Don’t Look Now But…

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The level of “compete” in the NHL has never been higher or more promising as team’s gear up for the 100th season a few weeks from now. The league continues to get younger albeit a few of the older signings over the summer may refute that statement but nevertheless. The Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs on the second last day of the regular season and gave the first place Washington Capitals all they could handle; yet a spot in the Stanley Cup dance next year has no assurances. The Leafs a couple of regular season wins or losses from first or elimination weren’t alone with injury plagued teams like Tampa, Philly, Carolina, Florida all knocking on the door; they’ve all upgraded their lineups and will be in the thick of the playoff race this season.

The Western Conference is similar with the Kings, Stars, Jets all improved; remember Stanley Cup finalist Nashville was an 8th seed.

I believe the term for this is parity!

In the 2016-17 NBA season 13 teams were below 500 and 3 even board; that’s over half the league below 500 or barely even. Toronto won 51 games matching Cleveland’s number of victories, but was embarrassingly manhandled in the playoffs trailing a few of those games to the Cavs by 50+ points! Boston finishing two games better, experienced the same humiliation in the Eastern Final, making a mockery of the postseason. The Western teams didn’t fare much better against Golden State and the landscape outside of an injury doesn’t look any rosier for the NBA also ran’s. The league is a joke and nothing but an 80 game exhibition season for two teams (Lebron James has pretty much stated he’ll go easy during the regular season and save for playoffs).

Major League Baseball defies all logic and who says, “Money can’t buy Happiness” as the rich, continue to get richer. As a player, the logo on the front of your jersey better be one of a half dozen teams with a chance or you’re an innings eater for the big boys. Yes some teams will experience the unexpected lights out season every couple years and expansion of the wildcard chase on occasion make for an interesting September. But by and large 20 teams are done by the end of May most years.

The NFL while the most popular by a wide margin, finds itself in a similar situation as baseball. The field is tilted in favour of the same half a dozen teams year in and out (believe me I know, I cheer for the Bills). The game-day rituals, tailgating, house parties, office pools, gambling, short schedule, games once a week, dwarfs the actual game, unless your team is one of the chosen few. Brilliant marketing has turned Sundays into an event rather than the actual outcome for most of the league, unless you’re in a pool or have action on the game. This is unmatched in any sport.
But it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the product from an entertainment standard is decent, but the disparity between the upper and lower echelons is widening at an alarming rate.

While some may point out that this anomaly will correct itself and the NHL will slip back over time, I’m not so sure that will happen. The NHL continues to expand globally within countries like China who want to introduce the game at the school level of sport (or at least that’s the hope). They will ice a team in the 2022 games in Beijing along with a current KHL participant, a Junior team and a Woman’s team competing in Canada. They are currently hosting a couple NHL exhibition games this week.

The game continues to grow in the USA and the potential is unlimited. The game will always be popular in the obvious European Nations and Russia; if anything leaves the door open for a World League in the future.

Hockey fans have reason to be excited by turning on a game knowing the product is at an elite level for most of the league. Agreed that some teams like Colorado and Arizona are struggling, but the hunt for talent is opening untapped markets worldwide and with prospects getting younger, rebuilds offer hope. Limited expansion along with the league getting younger is creating competition for ice time. And because “young veterans” are losing jobs with the parent NHL team, it’s creating more competition at the minor league level enforcing the depth of today’s teams filtering throughout most organizations.

While the NHL still trails the other Leagues in popularity, the gap is starting to narrow. Fans are tired of selfish athletes like Lebron James or the other stiff Kyrie Irving that was upset he played under 23’s shadow so wanted a trade to be top dog! The domestic violence troubling the NFL, drug issues or even the Colin Kaepernick situation are embarassing and the bumbling antics of their commissioner to deal with these issues, magnifies the problems. MLB has similar problems dealing with the steroid scandals, domestic violence and drugs. The NHL isn’t squeaky clean but compared to the other leagues? They are angels.

Hockey fans enjoy the resurgence and growth of the game we all love and admire. It’s nice to share the game of hockey with new fans or even the casual observer who are finally waking up to the fact they are watching the greatest game in sports.

We are Canadian and don’t like to brag, but we already knew that!