Missing the Stanley Cup Finals: The Second-Class Treatment of the NHL

If you’re not a hockey fan, you may not realize that tonight is the night when the Los Angeles Kings (potentially) win the Stanley Cup against the New Jersey Devils. They’ve had a remarkable postseason, tearing through the playoffs with a 15-2 record and eliminating the top three seeds in the Western Conference. This is the eighth seeded team, one that barely made it into the playoffs. It’s an amazing story, one that I’d enjoy seeing through to the end.

But I can’t. If they win tonight, I won’t be able to watch the game, because I don’t have cable and the game won’t be on network television.

Sidebar: Yes, I know I should own cable and that there are a bunch of shows I’m missing. But I’m saving money, and most of those shows can be watched online afterwards anyway. So that’s a moot point.

If you’re wondering what will be on instead, it’s not the premiere of an exciting new summer show or another Diamond Jubilee celebration:

I love me some SVU, but honestly.

I do appreciate NBC’s effort to get every playoff game on some channel, whether it was NBC Sports or CNBC. Did I need to watch every game of the quarterfinals? It would have been nice, but logistically there are just too many games played in the NHL playoffs to put them all on network television. I get that.

I’m just saying that it would have been nice to bump some repeats of television shows in favor of a Stanley Cup final hockey game. Possibly the last hockey game played this season (the way the Devils are “taking advantage” of their power play opportunities, I’d say it’s a pretty good chance). I’m sure Betty White wouldn’t mind! I don’t know what channel will be playing the game in the LA and NJ areas, but I think that’s a moot point too. It’s the National Hockey League. Could you imagine the backlash if FOX decided to show repeats of The Simpsons instead of airing the final game of the World Series? Even the majority of big NASCAR Sprint Cup races are on network television.

Sidebar 2: Yes, I know NASCAR gets more viewers than hockey. You don’t go through the NHL lockout with a wristful of “Bring Back Hockey” bracelets and not realize this. People strangely opposed to hockey always throw this tidbit in first and foremost.

My wrist in 2004.No one else wanted a bracelet so I wore the five I had to buy.

Tonight’s broadcast is just an example of the bigger picture: the NHL is almost always treated as an afterthought. Without a really great television contract (hey, remember when ESPN used to show weekly hockey games?), it just doesn’t get the exposure it deserves. Not in SportsCenter highlights, not in the news, not in bars.

Sidebar 3: Yes, I know I could go to a bar. But the Rangers were barely on NBC this postseason, I had to go to a lot of bars and spend a lot of money just to watch the local team win some games. I’m tired of trying to maneuver around people at the bar that don’t care, I miss things when I watch hockey at bars. And true story? Once we had to ask the bartender to switch a tv from Jeopardy to the NHL playoffs. Come on, guys.

There are a lot of really talented hockey players. The Kings have made the 2012 playoffs entertaining, and who doesn’t love a good underdog story? If Jonathan Quick gets to hoist the Cup tonight, I won’t get to see it. I won’t get to see the ritual handshakes, the presentation of the Conn Smythe, or anything else. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see two seconds of coverage on the news later on.

The NHL has made great strides since the lockout: they have seized the potential of social media, ratings are up, casual fans are watching with more than a casual interest. There are still problems with head injuries and the NHL/NHLPA tensions, I get that. They still have a long way to go, but people are beginning to care about the sport again. And these players deserve to win their Stanley Cup on the national stage, on network television.

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