacity. As far as the league is concerned, they're more than carrying their own weight, and if only a few hundred thousand people in the greater Los Angeles area are diehards, what, in the end, is the difference?
Would it be good for the team and the league if the Kings were a city-wide phenomenon? Of course it would. But it would also be good for the league if hockey became the most popular sport in the world, and that likewise will never take place. And besides, if Wayne Gretzky — who it must be said never delivered a Cup to the city — didn't establish them as being the second- or third-most popular team in town, then it can be argued nothing will.
Further, there's the fact that within 10 or 20 years, the NHL probably won't be considered one of the “major sports leagues” in North America, given the way in which soccer's popularity has swelled of late, and the growing quality of Major League Soccer's product (which still has a long way to go).
Again, the Kings aren't a charity case. They generate big enough revenues and sell out every night, so the fretting about, “What does this MEAN?” seems a little misplaced. Five years ago, they were 22nd in attendance, behind Carolina and Tampa. Through winning — and that's all you ever really need to turn things around — they've pushed themselves into the league's top-10 in revenue (and while it's generally agreed that Forbes' numbers are always a little dubious, top-10 for a team selling that many seats and with a strong TV deal, signed after they won their Cup, sounds about right).
There will always be skepticism about the efficacy of having teams south of the Mason-Dixon line, from you-know-where, because the fact is that the vast majority of them are lagging in attendance and have for a long time. One need look no deeper than the numbers in Phoenix and Florida and Dallas to say there are many teams in this only somewhat successful era of recent expansion (nine new teams from 1991-2000, most of which haven't done particularly well; one having already moved) which remain dependent upon revenue-sharing and haven't generated much in the way of real, viable hockey markets.
But this isn't just a “places where it's hot and sunny a lot” problem. It wasn't so long ago that unsuccessful Canadian teams were packing up and heading south at the first available opportunity, because attendance was dropping precipitously and the Canadian dollar was weak — and don't look now but it's not doing so well these days either. All that talk about how Canada loves hockey to absolute pieces that we hear any time anything even remotely noteworthy happens in the sport (take for example this overwrought, dumb-assed, pandering tweet about last night's game) sure has been nice the last few years while the U.S. economy has been in the toilet.
But what about the Senators' finances? Remember when the Flames almost moved 14 years ago? Or the Oilers two years ago? If the Jets' arena were bigger than 15,000, would we be talking about their attendance problems, either now or five more years of losing in the future?
Very few markets sell every seat when a team is terrible; and some don't even do that when a team is good. Pittsburgh, now considered one of the best hockey markets in the league, used to draw 12,000 a night and almost either folded or moved. The best way for a hockey team, regardless of its location, to be popular is to win. Plain and simple. The Kings win a whole lot, and as a consequence they do a lot better than just about every team in the league in terms of bringing in money. Not that some places aren't more apt to take to hockey than others, but sports are about bandwagons first and foremost, and the Kings' is currently quite large and would continue to be so regardless of whether they won a Stanley Cup this year.
That's all the NHL cares about, and that's all anyone should care about. Talk about moving Phoenix or Florida all you want, but the Kings are fine, and they're going to be for a while.
What We Learned
Calgary Flames: The Flames say they're “looking for hockey players” with their first round pick. The good news is that they're at least in the right sport to do it. The bad news is you can only take one guy with that pick, no plurals.
Dallas Stars: The Stars' AHL affiliate is currently playing in the Western Conference Finals with the... Toronto Marlies? I feel like I need to break out a map here but that doesn't feel like it could be right at all.
Florida Panthers: There's seriously so much intrigue about the Panthers' first-overall pick that other team's don't know how to handle it. Will they trade it? Will they draft a forward ahead of Aaron Ekblad if they keep it? While people talk about this kind of thing every year, I can't remember the last time there was this much legitimate speculation about what a team was going to do.
Los Angeles Kings: Uh sorry but Quick was awful in this series. The only way he was an anchor was in the traditional sense that he weighed them down.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: It probably would be good for the organization if Peter Laviolette does well as the team's coach, rather than bad.
New Jersey Devils: Oh my god imagine if Martin Brodeur was back with the Devils next year. Oh my goddddddd.
Ottawa Senators: Yes, Kyle Turris probably is ready to be a full-time No. 1 center (he got the toughest usage of any Senators center last season and did well with it). But they're going to trade Jason Spezza regardless, so thanks for asking.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Still the talk persists about Pierre McGuire GMing the Penguins. Can you imagine the joy for everyone who is not a Penguins fan?
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are going to be in the market for scoring help this summer, and only like five months too late!
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts will be picking both 19th and either 28th or 29th, depending on where the Rangers finish, which has to make them feel better about flaming out so spectacularly (if understandably) in the first round. Now taking bets on whether they package them and try to move up, or trade them for help next year.
Vancouver Canucks: It's amazing to me that no one in Vancouver sees the team for what they are: The Flames three years ago. All the parallels are there: Over-reliance on aging but still effective players, getting rid of a highly-paid team official and having him shockingly and immediately go on to huge success elsewhere, generally being bad but thinking they shouldn't be, and so on.
Play of the Weekend
Patrick Kane in video game mode on Friday:
Gold Star Award
Game 7 could have been nothing but the teams ping-ponging the puck back and forth between blue lines for 60 minutes and this would have still been the best playoff series we've seen in a long, long time.
Minus of the Weekend
On the other hand, I think we can all agree Las Vegas expansion would be embarrassing.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “DougGilmour93” is all over it.
Don't be such a boob-punch.
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