The NHL's Ups and Downs: Bad Marketing, Montreal's Great Show, and Overreactions

Ian BonaparteCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2009

As you may or may not know, the NHL isn't exactly in its glory days.

It's been four years since the dreaded '04-05 NHL lockout, and I'd like to think that the league has done a great job rising up from its deepest downfall.

Has it really, though?

While some of the greatest hockey memories I own have occurred during those four years, there are a few things I'll never forget—a few devastating memories of the "new" NHL.

Let me just start off huge: Sidney Crosby. You either love him, or hate him (i.e. you're either a Pens fan, or you're not).

Gary Bettman's dream. "Sid the Kid", "The Next One", or as Bettman likes to call him, "My ladder to get the NHL out of this hole."

Before I go on a tirade, let me just say that I think he's a good player, it's a great feat for anybody to enter the league and produce like he does in the NHL at his age. Good for him.

But I don't like him, and I haven't met anyone ( mentally stable) that does.

He's a goal scorer, a set up man, and the next Olympic high diver. I've thought of making a drinking game out of Pittsburgh games by taking a shot every time one of Crosby's knees touch the ice, but I don't want to die of alcohol poisoning at such a young age.

Okay, okay, enough Crosby bashing for now. On to why I think he's part of today problems with the NHL.

He's way overhyped. Can anybody deny that he wasn't hyped just to get some fans back to the NHL? Bettman knew the NHL reached its peak during Gretzky's prime. Gretzky did for hockey what Jordan did for the NBA and what Tiger does for golf. He drew in people that normally wouldn't watch the sport, just to see what this guy was all about. It worked.

People were awe-struck at what Wayne did, his vision, his passing, and his passion. Great. Now you're telling me this kid's gonna do that? As my good friend Jon Shaw puts it... "He's not even the best player on his line, let alone the whole league", and he's right. Gretzky dominated the sport, the league, and everyone on the ice.  Crosby just blindly throws pucks around and picks up assists while Malkin and friends fire away.

Don't get me wrong, Crosby gets the job done, he's just not going to draw in fans like Gretzky, Jordan, or Tiger until he shows that nobody else can compete with him. People are hearing about this kid, watching his games, and either concluding that the NHL is still boring to them, or that this kid is the best player in the NHL because the TV said so.

He's drawing in fake fans, and they're not going to help the NHL in the long run. At least Ovechkin has the ability to get a non-fan out of their seat, proclaiming "How'd he do that?!?!" along with the die hard, NHL faithful. Using Crosby as your marketing tool may have worked the first few years, Gary, but it's starting to backfire on you now.

Another unpopular opinion that I am the proud owner of is that this year's All-Star Game in Montreal was the best one in recent years. Okay, there were a lot of undeserving Canadiens in it, so what? That's what happens when you let the fans vote. If I, a lifetime Bruins fan, can get over that fact, you can too!

The skills competition was an absolute blast to watch—as long as you're not the type to take the All-Star festivities too competitively, that is. I've actually talked to people that are mad that Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge. Why?! It doesn't even mean anything. All it means is that Alexander the Great (an actual deserved nickname, I may add...) put on a good, funny, entertaining show.

And you know what? The fans loved him. Do you see Sid the Kid getting NHL fan support like that?

The hardest shot contest was a blast (har har...). Chara v.s. Souray, Souray clocking an amazing 106.7 MPH shot in an Edmonton skills competition earlier in the yearl Chara known and feared for his laser of a shot. It was exciting and fun to watch, what more can you want? Chara pulled out on top, with a whopping 105.4 shot. The "official" record.

You know what Chara did to this contest, too? He got all the participants to throw down $1,000, and the winner got to donate it to the charity of their choice. League owners and the NHLPA matched the totals, meaning Chara raised $24,000 while putting on a laser show. Thanks, Chara, if you can hear me all the way up there.

Another new addition to the skills competition I liked: elimination shootout. Each team would pit all of their skaters in a shootout. If you don't score, you sit. Team with the last player(s) standing wins. It came down to Savard shooting on...Thomas?! How'd that happen?

Oops! Thomas forget to put his glove out..Savard scores!!! Boston has shamed Montreal in front of its own crowd—that's for voting in all Habs, ya bums!! Hilarious, exciting, and above all, entertaining. That is what the NHL is shooting for, right?

The game itself was amazing.  Thomas and Luongo were very into it in the third, Luongo making snags, Thomas lunging. Yes, Thomas lunging! 

Did you hear what I did after he made that remarkable save in the third? Applause, cheers, and a shower of praise? From...from...Montreal? I called shenanigans at first, too. But it's what happened. I guess they were cheering because they were entertained! I'm sensing a pattern here...

And of course, it goes to a shootout. An All-Star shootout, where Ovechkin seals the deal for the East with a phenomenal deke on Luongo. Beautiful. Thank you, Bettman, and Montreal (Did I say that?), for putting on a remarkable All-Star presentation. This is what the NHL needs.

My final subject for the night: Sean Avery. I think the whole ordeal is a JOKE. I seriously exclaimed, "Are you kidding me?!" after I heard about the huge deal Bettman and the NHL is making out of this. The guy dissed his ex-girlfriend—you've never done that? It's a pastime! So what if she's now dating a Calgary defenseman? If Sean wants to talk, let Dion defend himself on the ice! Maybe we could have gotten some good entertaining fisticuffs out of this, that would help attract fans!

But nope, Sean was fined, suspended, and basically ex-communicated by the NHL, for talking smack about his old girl.

Todd Bertuzzi, who jumped, practically mugged, and hurt a young, promising player's career, is still making headlines and highlight reels today. Sean Avery is taking a bus from arena to arena with the Hartford Wolfpack down in the AHL, for having hard feelings from his last relationship.

I feel for you, Sean. Bettman and the NHL have taught me that words speak louder than actions, and that if I don't like my ex's new guy, jump him and break his neck because no one will want me if I call her names.

What I'm trying to say is that hockey fans love the sport. We love the players, the teams, the mascots, the traditions, but we live for one thing: hockey. We don't care who it is making those beautiful passes, who is doing the dirty work, who the man behind the mask is, as long as someone is.

Market the game, not the player, and you might attract a few real, long lasting fans that truly love the sport. Not a bunch of idiots screaming "Woooooo, my town has this player who's on national TV! We are the best!!!"

Instead, you'll have a loyal fan base who will watch the sport, no matter who is playing. Thank you.