Hard for NHL to Americanize with So Few Americans

Josh Herman@@JoshHermanPJSCorrespondent IJune 2, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 31:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Two of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on May 31, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings, only two wins away from their 12th Stanley Cup title, have quietly made themselves into one of the greatest franchises of all time.

But the reason for their success might be one of the reasons that they have gone about their domination under the radar.

The NHL, which has never had great popularity in the United States, seems to be drifting further and further away from really Americanizing the game, and much of it spurns from the Red Wings’ drafts in the '90s.

While many teams were mainly looking at Canada and Western Europe for hockey talent, the Red Wings saw a pipeline in Russia and Sweden that they tapped and have ridden to four Stanley Cup titles since 1996.

Players drafted by the Red Wings such as Russia’s Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Federov, and Sweden’s Nicklas Lidstrom helped them win back-to-back titles in the '90s. Now, joining Lidstrom are players like Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk and Sweden’s Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, and Niklas Kronwall.

However, with the greatness of these teams and players, you have to question whether or not this is hurting the NHL from the United States’ standpoint.

U.S.-born players such as Patrick Kane have been said to be the saviors for the NHL in the United States market. However, it seems as if the shift hasn’t happened yet.

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Yes, the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs have had the best ratings of any hockey playoffs in the last seven years, but it could be a reaction to Kane’s Chicago Blackhawks making the Western Conference finals for the first time in more than a decade, or Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins making it to the Stanley Cup finals for the second straight year.

The only problem for these two teams is they’ve had to play the most dominant hockey franchise in the history of the NHL: the Detroit Red Wings.

The rough-and-tumble style that the Red Wings play is much more physically exhausting for teams to play against, and high-scoring, offensive-first teams such as the Penguins and Blackhawks have seen firsthand what the Russian and Swedish hockey culture is like: dominant.

So what does this mean for the future of the NHL in the United States?  The ratings show that the playoffs are growing, but there is still no comparison to the rest of the top four leagues, the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

Sadly, the NHL will probably never be higher than fourth on that list in the U.S.


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