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New York Rangers

Getting Noticed

Along with the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, the NHL used to be considered a major sport in the United States. That “big four” has now shrunk to become the “big three.” In the mid 90s the NHL was “hot” and the NBA was “not.” Characters from major TV shows like Friends and Seinfeld would go to NHL games, and I can’t see that happening on shows today.

The NHL was a fast-paced game on the way to the top until teams were shuffled into non-hockey markets. Needless expansion diminished the quality of play. Now, more people are watching the food network, poker, fishing, darts, the WNBA, pretty much anything other than the Stanley Cup.

Here are four things that I think the NHL has done/needs to do to draw attention to itself and catch the view of the media and public eye.

Playing Games in Exotic Places: Whether its outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, in Britian or in smaller non-NHL cities/towns in Canada, the NHL is looking to extend itself to all over North America and the world by staging their games in non-traditional areas/markets. While the games in Europe and outdoors are obvious cash grabs & publicity stunts, it is something that brings the NHL to the front page of ESPN and onto sports talk radio and tv. The NHL is no longer a major sport in the United States and anything that gets people talking is a good thing. If this season’s events are successful, there will be more to come.

The RBK Edge Uniform System: Most of the offseason talk has revolved around the unveiling of the new jerseys. The NHL claims they will increase performance by being lighter, form fitting and water repellent. But in reality, their purpose is to increase sales and boost revenues. In the past month, many ugly looking jerseys have been trotted out. Some look like practice jerseys (Oilers) or like a womens halter top (Flyers). Last year when the new Sabres jerseys were introduced they were hated by fans. petitions were made to revert back to the old jerseys, but it became the leagues top selling jersey. What will happen with the new jerseys? Will they go the way of the synthetic basketball, or will they become a big hit and record massive sales? Either way, it has been great publicity for the NHL and RBK. Although if nobody buys them, it could be a huge bust. One of many for Commissioner Bettman.

Chris Drury, Scott Gomez & The New York Rangers: The New York Rangers vaulted themselves to the top of the Eastern Confrence power rankings with the off-season signings of all-stars, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. After missing the playoffs for eight straight years, the Rangers have risen back to Stanley Cup contender status. In the spring, they had a nice playoff run bowing out to the Sabres in the second round. With stars like Jagr, Drury, Gomez, Shanahan, Lundvquist and Sean Avery feeding the media frenzy, the Rangers are primed for a cup run.

The post-lockout Stanley Cup Finals have been Edmonton versus Carolina and Anaheim versus Ottawa. Blech, not exactly a television station’s dream. The ratings, not surprisingly, were abysmal and did not help hockey regain its mid-90s form. If New York, a major US market, can get even closer to the Stanley Cup, it will grab the attention of the largest American city.

People are attracted to winning. Isiah Thomas has singlehandedly destroyed the Knicks. The only shot New York has at a title in June is with the Rangers. If the New York Rangers can hoist the the most famous trophy in sports, people will be watching, and drinking Jagr-bombs all over the bars in New York. (Why isn’t Jagermeister all over this?)

Sidney Crosby: Sidney Crosby is the best thing to happen to the NHL. He is young, handsome, and very humble about his dominance over the NHL. In only his second season, at the age of 19, he won the scoring title and was league MVP. His skills will only continue to grow. If a sport has a player who not only dominates, but completely obliterates the competition, people watch. Ratings demonstrate that far less people watch golf when Tiger Woods is not competing. If Crosby continues to dominate, and continues to be the face of the NHL, appearing on Saturday afternoon NHL on NBC broadcasts and in various commercials (Gatorade, RBK, Tim Hortons), he can become a huge star and draw more people to watch him skate circles around the opposition. Wayne Gretzky appeared on tv shows, movies, video games, Coca-Cola commercials, and Wheaties boxes, why cant Crosby?

While the NHL is getting people talking with the new jerseys and outdoor/overseas games. If everything goes its way during the 2007/08 season, the NHL can begin its ascent back to being one of the four major sports.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Michael Remis.