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Another Mailbag

Friday, 02.22.2008 / 12:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

One Ice Age reader feels that the NHL's weekly coverage on national and cable TV is inadequate.
Sunday's game of the week highlights 
I'd just like to add a comment or two to Mr. Byrne's opinions on why the popularity in our favorite sport is on the decline.

First off, I'd say he's correct on the point that hockey is no longer on ESPN and to a lesser extent FOX. NBC carries one game a week (if we're lucky) and not until mid-January for some ridiculous reason. Even when they do carry it, they love to pre-empt it, right, Buffalo? Not enough people subscribe to satellite or receive Versus on their cable service, so trying to watch hockey is like pulling teeth for some folks, myself included.

Second, I'd also agree with the popularity of basketball. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and while the Hawks had a decent team on the ice in the 90s, they did little to promote the team. Bill Wirtz had his blackouts, and you needed cable to get even away games. I had no idea the Blackhawks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in '93 until almost nine years later! Conversely, absolutely everyone -- and I mean everyone -- knew about (Michael) Jordan and his Bulls in that same time. The Blackhawks weren't even second fiddle! To top it off, think about how much hockey equipment costs versus basketball equipment. Figure almost $200 if you just got a pair of skates, a stick, maybe some gloves and some pucks with a gear bag on the cheap. That's if you're not a goalie. Compare that with a pair of $30 Chucks, and a ball. It's just simple math. (This argument also works with the idea of more scholastic hockey.)

Finally, (don't worry, it's almost over), I take slight offense to Michael from Toronto's slight against the Southeast and Pacific. I play pickup hockey at a local rink here in Florida, and there's some boys down here that are flat out amazing. I'm pretty sure the West Coast kids can light the lamp with the best of them as well. Let Michael grab some of his buddies in his neck of the woods, and we'll bring out the warm weather folks and we'll see what kind of a game we have on our hands. Lord knows we'll have a good time.

Thanks for letting me ramble!

-- Jeff, Gainesville, FL

Thanks for taking the time to ramble with Ice Age, Jeff. Always appreciated.

For my two cents worth, I think this whole fixation on national television is wrong. Back when I was a kid (yes, TV existed), I remember watching the weekly baseball game of the week because it was the chance to see some different teams. This was before teams in all sports began televising all their games and the advent of superstations like WTBS in Atlanta, that went a long way to making the Braves "America's" team.

Another story. My family moved to New Jersey when I was in the eighth grade and one of the very happy discoveries my father and I made was cable TV. Mom was not thrilled that all of a sudden we were getting Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, Bruins and Whalers games almost every night, but Dad and I were pleased as punch. Cable has segmented audiences by giving us more and more choices. I know the major networks would go hungry if they depended on my viewing habits to keep them going. I rarely watch anything on network TV and I don't watch anything on ESPN because its programming doesn't interest me. I get plenty of NHL games on the regional cable and don't feel I'm missing much. I do get Versus and more people will as they continue to grow their reach. And that will happen, it doesn't make sense to not get bigger.

So, while everyone is always critical of national TV ratings for hockey, they do not tell the whole tale. Regional broadcasts of NHL games are doing quite well.

As for the cost of hockey, yes, it is more expensive to play and that isn't going to change. But many youth programs have equipment swaps and the like to help ease the costs for kids. Let's face it, hockey is a labor of love. That's why we appreciate it more.

***

I agree with previous respondents -- the Red Wing/Avalanche rivalry is a big yawn. These are two teams heading in different directions and there is none of the animosity for each other the McCarty/Lemieux era teams had. I think the Wings have a much bigger rivalry with the Ducks. Even though (Chris) Pronger has faced the Wings too many times for me to remember, it was not until his dirty hit on (Tomas) Holmstrom during the playoffs (not just once, but twice) that I began to truly dislike him. To make matters worse, the Ducks win the Cup, (Mathieu) Schneider leaves and heads to the coast and (Todd) Bertuzzi goes almost right behind him. If that does not create an atmosphere where the Wings players feel they have something to prove each and every game against the Ducks, then I don?t know what will. Thank you.

-- Jim, San Antonio, TX

Thanks Jim, more on the rivalry, or lack there of after the next letter.

***

I figured I should write in to respond to Derek Chavez's comment on my comment from last week about Colorado-Detroit. I know they haven't met in the playoffs since 2002. In fact, the main problem with a salary cap and parity is that you don't get the same kind of rivalries because there are more good teams each year and more good players leave for more money on a bad team (Chara, Savard, Adam Foote, etc...) Obviously the rivalry isn't as intense or good as it used to be, but the games are usually tough and hard fought. Unfortunately, Detroit has been on the winning side lately; mostly no one was hit as hard by the salary cap as Colorado and they didn't have as good of a contingency plan in place. Now that both teams have some good young players I hope they can face each other in the playoffs again. If Colorado didn't tread water until the last month of the season last year that would have been a great 1 vs. 8 matchup, with Detroit being a great team and Colorado being the hottest.

Although they have not met in the playoffs in quite some time, the Colorado Avalanche-Detroit Red Wings rivalry lives on.

Back to the main point though. I still consider it a rivalry, though not as strong as it was, and hope they can start meeting in the playoffs again to try to re-energize it. Thanks for the time, I just wanted to respond.

-- Matt Cortese, Clementon, NJ

p.s. Phil --- Santa Claus does exist!

You know Matt, passionate fans like you, Derek and Jim arguing over the Colorado-Detroit rivalry sure helps keep the rivalry going.

***

Phil,

What's the latest concerning Peter Forsberg? I would love to see him wind up in New Jersey, but God forbid Lou brings in a bona-fide superstar. My feeling is even if Forsberg came to Newark and didn't score goals, just think what his passing and physicality would bring to the offensively streaky Devils. Forsberg immediately puts New Jersey at the top of the Eastern Conference and makes them even that much more of serious threat when playoff time rolls around. But, I know my team and I'm more likely to see the devil himself get signed than a can't-lose signing like this. Oh well, at least we have new digs!

On another note, isn't it a sin to have a qualified back-up in Kevin Weekes, only to have him see ice time no less than 5-times thus far?

-- Douglas Sealfon, Lake Peekskill, NY

Hi Doug. As I write this Tuesday AM, the word is Peter Forsberg won't be coming back this season because he still isn't comfortable with his foot.

I have to disagree with you a bit on Lou Lamoriello and his player acquisitions. Certainly Marty Brodeur qualifies as a superstar player. Ditto Scott Stevens, who Lamoriello really did his homework on to acquire from St. Louis. While I'm not sure Patrik Elias is a superstar, he certainly has been a top-notch forward (I'm sure you want to see more goals from him) and Lamoriello got him signed. I think Zach Parise is going to be a very interesting player to watch in the coming years, so he certainly qualifies as a high-level acquisition. Remember, the Devils traded up to get him at the draft.

The team-first concept will always frame how Lou Lamoriello builds his teams. And you can't be too critical this season with the Devils playing some pretty nice hockey to stay right in the thick of things in both the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference.

***

I live in Australia and am a passionate hockey person. I am just wondering if you know of any way that we can get Center Ice or anything along those lines for the viewers in the land down under.

-- Kyle

Hi Kyle. The good news for you is NHL Center Ice Online is available in Australia and that should give you plenty of hockey to watch.

***

Good afternoon Mr. Coffey,

I'm writing to you from Miami, home of the Florida Panthers. I've always been a great hockey fan, even though the climate down here is not the most ideal for it. In any case, I have a question for you. Many teams in this league boast rivalries that end games in bloodshed. We, down here in Florida, also have a rivalry that people seem to disregard, and that is the ongoing confrontation between the Panthers and Lightning. I've been to a few Lightning-Panthers games up in Tampa, and I must say, my Nathan Horton jersey always draws a very fair share of verbal abuse. I was at the last home game of the Lightning last season, a 7-2 loss to the Panthers. At some point, the guy sitting next to me quite seriously told me to stop cheering unless I want to catch a fist in the jaw. Anyway, it seems like almost no one I talk to from different parts of Hockey Nation has ever heard of our rivalry. But then again, what can you expect from a town that demolished the Miami Ice Arena and built a shopping plaza in its place.

-- Nikita Likht

Prehaps we're all envious that you guys have a hockey rivalry and nice weather in Florida.

Proximity also ratchets things up a few degrees in a rivalry. What will really get things brewing would be a Stanley Cup Playoff series between the two.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.



 

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