Tonight, the New York Rangers & Los Angeles Kings will meet in a game 1 of a matchup that is going to be some of the best hockey an NHL could ask for from the great Stanley Cup playoffs that have taken place. Mark Messier’s guarantee in 1994 to help the Rangers end a 54-year drought & revitalize hockey in New York City – an NHL Original Six area, vs Wayne Gretzky bringing hockey into prominence in 1993 when he led the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in team history, putting hockey on the map in Southern California.
Not only is this series going to be important for fan bases of the Rangers & Kings, but this will cap off a major season for the NHL, that saw 5 outdoor games, strong TV ratings & better exposure of the product on NHL Network & NBC Sports Network. For the New York & Los Angeles markets, the NHL has been planting their flag in these two markets all season.
New York hosted two outdoor games the week of SuperBowl 48, which was held at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. Those games helped to get the NHL brand out to the masses during one of sports biggest sporting events in its biggest media market.
A couple of weeks later, the NHL had a great Saturday night outdoor game in Dodger Stadium between the Kings & Anaheim Ducks that drew a great crowd to the game & showed that outdoor hockey can be translated in all weather climates.
On top of those games, the NHL Winter Classic featured the Detroit Red Wings & Toronto Maple Leafs set a world record for largest crowd to watch a hockey game when they played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, home of the Michigan Wolverines football team, on New Year’s Day. I had written that the high number of outdoor games could be too much for the league & it could lead to overexposure, but clearly, the NHL benefited big from the difference in how the game was shown & hopefully, will only look to go higher next season & in future seasons.
For 2014-15, the NHL will be having a game hosted by the Washington Capitals for the Winter Classic & possibly outdoor games in Minnesota, Winnipeg, San Jose & Denver.
Now, the NHL is going to be front & center in the two largest media markets in the world, with high ticket prices – but even higher demand. The NHL has made a tremendous comeback from their lockout because of the passionate fans & the willingness to do things outside the box & be successful with it.
While the NHL will have great revenues & TV ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals, but both teams are fun to watch with their gritty play & strong will & desire to scrap for every goal. Not to mention having the two greatest goalies in sports in Henrik Lundquist for the Rangers & Jonathan Quick for the Kings, who is looking for his second Stanley Cup.
Here’s hoping that the NHL will ride this momentum into next season with the strong scheduling, great play, emphasis on the youth movement while keeping classic rivalries in tact & creating more exposure for the game.