Over the coming weeks, The Production Line will be publishing guest posts from our very favorite readers, commenters, and Tweeps -- those that don't have a blog to call their own, and might appreciate a place to vent, praise, bitch, or jailsex it up. We're proud to offer up this space to some good friends, great writers, and incredible hockey fans.
If you are interested in contributing a guest post, and match the description above, send us an e-mail and we'll get you the details. We did our best to track down nearly all of our commenters and Twitterfriends, but some of you were more difficult to find than Ville Leino in a Red Wings uniform (heyo).
Our first such post was written following the Blackhawks victory on Wednesday night. Our dear friend Sara may not have been the first article submitted, but it was timely and it was emotional and it seemed like a great jumping off point.
It's the very early morning after the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, and all I can think about, besides the disgust at 20 cent and his Mullet (it deserves a capital M, by now, doesn't it?) is that I sadly, sadly saw this coming. Ages ago.
See, the NHL as much as it's a sport, is also a business and is being run as one. Money is the name of the game, not hockey. You have to put out good quality hockey, to make money, thus why they're committed to changing the game. And they're not above randomly monkeying around with it, if they think a rule change will bring in more viewers. New viewers.
The NHL panders to NBC, and to their own objectives. I didn't realize how much NBC had a say in what the NHL produces until Jeff Marek tweeted that NBC had a hand in picking out the Winter Classic teams. That tweet marked a very big step in my disillusionment.
In general, the NHL will want success of larger market American teams, teams that can bring in the most money. They will want L.A., NYC, and Chicago to do well. They will want larger market teams to succeed, however larger market teams who have loyal fanbases can be neglected, like Toronto, Montreal, Detroit & Vancouver. Unless, of course, those teams have superstars.
The NHL wants parity. They want superstars. They want rivalries.
First point, Gary craves parity. A blogger, back when I was Tin Foil Flash Mobbing, argued in the same post in which he maligned me, that dynasties make sports more marketable. I find that point open to interpretation, weak and not applicable to the NHL.
It takes a whopping one line of argument to refute his claim: if the NHL wanted dynasties, there would be no salary cap.
Second point, the NHL bases a lot of its marketing on superstars. They think that's the way to go. They wand Sid to be as recognizable as Kobe. They clearly allow marquee players to get away with things that ordinary players are suspended for, because they do not ever want to remove marquee players from the game. They, and their national television stations, mention the superstar players even when they're not playing.
And, of course, teams with superstars, even the Red Wings back in 2008, with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, have been favored by Gary. Kane & Toews. Sid & Geno. And Ovie. Oh, Ovechkin. His Cup is coming, kids, mark my words.
Third point, the NHL is selling rivalries. Sadly, they're not selling those that are naturally made, born of skill and proximity and pure old fashioned hatred. They're selling a spawned rivarly, artificially created in their own hype. They take their beloved superstars, and shove them down our throats. Why else did the NHL and NBC pick Washington and Pittsburgh for the next Winter Classic? Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. It's clear, and bright as day. We're being fed a synthetic rivalry, wrapped in a laughable facade of a "Winter Classic." Winter, sure, it will be. But Classic? Please. Where's our Toronto/Montreal game?
The NHL wants these things, but we are very lucky, because the NHL is not infallible. Hockey IS a game. Outcomes can be steered and shaped, but they cannot be controlled. Each individual team is also struggling along, trying to win, because winning makes money.
As fans, we love hockey, a glorious sport that in it's purest form is honorable, classic, incredible and intense. But we are also NHL fans, and therefore we are business fans. We must remember that the game we are so passionate about is a product. We love the players, who grew up playing the pure, classic, incredible game, many of whom do it for skill, enjoyment and competition. But of course, we dislike those who sell out for money, and treat the game like what it is, a lucrative business.
So you can call me a conspiracy theorist and poke fun at my tin foil hat. You can laugh, and assume that the NHL has character and integrity in mind, when they make their decisions. You can scoff, and call me a whining Wings fan. My answer is only this: I fail to see why it's crazy to think a business is trying to execute a business plan.
If you're interested in keeping up with Sara (and we know you are...and probably already do), follow her on Twitter by clicking here.