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  Thursday, November 20, 2014
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The Good and the Bad
By Paul Noonan

     After three rounds, only two teams remain in the battle for the oldest trophy in professional sports.  The Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes will battle each other for the rights to the NHL’s ultimate prize.  The Oilers are giving the Northwest Division, arguably one of the toughest in the NHL, a Stanley Cup representative for the second year in a row (not counting the lockout year of course).  Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are doing the same for the Southeast Division, arguably one of the weakest in the NHL.  The match- up represents some of the good and bad parts of both the NHL and the new CBA.

             

     Getting into the age old debate about hockey in the south would take up way too much time and space, so it’s really not worth getting into.  Questions will always arise to the legitimacy of the Hurricanes’ franchise and their fans, whereas the same won’t be said for Edmonton.  Edmonton has, sadly, probably just secured Gary Bettman’s job for the near future.  Since the end of their dynasty days of the mid/late eighties, the Oilers have always complained that the biggest reason they could not make runs at the Cup anymore was because of financial instability.  It was complaints like these that lead to the lockout and the imposing of the salary cap.  After the new CBA was signed, Edmonton did not waste any time in trying to prove the old system was a major factor in their lack of success.  By signing acquiring D Chris Pronger and F Michael Peca, the Oilers tried to drive home the point, showing that they no longer had to dump players, but could actually pick them up.  They did it again at the trading deadline by acquiring goalie Dwayne Roloson.  All three have been a huge part of the Oilers’ success this season.  For the ‘Canes the CBA helped them in a different way.  Most notably, the lockout gave Carolina’s blooming forward Eric Staal an extra year to develop, and develop he did.  With a hundred point season, and a strong playoff, Staal has matured quickly and without it the ‘Canes would not be where they are.  Rookie Cam Ward, who has been brilliant this playoff also got extra time to develop because of the lockout. 

             

     However, while these two teams have benefited from the lockout, the NHL as a whole could have done better.  Not to take anything away from the accomplishments of the two teams because they both earned the right to be here, but the NHL could have used a bigger finals match- up.  Obviously there is no way to guarantee it, but given what could have happened, the NHL lost a little.  While Carolina’s fans are good, they don’t compare to Buffalo’s, the team they knocked out to get this far.  Buffalo fans not only sell out the game, but the TV ratings were amazing.  The same cannot be said for Carolina.  While Carolina never has either, Buffalo has never won a Cup, and there probably would have been a bigger buzz if they were in the finals.  Yet this dilemma extends back even further.  Somewhat like the NCAA Tournament, the playoffs generated less buzz each round.  In the first round eleven games went to overtime.  There have only been eight since, and most of them have come in the more exciting series (Buffalo/Philly and Buffalo/Carolina).  There were many upsets, especially in the West.  In round two that buzz died a little.  The Buffalo/Ottawa series was exciting and Edmonton/San Jose was pretty good, but Anaheim/Colorado and New Jersey/Carolina were let downs.  In the Conference final the Buffalo/Carolina and Anaheim/Edmonton battles couldn’t compare to the hype for the NBA’s Heat/Pistons or Mavs/Suns series.  The ‘Canes/Sabres series ended up becoming a good one, but the other one was a snoozer.  It’s not so much what the NHL ended up with in the playoffs that was bad, it is what it missed out on.  When Anaheim upset Calgary in round one, it prevented a Calgary/Edmonton series.  For those of you unfamiliar, it’s about the equivalent to Toronto/Ottawa or Montreal/Boston, etc.  That would have been a great series to have.  The New York/New Jersey series in round one could have been great if it wasn’t a sweep.  If that series had gone to a game seven it would have been great for the NHL.  The Western Conference final got an unlucky draw, as an inter- division battle would have been possible if both Anaheim and San Jose made it or Edmonton and Colorado.  Instead there was a split, so the final was not as exciting.    

             

     What the NHL needs now is a thrilling final, but even then getting people to watch will be tough.  In the last Cup final, Calgary and Tampa Bay played a very exciting seven game set, but how many people between western Canada and Southeast U.S. wanted to watch that.  As the TV ratings showed, not many.  That’s essentially what the NHL has again.  In order for better ratings, the NHL will need a series that distracts people from the Sox/Yanks or the Mavericks/Heat or FIFA.  The NHL has done a good job with the game this year, but it hasn’t gotten too lucky yet.  A great Stanley Cup Final would be a great way for the NHL to end a ground breaking year.  Just how this year ends may be a good (or bad) sign of things to come.  Let’s hope the NHL finally gets lucky.   



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