The National Hockey League may have no better chance to increase its popularity and re-establish itself as a major player in this country’s collective sports viewing interest than they will during the upcoming 2011-12 season.
There is a labor deal to be made in the NFL and it is extremely unlikely the NHL would open its season October 6th with no competition from America’s favorite spectator sport. As well, MLB’s Playoffs will - as usual – be ramping up just as hockey starts its campaign. That one-two punch never has helped the NHL get off to a great start among casual or on-the-fence fans…not to mention college football.
However, the NBA labor situation looks as bleak as can be. The distinct possibility of no eyeball competition from that sport until early in 2012 at best…and whether or not pro basketball can even maintain its surge in popularity when faced with a truncated, butchered season…has the NHL quietly pondering potential to get serious bonus face time…even on ESPN.
One thing the NHL does need to do is get talking now so they don’t wind up with their own labor issue when the current agreement expires September 15th, 2012. They have their issues to discuss as do all professional leagues these days.
If the first couple days of NHL free agency are any indication, hockey fans should be counting down those days until the next season opens.
Especially here in Philadelphia, where at last count 10 players who were on the roster at season’s end have already been traded or lost via free agency.
Flyers fans now have Jaromir Jagr to cheer for. That may be the biggest adjustment Philadelphia supporters have had to make since…well…since Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded a few days ago.
Three years after he left for the Russian pro league, the 39-year-old winger returns to the NHL. Still maintaining a residence in Pittsburgh and with an offer from the Pens in hand…and with the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadians also providing quotations…he wound up in Philadelphia…a city with a solid reputation of not showing Brotherly Love for him.
Not that the Flyers-Pens rivalry needed any additional fuel, but Pittsburgh was reportedly so upset Jagr did not return to where he began his marvelous career two decades ago they actually made a public withdrawal of their offer to him when it became apparent he was more receptive to the eastern part of Pennsylvania…and at one year for $3.3 mil who could argue with his relocation decision…even though it was reported others offered more…he already saw how much effort the Flyers were putting into reloading…and he must have known what was coming next.
The Penguins, reeling from that disappointment, learned the Flyers also signed their free agent winger Maxime Talbot, who scored Pittsburgh’s game-winning Stanley Cup goal in 2009.
Yup, next year’s Philadelphia-Pittsburgh games will continue to be among the league’s best games.
Meanwhile, up the road the big-market New York Rangers captured the biggest star in the free agent class, 31-year-old center Brad Richards. He will be reunited with the HC who mentored him and his Tampa Bay teammates to the 2004 Stanley Cup, John Tortorella…at a cost of 9 years, $60 mil. This is another home run for the NHL if the Rangers can actually get relevant. Lots of eyeballs in the Big Apple.
And, the Rangers and Flyers will be stars on HBO’s “24/7″ series prior to their meeting in the Winter Classic on January 2nd in Philadelphia. Tortorella unplugged will be must see television alone. As will new Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov…here’s an interview from a couple of years back to give you an idea…
Again, great for the NHL to have major markets involved in the Winter Classic and the well-received HBO series that leads up to it.
Just to ice this whole deal of getting a bigger audience…maybe the NHL’s television partners should bring back the beloved Peter Puck…who below discusses officiating when he was employed trying to help hockey acquire more fans.
For sure…free agents cost less back then…