This article has been submitted by Mr. 412, Stuart Wilkinson.
Now that the Super Bowl is over, the sporting public will inevitably start complaining about the dearth of exciting sporting events on this month’s calendar until the NCAA Tournament begins in March (if this guy doesn’t represent the sporting public, I don’t know who does). “February is brutal for sports, the highlight is a dunk contest,” they’ll say to you. Now, there’s a reason that Sports Illustrated puts out its swimsuit issue in February, and it’s not because the ladies are going to be flocking to stores to buy the latest two-piece that some girl from Brazil is wearing. It’s because people don’t really get into sports in February.
But check it out – I think in a couple years people may not be dumping on February so much. February won’t be the month where people recover from the Super Bowl and wait for the Birdman to fly in the NBA All-Star game. No, February will be the month in which the NHL’s playoff picture becomes clearer and the league starts gaining momentum heading towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And why will that be the case, you ask? Because two of hockey’s biggest and most promising superstars will revitalize the league’s image and bring hockey back to the mainstream in the United States of America.
I think that the Ovechkin-Crosby combination has the potential to be a Magic-Bird type of moment for the NHL. Call me crazy, but these guys are the total package. The ridiculous highlights that they can provide on a nightly basis, their unparalleled passion for the game, and their insane competitiveness (I’m pretty sure Sid talks more shit than the entire NBA does), are a golden ticket for the NHL. There are obviously reasons why Ovechkin-Crosby could fall way short of being the NHL’s version of Bird-Magic, but I feel like those reasons can be argued against reasonably well. The moral of this story will be that the NHL has the potential to be a top sport in the U.S.A, it has been a top sport in the U.S.A, and it will be a top sport in the U.S.A again.
Nobody is going to deny that Ovechkin and Crosby are two of the best, if not the two best, position players in the league. The bottom line is that they do have the talent to return the NHL to its Sports Illustrated “Hot” levels, and that’s not debatable. So without further adieu (and there’s been a lot of adieu so far), let me rebut the shit out of some of the more complex arguments against Crosby-Ovechkin being the NHL’s version of Bird-Magic.
Argument One: The markets they play in aren’t big enough
There were two reasons why this year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched “Big Game” of all-time. First, the Patriots were undefeated. Second, Boston and New York’s markets were directly involved. Same with Bird and Magic – two major markets were involved, and their interest in the NBA helped rejuvenate the NBA throughout the U.S. Even in this day and age, markets matter, and the Crosby-Ovechkin combination would definitely be garnering a lot more attention if they were playing for the Bruins and Rangers.
That said, I don’t think that the markets matter that much for the NHL at this point. The league has done a good job of embracing the new-fangled “Internets” with its “bloggers” and “YouTubes.” This solid Internet presence, along with the fact that most NHL fans are not only fans of a specific team, but fans of the league as a whole, means that people everywhere can be exposed pretty easily to Ovechkin and Sid’s absurd goals.
If you hear Ovechkin had a shootout winner against the Pens the other night, you can just roll down to YouTube or TSN.ca and check it out in about ten seconds. If Bird hit a three at the buzzer to win a triple overtime thriller back in the day, you’d have to wait for the sports segment in your network affiliate’s nightly news to see it – let’s face it, you didn’t have ESPN back in the day, and if you did they were probably showing table tennis. The change in the amount of exposure that sports get in this modern age is why the markets don’t matter as much now.
Argument Two: Hockey players have dull personalities
Compared to the NBA, hockey players are pretty bland. In terms of colorful players, the NHL has Jeremy Roenick. The NBA has Gilbert Arenas, Shaquille O’Neal, and all the players on Golden State Warriors, to name a few.
That said, I think the new generation of players coming into the NHL are a lot more exciting and fan-friendly than the old guard. You can see it in the shootout, you can see it in the game (Rick Nash and Jonathan Toews anyone?), and you can see it in the quotes. Ovechkin says he won’t go to sleep until he sees a highlight of himself — tell me that’s something that Bird’s cocky ass wouldn’t say back in the 1980’s. Ovechkin’s cocky-ness reminds me a lot of Larry Legend, while Sid’s on-ice playmaking and talented supporting cast reminds me of Magic. I think the era of the dull superstar in the NHL is drawing closer and closer to an end as perennial Lady Byng candidates like Joe Sakic move into the twilight of their careers and guys like Crosby and Ovechkin replace them.
Argument Three: One-on-one rivalries can’t happen in hockey
Au contraire, my friend. The problem is that hockey rivalries are made in the playoffs, All that needs to happen for Ovechkin and Crosby to start up a heated rivalry is a Caps-Pens playoff series. As a fan of the Pens, I know three truths. One, Mario Lemieux lives near my house in the small, blue-collar town of Sewickley (say it in an English accent for full effect). Two, Mellon Arena is a shit-hole. Three, the Pens always play the Caps in the playoffs. It’s inevitable folks, there will be a Crosby-Ovechkin playoff series very, very soon. And when that series happens, there’s no question that a one-on-one rivalry will emerge, probably within a bigger, nastier Pens-Caps rivalry. Think Avs-Wings, but with Gretzky and Lemieux suiting up for each side (and if you’re wondering, yes, I do know the meaning of the word hyperbole).
Argument Four: They’ll never play against each other in the Stanley Cup Finals
Ovechkin and Crosby both landed in the Eastern Conference, and both of them will probably be staying there for most of their careers, which means they’ll probably never face off in the Stanley Cup Finals. But once again, the big thing here is exposure. Back in the day, the NBA Finals were probably one of the only opportunities that casual fans had to watch the league. So while Bird and Magic playing against each other in the Finals was important because the belt was on the line, it was also important because it was one of the only opportunities in the year that fans had to see two of the league’s biggest stars.
Luckily for the NHL, the league has a television deal with America’s number one network for 24/7 sports coverage, and NHL playoff games will be readily accessible on that network’s flagship station and it’s other station, affectionately known as “the deuce.” Wait, you’re telling me that’s not the case? You’re telling me the network that carries the NHL Playoffs reaches a fraction of the number of households that the leading sports provider reaches? Well maybe the NHL has to do a little work to make sure argument number four can be nullified.
In conclusion, as I’ve proven from my asinine ramblings here, Ovechkin and Crosby have the potential to be more than just two great players in the NHL. They have the potential to be the two players to lead the NHL back to relevance in the American sports market. All the NHL needs to do is make sure that every game of an Ovechkin-Crosby playoff series can be seen by American sports fans. Today’s television market in the U.S is willing to give the NHL a chance – Winter Classic, anyone? A softball has been lobbed over the plate to the league, and all it has to do is juice some ‘roids and hit a dinger.
This article has been submitted by Mr. 412, Stuart Wilkinson.