But give credit where credit is due. The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have received the best ratings in years. According to Jeff Z. Klein in a February 17 New York Times piece, this is especially evident in "non-traditional" hockey markets:
"Hockey has seen explosive growth in the United States in the last few years, especially in historically nontraditional hockey hotbeds,” said Brian Burke, general manager of the United States men’s Olympic team and general manager of the. “We will be dropping that label soon, very soon, I believe. We have elite athletes playing hockey in almost every state now."
This broader base is at least partially responsible for the success of Team USA in the World Championships and Olympics in recent years, as well as for the nation producing one in five NHL players.
Bettman cultivated expansion or relocation in Dallas, Raleigh, Denver, San Jose, Ottawa, Tampa, Anaheim, Miami, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and the Twin Cities. Only Ottawa and the Twin Cities were traditional markets.
But does that mean expansion has worked? For a long time, bringing ice hockey to warm climates seemed as useless as sending palm trees to the Canadian cities passed over for those teams.
The NHL could thrive with fewer American players as long as the talent level and fan interest does not suffer. There is no doubt worldwide interest in the game has been growing for some time (due in part to his insistence that NHL players be involved in the Olympics), while the NHL has struggled to be profitable.
So how much of the new success this year and the struggles in the past can be tied to expansion? The best way is to look at each of the cities for on-ice and business success, and part one looks at new markets cultivated in his first three-plus years...