October 07, 2011
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The more I think about it, the happier I am that the NHL and its broadcast partners really only seem to care about one division.
For a very long time, it was tough watching a national NHL broadcast unless you were a fan of the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers because those three teams in particular seemed like they were just on TV every damn week. Often, more than once.
But that kind of bullheaded pandering to those within 300 miles or so of the New York City area is finally going to pay off.
I'm done rolling my eyes at another Rangers-Flyers game on Versus. The Atlantic Division is, finally, the one that's most worth watching in hockey. One really great team, two very good ones and two that are primed to take big steps forward after lackluster 2010-11 seasons.
In all, the League will broadcast 98 games featuring Atlantic Division teams between NBC, Versus and the NHL Network — only 26 of which are head-to-head matchups — and that will actually make for some good hockey getting to eyes that may not have had access to it otherwise.
Beyond the fact that the teams will likely be strong, and thus the games at least somewhat exciting, let's be honest: There were a good number of Atlantic Division games on TV last year that were snoozefests. The Devils and Islanders spent much of the season being quite terrible and the Rangers were always middling.
After last night's season opener, the Penguins are going to be on national TV 28 more times this year, which is a crazy amount. The Flyers will be on 30 more times. But at least you'll get to see one of the three finest teams in the NHL for like 35 percent of their schedule. Anyone that saw one of their many preseason games knows that Evgeni Malkin(notes) looks to be in Destroyer of Worlds mode for this season, and Dan Bylsma seems to be able to produce 100-point seasons like clockwork.
Meanwhile, people are talking about the big changes in the division's two other serious contenders, the Flyers and Rangers. The Flyers probably got worse by trading Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes) and a bunch of other guys, even if they did add one of the best goalies in the league. But getting a little bit worse from a 106-point team that melted down at the end of last season? That'll still land you in the upper 90s.
Both of their games on opening night were eminently enjoyable, and not just because they both spoiled the reigning conference champions' home openers.
Those three teams alone will be on national TV 86 times and, yeah, that's a lot. But when's the last time all three were this good, and in this tight a race for their division title?
It wouldn't be at all shocking to see them all fall within a few points of 100.
Maybe the most interesting team in the division only has 10 national TV dates. The New Jersey Devils started the season embarrassingly last year, winning just 10 games through January 6. And they still won 38. With a full season of Zach Parise(notes), it's very likely that they'll improve on that number, and it should be incredibly interesting to see what a kid like Adam Larsson(notes) can do if he's allowed to stick around in the big leagues.
The New York Islanders are a bit of a wild card. Their fans like to hang their hat on the fact that they went 15-12-5 in the final two months of 2010-11. While that's like a 90-plus point pace that they're extremely unlikely to replicate, it at least indicates that the future is very bright, and the ride to the point at which they'll be a contender in their division is going to be an extremely fun and entertaining one.
Even beyond that whole "galaxy of stars" thing the division presents, you're going to see high-quality play from all five of these teams every night.
Plus, in each of these games, you get the feeling that these teams don't like each other very much. Obviously there are the Penguins-Flyers and Rangers-Islanders rivalries that we'll get to see a few times, but you also have to keep in mind that every team in the Atlantic except the Devils kind of didn't like anyone last year — they all finished in the top half of the League in fights; and the Pens, Isles and Rangers finished third, fourth and sixth, respectively.
A division full of quality teams with mean streaks? Where does every hockey fan in the world sign up for that one?
The more you think about it, the more you start to realize that you'd probably like to see an extra few dozen of those games on TV at least.
Only 26 intra-Atlantic matchups? Wish they'd double it.
Watching that division this year, you'll see it all: great offensive play, dazzling goaltending and probably even a little bit of blood.
Who can't get behind that?
Pearls of Biz-dom
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