Lord Stanley for the fans

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

So we all know (or will be reminded over and over) that a Stanley Cup finals matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames – two small-market teams, one with no tradition, the other in Alberta – is bad for television ratings, television revenues and television executives.

And this affects me how?

Look, I like TV as much as the next guy. I watch it every day. Have since I was a kid. But what the heck do I care if ABC is going to get fewer viewers than it would for some big-city matchup? It's not like I am an owner. And as long as the NHL stays on TV – which it is – who cares if the sport draws in new fans?

The Calgary Flames against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

For my money this should be fantastic, possibly the most exciting offensive series since the Rangers-Canucks in 1994.

If most Americans choose to ignore the series, so what? I doubt Disney is going out of business. Why the media makes such a big deal over television ratings – especially because Nielsen ridiculously uses the same ratings formula it has since the 1950s (no, TV hasn't changed at all since then) – is beyond me.

If you are a hockey fan, then this is the series to get excited about.

First off, there is no New Jersey. No offense (pun intended) to the Devils because I understand the name of the game is winning and who cares what style of play you use if you get to hoist the Cup at the end. That is fine for the organization, team and its fans.

But for the rest of us?

The Devils were perhaps the dullest team in hockey history. Worse yet, they were successful (three Cups and one other finals appearance in nine years), which meant copycats throughout the league adopted the neutral zone trap and bored fans to tears.

Last year's Devils-Mighty Ducks Cup matchup was truly historic. The teams were so conservative and so committed to trapping that a tight seven-game series was almost unwatchable. A 1-0 lead was practically insurmountable. It was like watching soccer, except without the grass growing as side entertainment.

No problem with neutral zone traps this time. Tampa Bay is the most energized team in the NHL, featuring an attacking style long on odd-man rushes and daring dashes to the net. The Lightning actually try to use speed and timing to skate past the opposition. They, get this, forecheck, rather than just hang out in the neutral zone looking for errant passes. Their power play actually works.

While Calgary is not as talented, it plays a fun, hard-hitting, hard-charging game. The Flames' propensity for wild, gritty victories (four playoff victories in OT) makes them one of the great edge-of-your-seat teams.

Then there is the fact that the two stars of the series, Tampa's Martin St. Louis and Calgary's Jarome Iginla, are brilliant offensive talents, not goaltenders. Take nothing from a guy like Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere – his job is to stop the puck and he is great at it – but watching a big, fundamentally sound goaltender with oversized pads doesn't cause many goose bumps.

There are a bunch of other storylines, too. With Colorado, Detroit and New Jersey – winners of eight of the last nine Cups – out, this is the start of a new era.

Tampa Bay, despite consecutive Southeast Division titles, would be a surprise champion because of its Florida location. Calgary is a small-market club hindered by the Canadian dollar. The Flames, who hadn't even made the playoffs in seven seasons, merely beat the Western Conference's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds to get here.

By becoming the first Canadian team to reach the finals since Vancouver in 1994, the Flames have taken on the hopes of its hockey-mad country (not to mention underdog fans around the world).

"It's pretty awesome," Martin Gelinas said. "You just feel that buzz in the city and everywhere you go. Not only are we representing Calgary, but Canada."

Then there is 22-year veteran Dave Andreychuk of Tampa going for his first Cup and Gelinas looking for another series-clinching goal.

And we could go on with a matchup between two of the most exciting, endearing teams in the league, each boasting a fresh slate of stars who will play their hearts out for the greatest trophy in professional sports.

This is a nightmare?

Only if you are a TV exec.

Or if you care more about where the teams are from than how they play the game.

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