As most of you know, hockey has become the least-watched sport of the four major sports in America—hockey, baseball, basketball, and football.
A big factor leading to this was the lockout that canceled the 2004-2005 season.
Before that happened, hockey was still competing with the other major sports for national television contracts. ESPN still carried hockey games a couple of times a week and they also carried the entire playoffs along with ABC.
Sadly, after hockey returned from the lockout, ESPN decided not to offer the NHL another contract, which has led to most people just deciding to forget hockey altogether.
Versus is now the main carrier for the NHL, along with NBC, but Versus isn't a part of cable, so unless people are willing to pay extra for it, they aren't able to see the games that are played on it. NBC also carries games, but only after football season has ended and only on Sundays, which only amounts to about a month worth of hockey.
Hockey is back on the rise with teams reporting attendance increasing every year since the lockout. While this is a good sign, things need to get better quicker so Hockey can get back to the mainstream audience.
In order for this to happen, I feel that the original six teams—the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks—need to be up or near the top of the league every year.
I say this because I feel that these are some of the strongest hockey markets in all of the NHL. Montreal has the most Stanley Cups in history, followed right behind by Toronto, Detroit, and Boston.
Here's the reason why these teams need to be back on top of the league for it to succeed:
Detroit Red Wings- The Red Wings have been the most successful of the six teams in the recent decade. They have won four of the last 11 Stanley Cups, including 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008. They are, of course, called Hockeytown by their fans, and rightfully so, seeing as they have won the second most Stanley Cups behind Montreal.
Hockey needs them to continue to be a power because they are one of the most recognizable teams in hockey and to help out whats going on in Detroit right now with the economy.
Montreal Canadiens- The Canadiens, also known as the Habs, are hockey's most successful team ever as winners of a record 24 Stanley Cups. They also have the second-most Hall of Famers with 42.
With hockey being the national sport in Canada, their fans live and die with this team, and it would help the NHL greatly if they were to win the Cup, seeing as a Canadian team hasn't won a Stanley cup since 1993 when the Canadiens won it.
Chicago Blackhawks- The Blackhawks have gone the longest since winning the Stanley Cup of all the original six teams.
They haven't won the Cup since 1961. They play at the United Center, which has some of the best fans of the game. The Blackhawks have finally returned to the Playoffs this year after a seven-year absence. If the Blackhawks can win a Cup in the next decade, Chicago will finally awaken from its hockey slumber and get the fans really into it again.
Toronto Maple Leafs- The Maple Leafs have won the second-most Stanley Cups behind Montreal with 13. As with the Canadiens, the Maple Leafs fans are die-hards for this team, especially since there aren't many other teams to root for in Toronto.
The Leafs haven't won the Cup since 1967 and haven't had much success since then. Yet the fans continue to pack the Air Canada Centre, which just goes to show how crazy that city and their fans would get if they were to make it to the Stanley Cup.
New York Rangers- The Rangers last won the Cup in 1994.
All together, they have won it a total of four times. Even with another hockey team in New York, they still manage to pack Madison Square Garden every year. The NHL would greatly benefit from the Rangers being back on top, especially since they play in New York, considered one of the greatest cities in the world.
Boston Bruins- The Bruins haven't won the cup since 1972 and the days of Bobby Orr.
With the other three sports teams in Boston being so successful lately, the Bruins have fallen in their shadow. They have had a resurgence though, especially this year, finishing atop the Eastern Conference and second in the entire NHL. The Bruins have been called a blue collar, hard-working type team, which I think would be very helpful to the NHL for them to win a Cup.
The original six teams have already started to make a comeback, with five of the six qualifying for the postseason this year with the exception of Toronto (although they are on the rise with the leadership of Brian Burke, who is heading in the right direction to building a true winner again in Toronto).
If these teams are able to continue this success, look for the NHL to be back on the map quicker than expected.