For example, we could have a full year without hockey followed by the Deadmonton Losers making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The only good thing about the ’05-’06 season was that they lost. But what else would you expect from a team whose city had to change its slogan as they piled up three straight number-one picks? Alas, they’ll probably see the playoffs sooner than the stuck-in-cement Flames–but I must digress. Let’s talk about the teams still in the playoffs, shall we?
Unlike past years, when feel-good underdogs like Montreal or fan favourites such as Detroit and Pittsburgh made deep playoff runs, this season’s postseason has been a ratings nightmare for the league. The West saw hot commodities Detroit, Chicago and San Jose make first-round exits, along with Vancouver, the team everybody loves to hate. The Eastern Conference lost defending champs Boston and Sidney Crosby’s Penguins in the first round, along with the Ottawa Senators, ensuring that we wouldn’t have a true Hockey Night in Canada come the conference semis. That said, it’s no surprise the CBC took the rights to the Eastern Conference final this year, even though the Rangers and Devils series really only captures the attention of one major media market. The alternative, well, it has to be the ugliest Western Conference final in recent memory.
In fact, having not followed the playoffs all that closely, when I saw a blurb about Phoenix and LA in the conference final, I thought they were talking basketball till I recalled that the Suns came up just shy of the NBA postseason. Surely, we can’t be sending one of these two sun belt teams to battle for Lord Stanley’s chalice! But unfortunately, we are…
That said, I really don’t hate the Kings. Darryl Sutter’s got his troops playing like the Flames of ’04, only with a bit more offense. They knocked out–and very nearly swept–the Canuckleheads in Round One, and then proceeded to sweep second-seeded St. Louis in the second. This team is on a roll, and if Game One is any indication, they could be the first team to take out all three top seeds in the West since Calgary did so before the lockout–and they’ll certainly give either Eastern team a run for their money, too.
The problem I have with L.A. is that it’s not really a hockey market. When I went there in ’05, a sports memorabilia store had a signed photo of Lanny McDonald holding up the Cup marked down to 20 bucks–and I had not bought it, it would probably still be on sale today. The guy who sold it to me really didn’t know much hockey beyond the Gretzky-era Kings, already a full decade in the past at that time, and they also had a whole lotta Gretzky merch on the shelves. But seeing as Anze Kopitar is hardly the next Gretzky, it’s safe to say the Kings are playing fourth fiddle behind the Lakers, the Clippers and the Magic Johnson-owned Dodgers’ hot start these days.
On the other hand, the folks in Phoenix have never really cared about the Coyotes–not until oh, about two weeks ago. The scrappy, no-name team has battled hard the past couple seasons, and even managed to win the Pacific Division crown, despite having the worst attendance in the league. This is a team I could really get behind–if only they had moved to Winnipeg a couple years back. While the recent string of playoff sellouts have managed to pull the wool over the new owner’s eyes, and might even allow the team to break even on the season–should they last longer than L.A.’s first two playoff foes–there’s no way in hell this city deserves a Stanley Cup. Can you just imagine Gary Bettman handing the trophy to… himself!? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the new guy doesn’t take the reins from the NHL until next season.
So while only the most die-hard Canadian hockey fans watch on TSN (and whatever satellite channel is showing this stuff in the States), we’ll surely have a strong Canadian crowd at each game between the entertainment industry expats at Staples Center and the western Canadian retirees in Jobing.com Arena. As of right now, tickets are still available at a mere 31 bucks on StubHub for tonite’s contest, with a 6 pm start ensuring that grandpa will get to bed at a decent hour. Enjoy your playoff hockey, ya old farts!
In any case, whoever wins the West (and it better not be Phoenix) will guarantee at least one thing for the Stanley Cup Final: We can count on shitty ice conditions for half the series. Thanks a bunch, Bettman!