You always hear about the post season how network executives always want two teams from completely different regions in order to maximize ratings. I question the wisdom of this cliché. The NFL, for example, not only proves this wrong year in and year out, they continue to thrive despite not having a franchise in the second biggest media market, Los Angeles (by way of comparison, the LA market has 2 MLB teams, 2 NBA teams, 2 NHL teams, and 2 MLS teams.) And while distant geographic rivalries work in the NBA (Boston-LA), and MLB (Yankees-Dodgers), the NHL would actually benefit with a series between arch-rivals that are less than ten miles from one another. The fledgling NBC Sports Network needs immediate dividends. They can not afford to attempt to manufacture a rivalry that may or may not last beyond next season. What they need is a blockbuster sequel to one of the greatest playoff series of all time.
Most playoff series take 2 or 3 games before the intensity between the two teams turn to personal animosity. That will not be an issue between the Rangers and Devils. And while no serious fan expects a fight to break out on the ice moments after the opening face-off, there will be no shortage of hard hits. Not only are they familiar to one another due to being in the same division, but their similar style of play means they really don’t have to look at videotape to scout one another – they just need to look into a mirror. The Olympics, and other international tournaments have national pride, but the deep hatred doesn’t exist nowadays since players from opposing countries one day will be NHL teammates a few weeks later. The Winter Olympics are 2 years away. The Summer Olympics are right around the corner, but there is no team sport that has a rivalry that will grab the American audience’s attention unless NBC hypes it up incessantly.
I referenced the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Most folks tend to forget just how good the Devils were in the regular season. They were right behind the Rangers in the race for the best regular season record. And if they had managed to get past the Rangers, they would have easily dispatched Vancouver in the Finals. Then we might have been talking about them as one of the better hockey dynasties, since they did end up winning the Cup in 1995, 2000, and 2003. There are other parallels between 1994 and 2012. In ’94, the Rangers had an all-World goalie in his prime, Mike Richter, going up against a rookie named Martin Brodeur. In ’12, aging veteran Brodeur is going up against an all-World goalie in his prime, Henrik Lundqvist. In ’94, the play-by-play man for the local (Devils) Sports network was Mike “Doc” Emrick. In ’12, the play-by-play man for NBC is “Doc” Emrick.
I am hoping that the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes will be an epic struggle as well, but after two games, it doesn’t appear that will be case. I hope I’m wrong. I want to see a long series, but the Kings are on an incredible, unstoppable, roll.
- 2012 NHL Playoffs, Devils Vs. Rangers: Martin Brodeur Still Proving Himself (newyork.sbnation.com)
- Devils Launch ‘No Blue’ Campaign To Keep Rangers Fans From Getting Eastern Conference Finals Tickets (newyork.sbnation.com)