Thank God for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Don’t get me wrong. I could not care less about the Blackhawks. If that isn’t a non-sequitur opening, I don’t know what is. I’m a Penguins fan. But I’m also a hockey fan.
As this season approached, the NHL owners wore a unanimous front in their lockout of the players. The union showed a strong resolve in their stand, too, feeling they had taken the worst of it in their last deal only a few years back. The season was in real danger.
The two men at the center of the negotiations were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Donald Fehr. In case your brain has expunged the trauma these two were at the center of, let me remind you. Only one entire season of the four major sports has been lost to a strike, the 2004-2005 NHL season.
Thank you Mr. Bettman.
Do you remember the 1994 World Series? Neither does anyone else because it never happened. Baseball was on strike that year. Mr. Fehr, take a bow for the union’s part in robbing us of our favorite October ritual.
Many of us thought these two would let their egos get in the way of reaching a deal and do irreparable damage to the game. Finally, they did make a deal and the season was saved.
Hockey fans are as resilient as their players. Can you see one of its players taking himself out of a game for a sore tooth? No. This isn’t the country club set who chooses to play only when they feel like it.
The fans’ passion for the game hasn’t been hampered, either. Arenas have been sold out from the day the lockout was resolved. Though if your only sports exposure is watching the national media, you might not be aware of it.
Here is where the Blackhawks come into play. They are currently on a 22 game streak (19-0-3) where they have at least one point in each, setting an NHL record for the beginning of a season.
Even though for old-school guys like me, it’s a bit tainted (I love overtime, hate the shootout) at least it has done something to create hockey headlines. Again, it’s still not enough to give it anything close to center stage.
I can’t be the only one who has noticed ESPN showing more high school basketball than hockey on Sports Center, can I? It’s not just them. Of the top five national sports websites, only one had the Blackhawks streak as a top ten headline on Monday morning.
It’s become somewhat hip to knock hockey. Their fans are seen as the nerds of the sports world. Hockey is Dungeons and Dragons to football’s Dishonored. (I had to Google that. I haven’t played a video game since Centipede, which I almost called Caterpillar until my wife proofread this story.)
Maybe once the Stanley Cup playoffs start, the NHL will get closer to the national spotlight the sport deserves. I know from hosting a talk show that when you start talking hockey listeners change the station. Too bad. It’s a great sport with great drama every night.
While the Blackhawks are stealing what little headlines there are, some teams are out there playing some great hockey. Montreal has the best record in the East and Toronto isn’t far behind. That, my friends, is life as it should be.
Like any sport there will be some iconic franchises who make the playoffs and some who will have to stay home. The Penguins sit atop the Atlantic Division and second to the Canadiens in the conference. Boston, New Jersey and Philadelphia are in the playoffs were they to start right now. The Rangers are the only one of the Original Six to be out of the playoffs as we speak.
The West, of course is being dominated by the Blackhawks. If not for them, Anaheim would be grabbing some attention with its stellar record. Vancouver, St. Louis and San Jose are all dangerous teams, as well. Come the playoffs that might not mean much, though.
A hot goaltender can take you a long way, as it did for the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. In case you weren’t aware, the Kings were the eighth and last seeded team in the West last season and won the Cup. That’s not all that shocking in the NHL where it would be legendary in the NBA.
So if you’re a bettor or just a fan, enjoy a sport where every rush to the net or shot on goal can change the game. Give it a chance and you might become one of its enthusiastic fans.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Chris has a dedicated thread in the Pregame.com forums, answering your questions and more. Contact Chris at [email protected] mingToday.com.