Since the infamous lockout of 2004-05, the NHL has slowly climbed out of the bowels of sports hell to be in a better position than it was before the lockout. The slow economy has only scraped attendance, and television ratings have risen.
The Winter Classic is on its way to becoming the key event on New Year's Day, and the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin duo is the NHL's answer to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. But for the NHL, the best is yet to come.
The NHL has been progressive in the past few years, including the lockout. With the NBA and NFL now entangled in labor struggles, at this time next year, you may only have baseball and hockey as your source for major professional sports.
Once the World Series ends sometime in November, the NHL may have a monopoly on North American sports. Now for commissioner Gary Bettman, it's time to prepare accordingly.
For starters, the NHL's deal with NBC Sports expires at the end of this season. The NHL must renew this deal, and if a lockout in either the NFL or NBA happens, they must have this deal involve a Sunday night game. NBC has improved its coverage since the infamous Preakness episode and a major network deal is vital for the NHL to be a major league.
On the other side, the NHL's deal with Versus also expires at the end of this season. With all due respect to Versus, the NHL needs to get back on ESPN, and if the Worldwide Leader in Sports can't broadcast the NBA or NFL, it would have no other choice than to get a deal with the NHL.
The NHL needs to do a little more to market its players also. While it's fine to have Crosby and Ovechkin as the main figures in the league, the other players need to be recognizable too. How about a commercial honoring the pests in the league; maybe one involving New York Rangers' pest Sean Avery and New York Islanders' Jon Sim?
These two players, well known for causing something to happen after the whistle, would be perfect for a "Great taste, less filling" Miller Lite commercial. Basically the NHL and NHLPA need to work together in order to put the other players on the map.
Lastly, the NHL needs to continue its progressive online media market. The NHL was the first league to put highlights of every game on YouTube, and now it needs to include all access features on its YouTube channel.
NHL Gamecenter has been a hit and should be included for free with Center Ice to give customers more incentive to buy it. The one fee, two service idea would cost less than buying each separate, but it would attract more customers.
The NHL also needs to work with providers of both internet and television to promote free view weekends, which should occur once every six weeks. These would help promote interest in the service and could help bring in new fans as the season progresses.
The NHL has a major chance to score next year with the potential NFL and NBA lockouts. Now it's up to Bettman to take the shot.