A couple of weeks ago Josh Rimer of NHL Home Ice tweeted that sources told him Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is still struggling in his recovery from the concussion he suffered last season. His status for the start of the 2011-2012 NHL season seems to be in doubt.
Needless to say, this has sparked endless speculation about Crosby's 2011-2012 season.
Will he miss more time next year? The whole season?
Even if he does come back, will he be the same player?
With all of these questions, there has certainly been hand wringing in Pittsburgh. After all, the thought of losing your best player is scary.
The NHL front office may also be nervous. Crosby is the star that they have attached themselves too. He is the centerpiece of their marketing.
What will happen to the league if Crosby misses part or all of the season?
Believe it or not, the NHL is in position to still thrive in 2011-2012 and beyond with or without Sidney Crosby.
Here are 10 reasons the NHL will do just that next season.
As badly as Gary Bettman wants to expand into new markets, it’s when the traditional markets thrive that the sport thrives. Having an Original Six team in the finals the past four years in a row helps tremendously.
Those teams have rabid fanbases that are not limited to just their market. There are Boston, Detroit and Chicago fans all over North America. You need look no further than the number of their sweaters that show up at road games.
Having them make deep playoff runs is good for hockey. This upcoming year looks like the Original Six, with maybe the exception of Toronto, are headed to the playoffs again.
Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, and when these fans are amped up, people will take note.
That’s good for the league, and has nothing to do with Sidney Crosby.
NHL ratings have been slowly but steadily rising the past few years. Some could argue that Crosby has something to do with that, and there may be some truth there.
Last season, the league saw a boost in the finals ratings, and in the first round alone, saw the highest ratings in the United States in 17 years. The quarterfinal ratings for Versus were the highest in their history.
While his presence helps, it is worth pointing out that the Penguins have not made it out of the second round of the playoffs for two years in a row now, and Crosby missed most of last season.
Having Crosby helps, but his absence does not seem to affect the ratings.
The Winter Classic has become standard New Year’s Day viewing in both Canada and the United States. It makes for good television and offers sports fans an alternative to the BCS mess college football offers up.
Not to mention, it puts NHL hockey on center stage. Seeing a football stadium packed with rabid hockey fans is great for the sport and helps showcase the game and its tradition to new viewers.
If they are lucky and it snows, the aesthetics are incredible.
The league does need to be wary of keeping the event fresh, however. Involving a Canadian team might help. Get Toronto or Montreal in one of these games as soon as possible.
With the NHL re-signing with NBC and with NBC taking over Versus, the NHL is going to be in front of a lot more viewers in the United States. The schedule was released on Thursday, and over 100 regular season games will be on the combined networks.
NBC also will be showcasing the NHL with a primetime game featuring two Original Six teams, this year Boston and Detroit, the day after Thanksgiving. This will help set up the Winter Classic and NBC’s game of the week.
There was a lot of talk about whether the NHL should go back to ESPN, but this NBC deal was the right move. NHL will be the main focus of the new NBC-Versus package and ratings should rise.
Even if Crosby misses an extended period of time or is not the same player when he does return, the league has a number of other bright stars to market.
Alex Ovechkin is still in his prime, plays in a big East Coast market and has already done spots on ESPN. That’s a network that treats hockey like it’s a four-letter word, and they thought enough to get Ovechkin.
Beyond that, you have Steve Stamkos on the cover of EA Hockey and other players still in their 20’s like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Milan Lucic, John Tavares and so many more.
The league is sitting pretty with some really talented young guys who all can be marketed well.
At first glance having the Winnipeg Jets return to Canada may not seem like a big boost to the NHL. After all, Winnipeg is a much smaller television market than Atlanta was and is in Canada.
Hockey gets NFL type ratings in Canada, and having another team in Canada will only excite Canadian fans more. The NHL should never take diehard fans for granted, and the attention the Winnipeg Jets are going to get in ticket sales, merchandise and ratings will easily make up for them playing in a smaller market.
The NHL should consider its next relocation or expansion in Canada as well.
Having a buzz about the league, no matter which country it is in, is always a good thing.
Along with the Original Six teams, it never hurts to have good teams in big television markets. Going into this season, both the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers are improved and have ideas about making a cup run.
A Los Angeles-New York match up in the Stanley Cup finals might make Gary Bettman faint from excitement, as nothing could please the league more than those two markets focused on hockey in June.
Even if both of those teams make deep runs and fall just short, the NHL will benefit.
Don’t forget that when the Rangers were in the finals in 1994, the NHL saw some of its best ratings ever, and that was with a Canadian team as their opponent.
Let’s face it, the United States is pretty much obsessed with celebrities. A lot of people claim they aren’t, but you know that your gaze turns to the gossip rags in the check out line. Don’t worry; your secret is safe here.
With that being said, it turns out there are some celebrity hockey fans out there. Last year saw Vince Vaughn and Jeremy Piven at Blackhawks games and Carrie Underwood and Nicole Kidman at Predators games.
The list goes on and on.
If only Gary Bettman can get one of the Kardashians to date a hockey player, the league will instantly gain more fans.
The NBA is currently stalemated in what looks like a lengthy lock out. It seems doubtful the NBA season will start on time.
There are rumors everywhere that many star players are prepared to go play in Europe while the league figures out its mess.
This will pave a way for the NHL to thrive. Football is still king in the United States, but is only a weekend thing.
With no NBA to quench the sports thirst for Americans during those fall and winter weeknights, the NHL will be their only option.
As hockey fans all know, once you start watching, you will be hooked, and NBA fans will find this out. After all, which would you rather watch? Guys standing around heaving three pointers or Tim Thomas flopping all over the place to make an incredible save?
Sidney Crosby is a great player. It makes sense that the league has focused so much marketing around him. They’ve even gone as far as to surgically attach Pierre McGuire to his hip to help sing his praises.
Even if he is injured, the league and the game will go on.
The game is bigger than Crosby.
The NHL and hockey in general have moved on from Guy Lafleur, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemiuex in the past, all players who were the marquee players of their time.
Marketing players helps a bit, but the game itself is what we love. We’ll still be watching whether Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or whomever isn’t out there.
That’s because nothing beats the speed, the aggression and the tense drama that the NHL brings night in and night out.