Gary Bettman went to sleep last night with a large smile on his face. Or at least, that's what I assume.
With all due respect to the finalists in previous seasons, the NHL finally has a Stanley Cup match-up featuring two dynamic hockey cities. Not since 1997 has this occurred, when Detroit faced off against the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams came from hockey-mad towns with both clubs featuring stars that even the casual fan would recognize.
Eleven years and one-lockout later, the NHL has its dream match-up once again. Featuring the leagues Golden Child, Sidney Crosby and a team from the Golden Era, the Detroit Red Wings, the NHL has a chance to capitalize on two Eastern teams facing off for North America's greatest team trophy.
Can these two combine to elevate the league beyond an afterthought and into the homes of casual fans? I believe they can, and I'm sure the owners and league executives hope so as well.
Not since Wayne Gretzky has there been a more marketable or recognizable super-star in the National Hockey League than Sidney Crosby. With youthful exuberance, an uncanny mastery of public relations and an inconceivable skill set, Sid The Kid has transcended the sport in which he dominates. The only thing he can't seem to do well is grow facial hair. Anytime you mention his 'playoff beard' it must be done with the universal "quotation sign" hand gesture.
And what better adversary for Crosby than one of the most storied franchises in sports history. Detroit is an Original Six team that has dressed some of the greatest players to ever strap on the blades; including Steve Yzerman and Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. They are regarded as the New York Yankees of hockey and they reside in the second-oldest building in the league, Joe Louis Arena (the oldest being the Penguins own Mellon Arena).
Beyond Crosby, both teams feature an abundance of stars. From the Pens own Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin, all-star winger Marian Hossa, sleek-skating defenseman Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Wings' dynamic duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, along with multiple Norris Trophy winner, Nick Lidstrom, there is plenty of star appeal to this series.
Surely the NHL can take advantage of this potentially classic finale. With each game possessing an 8:00 pm start, fans won't have to worry about choosing between enjoying an afternoon outside, and hunkering down inside to watch a game while the kids enjoy the nice spring weather.
The only thing left to do is play the games.
For Gary Bettman, the owners and the players themselves, hopefully this series can live up to the hype; one where the true winner is the National Hockey League, regardless of who raises the Cup when the ice settles.
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