Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why I Will Not Be Following the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs This Year

I have expressed serious disgust at the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman, and the whole southern expansion plan that the league committed to sometime in the 1990's, and which it has kept at for quite some time.

Basically, northern teams from cold weather climates, particularly those from north of the border, began to be threatened to be removed from their communities in favor of supposedly greener pastures further south. Sometimes much further south.

The most glaringly obvious geographical example of this was the move of the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona, to become the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix is a hot city, and they do not get ice. Hardly a hockey hotbed.

The most in your face move like that was when the Quebec Nordiques, who had enjoyed a loyal fan base through years and years of the team struggling, finally had something to cheer about when their team was in first place in the Eastern Conference throughout most of the 1994-95 season, and seemed to be building a winner. But the team moved to Colorado for the following season, and they broke through and won the Stanley Cup immediately after the move. They went on to win another Stanley Cup in 2001.

Those were the most glaring examples, but they were hardly the only ones. The Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars, and the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes. Other hockey markets up north also were threatened with being moved further south at some point or other, including the New Jersey Devils, the Buffalo Sabres, the Ottawa Senators, the Calgary Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers. Each time, there seemed to be the possibility of those allegedly greener pastures awaiting these franchises if they relocated further south.

Somehow, though, when the Phoenix Coyotes were in serious trouble and losing money badly (and who would have thought that could happen, since Phoenix and the southwestern desert could be expected to be such a reliable hockey hotbed?), the league has bent over backwards, year after year, to make sure that the Coyotes stay put in the desert, even though there was huge interest in relocating the struggling franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. I guess that the desire to relocate teams only translates to moving teams further south. Perish the thought of bringing another team north of the border, which the league seemed to do painfully and reluctantly when another southern expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers, failed and moved to become the Winnipeg Jets.

Greener pastures, as far as the NHL is concerned, seems to be all about money. The NHL seemed to have lost it's heart.

Of course, that was far from the only mistake that the NHL made, or seemed committed to making. After all, much of the 1994-95 season was cancelled. And in 2005, the entire season itself was cancelled, playoffs included. No Stanley Cup Champion was crowned that year.

Many fans began to lose interest, especially north of the border, where hockey is considered the national sport. And you can hardly blame them, right? After all, the year before, the Calgary Flames were a Cinderella team, coming from nowhere to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, becoming the first Canadian team in a decade to qualify for the Finals. They were leading the series 3 games to 2, and very late in the third period of a 1-1 game in Calgary that could have clinched the Cup and ended what was then a record 11-year drought, the Flames scored a goal. It should have won the game, and the title, but instead, after considerable delay and review by the league, the goal was nullified. The game went into overtime, where the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the southern expansion teams, managed to win, forcing a Game 7 in Tampa. Not surprisingly the Lightning won that one.

Now, the Canadian drought for a Stanley Cup has reached ridiculous levels, as it is 23 years and counting. And this year, for the first time, not a single Canadian team qualified for the playoffs. Not one of the seven teams managed the feat.

There is residual anger and a sense of betrayal on my part that the league focused so exclusively (I might suggest blindly) their desire for southern expansion, that it came at the expense of the original fans up north. It seemed that at every turn, the league favored southern expansion, as well as expansion in general, which has watered down the quality of the teams.

And the result, at least this year, is that not one single Canadian team will be playing this post-season. Each year, I follow the Canadian teams, hoping against hope that one of them will not only be a Cinderella team in qualifying for the Cup Finals, but in finally hoisting the Cup and ending that drought. That obviously cannot happen this year, and again, whether it is some remaining anger, disappointment, or just a general lack of interest, I cannot tell.

All I can say is that I have no real interest in following the playoffs this year, which is a relative rarity for me. I had lost interest in the NHL for a few years following the strike that eliminated the entire 2004-05 season, but had become a fan again in the late 2000's, going to games and following what was going on in the league. Now, I find that it has been years since I went to a game, and I just do not care if the Chicago Blackhawks win a fourth Cup in seven years, or the Ducks or Kings win another Cup, or perhaps if the Lightning or some other southern team wins it. Maybe there might be some mild interest if the Islanders or Rangers win it, and the team that I feel probably deserves it most right now would be the Capitals.

Still, it is not enough for me to actually follow this year's playoffs. I will not be following it too closely on the internet or on the news, much less actually watching the games on television. I am just not interested. And until the NHL changes their ways, and stops trying to force the success of southern expansion teams, that general disinterest on my part might just extend far beyond simply for these playoffs but, once again, for the league and their games in general.

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