Every time the playoffs roll around, people can’t help but discuss who they would like to see in the Stanley Cup Finals. I am pretty sure that the NHL brass does the same thing too.
This year's final four consists of the Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks. One Original Six team, one team that started in 1970 and two that started playing in the early nineties. Gary Bettman and his cohorts probably are thinking that this years final four could be better.
Bettman wants to grow the game of hockey, in the United States especially. They have to ask themselves what benefits hockey the most: a historic American team making it to the finals, or a non-traditional hockey market team making to the finals? While non-traditional hockey market teams making it far usually makes for a good Cinderella story, having the historic teams fighting for the biggest prize is much better for competition.
Last year's final four consisted of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Montreal Canadiens and the Sharks. You had two Original Six teams, another historic American team and a team that has been known to choke in the playoffs. The Flyers and Canadiens, being the seventh and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference, even played the part of Cinderella. That was a final four the NHL loved.
This year just doesn’t have the same aura around it. While fans in Canada would love to see a Canadian team make it to the finals, it doesn’t do anything for growing the game in the US. In fact, the NHL’s biggest fear right now is probably Vancouver facing off against Tampa Bay.
The best Stanley Cup Final matchup left, and the one the NHL is hoping for, is Boston facing off against San Jose. Although, if the NHL could change it, they would probably have had Detroit make it past the Sharks and then have the Red Wings take on the Bruins.
On the television side, it is now assured that a team in the Western time zone will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. It is entirely possible that the Stanley Cup will be decided long after midnight. Now the hardcore hockey fan, such as myself, will keep on watching, but will a casual fan stay with a game that has gone long past their usual bed time?
Bettman better be okay with this final four because in June he’ll be handing that Stanley Cup to either Zdeno Chara, Vincent Lecavalier, Henrik Sedin or Joe Thornton.