When the NHL makes the cover of Sports Illustrated – even in 2013, when print journalism’s relevance has been diminished to somewhere between “quaint” and “Jurassic” – it’s still a big deal. Hockey’s usually only featured during the Olympics or the Stanley Cup Playoffs; in total, we’ve only had roughly 115 covers dedicated to hockey through the years. (Not counting our Create-An-SI-Cover gallery, of course.)
So hooray for hockey, hooray for the NHL and hooray for the Chicago Blackhawks for making the cut this week. But … seriously, SI?
Now, we’re judging a book by its cover – literally. We haven't read the story yet. But as hockey fans, that's sorta what we do.
We’ll assume “THE FRANCHISE” also includes some references to Chicago’s rousing Stanley Cup victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, which was sandwiched between just-as-culturally-relevant victories by the Pittsburgh Penguins and, especially, the Boston Bruins whose combination did indeed elevate hockey's status in the U.S.
But if the story simply focuses on the Blackhawks’ record point-streak to start the season – 24 games without a regulation loss – there’s pretty much no way to increase the preposterous hyperbole here unless the editors appended “... And Cured Cancer In the Process” to the headline.
A few facts about the NHL in 2013, which so desperately needed the Blackhawks to save it:
• Attendance after the lockout returned to pre-lockout levels immediately, and is currently outpacing those levels in several cities.
• NBC keeps setting record after record on its airwaves with NHL hockey, with many of the games not featuring the Chicago Blackhawks, Saviors of Puck.
• Hence, outside of a few lockout curmudgeons in Chicago, did this streak bring anyone or anything back to the NHL?
• The Blackhawks' record, although a point of intrigue and interest as it grew, remained nebulous to the majority of casual sports fans, for whom we suppose this cover story is geared. “Most games from the start of the season without a regulation loss and/or with at least one point gained” isn’t a “Winning Streak” or “Undefeated Streak”, the bite-sized labels casuals need in order to consume something in a sport they’re normally repelled by.
Read it again; it’s the most hockey-est of hockey records.
It might as well be named “Gord.”
Yes, the NHL was all but dead three months ago. Then came … the end of the lockout, and with it the fans, back to the NHL. We brought hockey back. And, honestly, many of us didn’t give a toss about the Blackhawks’ record until the San Jose Sharks stopped keeping pace with them, and many of us still didn’t pay attention until it hit 20 games.
You know who else paid attention at around 20 games? ESPN, in the form of that inane Stephen A. Smith “HOCKEY HAS TIES” rant; which begot coverage from Sports Illustrated; which begot coverage from other mainstream outlets like the non-hockey side of Y! Sports.
So if Sports Illustrated's case is that the Blackhawks helped bring the NHL mainstream coverage from outlets that will quickly again forget its existence until the next incident of abject violence or the Stanley Cup Final (whichever comes first), then … nailed it!
But if SI is actually claiming the Blackhawks’ record chase was akin to the holy trinity of Cal Ripken/the Yankees/steroids that rescued baseball from its death in 1994 … please. MLB was in the coroner’s office after the World Series was cancelled. The NHL’s last lockout wasn’t even its worst in the last decade!
The Blackhawks provided a fun ride. But the only things to which they brought hockey back were the lips of Stephen A. Smith and the cover of Sports Illustrated.
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