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What We Learned: NHL could learn a thing or two from the Super Bowl

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Last night, the most-watched and beloved annual sporting event in America took place, and once again was a wildly successful affair that you all surely enjoyed.

Tens of millions of people tuned in for every second of the game with bated breath waiting for the deciding play to happen. And that, once again, gave the National Hockey League the chance to finally learn a thing or two about how to start better marketing itself so that it can finally become more than a fringe-sport afterthought in the minds of nearly all Americans.

One of the reasons football gained so much television exposure in its early days, the better to foster its current immense popularity, is that the league executives went to every network on hand and knee saying, "What can we possibly do to make the game more appealing to you as a property?" And television executives likely leaned back in their chairs with a wry smile and noted that the pace of the game in those days was far too fast.

"Where," they must surely have asked, "are we supposed to squeeze in two hours' worth of insultingly troglodytic potato chip ads and misogynistic light beer commercials?"

So the NFL did what any right-thinking league would do: It bent to the will of its corporate masters and stretched a game in which there's 60 minutes on the play clock so that it takes about 200 minutes to complete. And by the time the Super Bowl rolls around, that 200 minutes stretches to a little more than 240. That's how you get on major networks without having playoff overtimes preempted by horse race pregame shows.

Now don't get me wrong, the NHL has done a lot to make itself more palatable to the Joe Sports Fan crowd in the last few years: It's gotten its best players' faces out there more (or would do if they could stop being concussed for more than 10 or 15 games a season) and eliminated ties in favor of the shootout, which is not stupid at all.

And yet there still remains a long way to go. Why on earth would anyone want the proceedings of the first period of a Stanley Cup Final game broken down by experts when the league could, instead, be using that time to trot out artistically irrelevant, aging pop stars to caterwaul some hits from 30 years ago? The fact of the matter is the NHL just isn't drawing in the type of fan that chooses a rooting interest based on jersey color. Your mom simply won't be calling you to join a pool at her work where you can win $8 if you get the final score of the game correct by picking a random square.

There is still work to be done if the ratings on NBC Sports and the amount of coverage on ESPN are any indication.

(Coming Up: The Red Wings see themselves as the New England Patriots of the NHL; should the Oilers sell high on Sam Gagner?; Ryan Kesler Tebows; Brooks Orpik sends Bruin into orbit; Tavares hearts the Isles; Boudreau snarks on Blake; the Canadiens see a shrink; Dallas has it one lockdown; Kovalchuk goes Gordie; Flyers owner to buy Philly papers?; Miller passes Hasek; hard-workin' Jeff Skinner; James Reimer is hot, the Senators are not; and Scott Gomez doesn't score.)

We as hockey fans don't get the luxury of a single game to determine our league's champion, the kind of event you can really build two weeks of lathery hype around. No, our top contenders slug it out for seven games like idiots, flying between their home arenas instead of having the games at neutral sites to really create an electrifying atmosphere.

Can you imagine how much better life would be if the teams playing for the Stanley Cup only had to play a maximum of four playoff games to win it? The games would mean so much more, and it would give us a lot more time to fabricate narratives.

Another reason hockey's championship isn't a bigger deal is that the League presents the trophy to the winning team so archaically. Fans don't want to see players who were just blocking 100-mile-an-hour slap shots and getting run at 30 miles an hour into Plexiglas walls by 200-pound men in suits of armor raising a trophy above their head in victory after several months of hard-won battles. They don't deserve it.

No, they want to see it done by the doughy old billionaires in those really cool blue dress shirts with white collars who bravely fronted the money for the team's paychecks (unless they were cut in Week 3 and never got another cent no matter what their contract said).

You know, the real heroes.

There are certainly a number of reasons that football is the most popular sport in the country and hockey is not; and if the League took the time to actually make the sport less exciting and more annoying, they'd be taking a huge stride in the right direction.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks held their annual team skills competition on Saturday and Bruce Boudreau offered some commentary during the proceedings. When Corey Perry brought back his mini-stick shootout move, Boudreau said, "It's great that he could score with Jason Blake's stick."

Boston Bruins: You know things are going bad for the Bruins offense when their only goal in home losses to the Hurricanes and Penguins comes off the stick of Joe Corvo.

Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller picked up an unimpressive overtime win against the Islanders on Saturday night to pass Dominik Hasek as the franchise's all-time wins leader. Given another five or six games, he might be able to widen the gap. Unless he gets traded.

Calgary Flames: The Flames have won three of their last five and even the two losses have been close ones against very good teams in San Jose and Detroit. And it therefore might not surprise you to learn that they're taking the Wile E. Coyote-over-the-edge-of-a-cliff approach: Don't acknowledge that this is happening despite all logic, and we won't plunge horribly to our deaths.

Carolina Hurricanes: Really good, hard work by Jeff Skinner to create this game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Chicago Blackhawks: The less the Blackhawks see of Alberta, the better off they'll be. With Friday's 3-1 loss to Calgary, Chicago went 0-4 in the province on the season, getting outscored — get this — 25-9. (Warning: linked article contains bananas Toewsface.)

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs played very well against Vancouver on Saturday, but still lost in a shootout. They currently have just one win in their last nine games with the Canucks, which is bad but not that surprising.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus snapped a six-game losing streak on Derick Brassard's first career two-goal night, but you know your team is bad when the opposing city's newspaper characterizes it as their team's season taking "another turn for the worse."

Dallas Stars: I think the Stars know how to lock down a game. They're 15-0-0 when leading after two periods. Only Vancouver and Boston (21-0 each) and Washington (16-0) are better. And just for fun, watch the highlight video in that link to hear an ESPN employee call Kari Lehtonen a "net man."

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: The Red Wings see themselves as the New England Patriots of the NHL. Except if Nick Lidstrom was on the Patriots, their defense probably wouldn't be abysmal.

Related Links

Edmonton Oilers: Sam Gagner has 11 points in his last two games. He had 22 in his previous 43. Note to Steve Tambellini: Sell high.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers and Capitals might be hearing footsteps. After Tampa dumped Florida 6-3 on Saturday, their lead in the division over the previously-cooked Bolts is only eight points.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings must really hate Jonathan Bernier. He got the loss in the game against Carolina on Saturday and in four of his last five starts, they've scored either one goal or none to support him.

Minnesota Wild: Jed Ortmeyer with a strong hit on Jake Dowell.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens have been so bad they brought in a sports psychologist to help them get their heads right. If only HBO hadn't canceled "In Treatment." That's three seasons' worth of material.

Nashville Predators: This blog keeps track of how loud it gets at Bridgestone Arena. The crowd broke 100 decibels nine separate times. That's apparently "Normal average car or house stereo at maximum volume" levels. So there you go.

New Jersey Devils: Here's Anton Volchenkov's goal yesterday. This is notable because it was his first for the Devils ever, and because he has played 103 games for them.

New York Islanders: The good news is that John Tavares really sounds like he's committed to the Islanders organization for the long run. The bad news is who knows what goes on with that franchise ever? He really is a great player though.

New York Rangers: Until Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky scored for the Rangers yesterday, they, Brad Richards and Wojtek Wolski — four of the team's six highest-paid forwards — had combined for just three points in 29 man-games. That's bad.

Ottawa Senators: Hey look the Senators are having their easily-predicted meltdown. You all saw it coming. That's six straight losses for those keeping track.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ed Snider and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell are considering buying the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer. Future headlines will include: "Zac Rinaldo: Cleanest player in the league" and "Boy isn't Jody Shelley just great?"

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes beat the Sharks on Saturday 5-3, in a game that was termed must-win for keeping the team's playoff hopes alive. They're currently four points out and tied with Calgary for 11th.

Pittsburgh Penguins: This hit by Brooks Orpik put Dan Paille on the IR while the Bruins wait for his orbit to degrade.

San Jose Sharks: Rough road ahead for the Sharks. After next Friday's game with Chicago, they go on a nine-game road trip from Feb. 12-26, including six of them played on back-to-back nights. Then they play 17 games in March. Ouch.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues really like their goaltending right now. Brian Elliott was a deserving All-Star. Jaroslav Halak is 12-1-3 with a 1.53 GAA in his last 16 games. That's the guy they paid for right there.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Brett Connolly has struggled a bit this season but the team has no plans to ship him back to juniors, which must be done before the trade deadline. Unless the team drops off appreciably in the next few weeks, they won't even think about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer told his teammates that after a bad December, and a lengthy absence due to post-concussion syndrome, he would be a whole new player. In his first two games back, he has consecutive shutouts and has stopped 74 shots. An okay turnaround.

Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver outshot 46-29 by the Avs but still win? What's the reason for that? And for that matter, why are they 4-0-1 in their last five games? Oh, it's because Ryan Kesler Tebowed at a charity event. WHY ISN'T THE MEDIA REPORTING ON THIS?

Washington Capitals: Not a good day at the office for Caps D-men, who got worked along the boards all night long by a Bruins team that was having a world of trouble scoring.

Winnipeg Jets: After Friday's loss to Florida, the Jets are now 0 for 9 in back-to-back games and have been outscored 36-8 in those losses.

Gold Star Award

Any time Ilya Kovalchuk has three points and KO's someone, I guess he gets the nod here.

Minus of the Weekend

Since yesterday was officially the one-year anniversary of Scott Gomez failing to score a goal, let me just remind you what the last one looked like:

That was actually pretty decent.

Play of the Weekend

Talked a lot about that super-improbable Canucks win this week, and here's why it happened: What an effort in the dying seconds from Kevin Bieksa.

And what a homeriffic goal call to boot. "LOOK OOOOOOUT…score." Of course, the only proper way to transcribe that is if there was a way to make "score" in letters so small you couldn't view them on your computer.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "waitin425" is buying into the Sam Gagner hype:

To Montreal:
- Sam Gagner
- 1st round 2012

To Edmonton:
- PK Subban
- 2nd rounder 2012

Signoff

You look like a fool, don't you?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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