Sports

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Will the Red Wings–Penguins Finals Save the NHL?

May 27, 2008 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
Many in the NHL hope that this year’s finals, which feature young, marketable stars and two offensive-minded teams from traditional hockey markets, will help popularize the game in the United States. Others remain skeptical, however.

30-Second Summary

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The 2008 Stanley Cup finals feature the Detroit Red Wings, the league’s best team who hail from America’s “Hockeytown,” and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who feature rising stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“The iron is hot,” said NBC announcer Mike Emrick. “This is a perfect time right now for the NHL in the United States.”

The NHL has been struggling to establish an audience in the United States since the 1995 lockout-shortened season. In 2005, a second lockout canceled the season and dealt a devastating blow to the league’s already sinking popularity.

Though the lockout alienated many fans and diminished the league’s exposure in the United States, it did lead to many important rule changes that have improved the on-ice product. A crackdown on obstruction and the removal of the two-line pass rule has helped to open up the game and place a greater value on skill.

The face of the “new” NHL is Sidney Crosby, a 20-year-old billed as the next Wayne Gretzky. In just his second NHL season, Crosby became the second youngest player—after Gretzky—to win the NHL’s MVP award.

He has been the focus of the NHL’s marketing efforts, and the Penguins have appeared on national television more than any other team. The NHL has pinned its future on Crosby, hoping that sports fans will flock to see him in the finals.

Though the finals undoubtedly feature a great match-up, many pundits think that it won’t help attract new fans.

“There’s still no proof of great interest outside of Pittsburgh, Detroit, and fans already inclined to watch,” writes Helen Elliot of the Los Angeles Times.

Headline Links: Penguins–Wings a dream match-up

Background: The NHL’s declining popularity

Key Player: Sidney Crosby

Opinion & Analysis: Can the NHL become popular in the United States?

Reference: Official Web sites and game highlights

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