NHL: What Will It Take To Regain Lost Popularity?

Ryan Senior Writer IJune 8, 2008

It seems like only yesterday.

The New York Rangers were Stanley Cup Champions, and the NHL seemed poised to overtake the NBA in popularity. 

So where did it all go wrong?

Well the lockout-shortened season that followed was a start. The smothering, boring defensive trap was a huge part of it, not to mention the climbing player salaries.

Then came the nearly crippling strike that resulted in the Stanley Cup not being awarded for the first time in nearly a century.  The strike gained nothing for either side and left both sides with the raw end of things.

Thankfully, with changes to the rules, the game has undergone a renaissance of sorts.  The league is full of talented, exciting players and fast-paced action.  Ratings are creeping upwards, despite the lack of a major television deal.

So what does the NHL need to do to get back to the popularity it slowly squandered?

Looking for a new television deal would be a great start.  I understand that the league needs its revenue, but it also needs exposure. Versus isn't the ideal place to do that.  Getting on with ESPN, ABC or NBC would be a tremendous thing, even if they have to practically give away the rights.

The next step the NHL seems to have a good start on is to market the hell out of their young stars.  Alex Ovechkin is already the league's most charismatic figure and as exciting a player as there is. Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL.

But don't stop there. Market Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Roberto Luongo, Marian Gaborik, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and push the fact that this isn't the same 'ol NHL.  Push the excitement. Push the speed.

Schedule changes would also help.  A big problem with the NHL is that not every team sees each other.  Let every team see Ovechkin and co. once a year.

With the scheduling, rivalries can be renewed.  Wings/Avs. Sens/Leafs. Leafs/Habs. Leafs/Wings. Habs/B's.  And so on.  The NHL needs rivalries that can take hold of a game; take a life of their own like college rivalries.

The NHL is slowly creeping into the conscience of America again.  The Finals featuring the Pens/Wings was a tremendous start.  They just need to build upon that and grow further.

Here's hoping they get it right.