Big-Market NHL Conference Finalists Helping Send Television Ratings Higher
The NHL is "gaining ground again," as TV ratings for the playoffs are "through the roof, relatively speaking, thanks to scintillating games and a final four -- Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Pittsburgh -- that any league would love to have," according to Jim Litke of the AP. Telecasts in "a few towns are setting records and even approaching NFL levels." What were the "odds of that happening last winter, when the league's owners and players squared off across a bargaining table, hell-bent on driving off fans and sacrificing the schedule to labor strife for the second time in less than 10 years?" For the "first time in a while, the sport looks up and sees nothing but clear ice ahead." NBC Sports Exec Producer Sam Flood said, "We can't control who reaches the finals, but nobody's complaining about the way this one worked out" (AP, 6/5). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "This is THE four." As much as the storyline is "about a sudden return to glory, it is also about teams that have overcome much ... to become the kinds of franchise that other teams around the league both envy and emulate" (ESPN.com, 6/4). Meanwhile, SI this week has two covers for its national issue, featuring action shots from the Bruins-Penguins and the Blackhawks-Kings conference finals on each, and writes under the subhead, "Why The NHL Postseason Is Like No Other" (SI, 6/10 issue).
SLOW BUT STEADY: The NHL competition committee this week voted to grandfather in visors for players who had less than 26 games of NHL experience, and NHLPA Special Assistant to the Exec Dir Mathieu Schneider said there was a “clear majority” of players that were in favor of visors being required in the NHL starting next season. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty noted the decision to require visors "underscores that the long-held hockey stigma, that any player wearing a visor is weak, is something of the past." Bruins LW Milan Lucic: “The perception that guys wearing visors are soft is long gone" (CSNNE.com, 6/5). Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "I encourage guys to wear visors. ... I know there’s been some accidents with the visor, but there’s been more things, more incidents (in which a player is) saved by the visor than there has been from the other side of it." Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: "I thought it was inevitable, and I'm glad to see them put that in there." Bruins D Adam McQuaid said of a meeting with LW Shawn Thornton, "He said, 'If a young guy comes up and he wants to fight, I've got to fight a guy with a visor on and I don't.' I hadn't really thought of it that way. It's something that from junior right on up, visors are mandatory now" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/6). SPORTSNET.ca's Mark Spector wrote of the decision to grandfather visors in, "Had it been up to the league, they would have done so years ago." The league requires the NHLPA to "sign off on all equipment changes for legal reasons." They will "tell you this is in the spirit of cooperation." However, the "more important factor is the sharing of culpability." Either way, the visors "mandate is being heralded as progress, even though the two sides had to wait until nearly four out of every five NHLers were already wearing visors to push it through" (SPORTSNET.ca, 6/5)