New Year Baby: ‘Who’s Watching the NHL Store?’

Happy New Year!
What’s in the NHL’s future?
Everyone’s been talking about a proposed realignment to basically get Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby seen out west. The Blackhawks’ Rick Dudley has the most accurate take on the situation (login info.):

It goes up and down from one thing to another…You take into consideration [travel] expenses. Then we say that is not good enough – we want rivalries. Then we say we want Ovechkin and Crosby coming into our buildings. Everyone has a different agenda. At some point, you have to think, ‘What is best for the game?’

The NHL needs to commit to a vision. You can’t jump from initiative to initiative, ostensibly trying to improve the game, but really alienating more and more fans. The NHL can’t put its future on the shoulders of just a few players. Do the powers that be really think there are people who know who Ovechkin and Crosby are, but aren’t watching any other hockey? Are there huge pockets of those fans outside of the Pittsburgh/DC market? NBC is going to push Ovechkin and Crosby as part of a strategy to bump the ratings of its weekly hockey game by plugging one of their games as the “game of the week,” moving away from the previous strategy of regionalizing games. So basically, we have the NHL and its partners moving from a rivalry model to a star model in the span of a season. On top of which, what does it say to fans that the NHL and its partners are saying they have very little interest in the league’s other 28 teams.
I don’t want to start the year on too much of a sour note, but Mike Heika had a great email newsletter containing nothing but fan response to the question ‘why aren’t fans coming to Dallas Stars games?’ Read it and you’ll notice that no one is saying it’s a lack of star power.
This weekend I watched an elderly Brendan Shanahan fight Donald Brashear to give the slumping Rangers an emotional boost. It wasn’t exciting because Shanahan and Brashear are young NHL stars, because they aren’t. It was exciting because you know Shanahan isn’t a fighter and you could see him sacrificing his face and teeth for his team. You just can’t shorthand that. It’s not a home run or a buzzer-beating three-pointer, both of which are relatively easy to translate to non-fans of baseball and basketball. Hockey is a sport where a lot of the action just doesn’t involve scoring. And a lot of the best action doesn’t involve stars. And a lot of the more beloved players aren’t even 15 goal scorers.
So the NHL can look into realignment and bigger nets and tighter uniforms all it wants. But the NHL won’t improve until the people making the decisions understand the game and the fans. It’s becoming more and more obvious that the league decision-makers just aren’t hockey fans. Not only that, you have to wonder if anyone guiding the league was ever a hockey fan.