NHL, America's Forgotten League

Now in it's fourth season since the critical lockout which wiped out the 2004-2005 season, the NHL still shows signs of failure. Without proper exposure, and the lack of extensively marketing the league and its stars to grasp new fans, hockey has taken a backseat to all other sports. Gary Bettman's(above) mismanagement during his reign as NHL commissioner is appalling, as he seems content with the demise of hockey, a sport that is slowly riding off into the sunset unless someone is willing to step up and save it.

Hockey has always been considered one of the "big 4" sports, but recently one would beg to differ. Since the lockout, national media coverage has strongly diminished. National televised games are theoretically on the NHL's puppet of a cable channel season long, Versus, but only during the second half of the year are games truly national as they are televised on NBC. Gone are the days of ESPN's stronghold on the sport, with announcers like Ray Thorn leading the way on their Wednesday Night Hockey Night coverage. Gone are the days when hockey highlights made SportsCenter with the same importance as NBA reels. Since the lockout, hockey has become a faux pas on the world wide leader, as even international, domestic, and European soccer has started to steal the NHL's thunder on America's most popular sports network. Recently ESPN remodelled its website, modernizing it and bringing it into 2009. Along with the adjustments of the site was subtle pushing aside of the NHL. At top of the page are the links to the sport specific pages within ESPN for each major league. They read, in order, NFL, MLB, NBA, Soccer, NCAA Football, NCAA Hoops, and then rounding out the group, Hockey. Serving as a metaphorical analogy to the pushing aside that Hockey has gone through over the years, something needs to be done to save the sport that brought us legends like Gordy Howe, Bobby Orr, and Jaromir Jagr.

While the fame of the league is rather tarnished, the talent of the league is the strongest it has been since the 1980s and early 90s when Super Mario and the Great One reigned supreme. Within the last few years, young stars like Washington's Alexander Ovechkin(left), and Pittsburgh's twin superstars Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have emerged has the league best players despite their youthful statures. Despite none of the trio of elite being American, Bettman needs to market these three just as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade are presented in the NBA. Television ads, and extensive ad campaigns similar to the mega advertisements that the NBA produces would not hurt the NHL one bit, but make heavy Russian names like Ovechkin and Malkin household names. Also, in cities when other young studs are coming into stardom, like Chicago's American, Patrick Kane and Los Angeles's Slovenian Anze Kopitar, the Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant parallels must be attempted to salvage the struggling teams like the Kings in particular. Building a stronger fan base will be difficult in our harsh economic times, but it is not impossible.

Gary Bettman, do something, as fans of the National Hockey League, I urge you to make progress and not hide behind the curtain that is the US-Canadian border. While the NHL's Candaian towns like Edmonton and Ottawa may be thriving, America's major city teams are struggling to draw fans, as the New York Islanders surprisingly drew roughly 13,500 fans per game last season. Save the league, and do it now.

Photos: CBC, thejjones.blogspot.com


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