The Sound of One Puck Clapping

Time for our annual hockey column, a "Sporting Box" tradition that enriches itself year after year. San Diego, the seventh-largest city in the United States, is running low on major-league franchises. We have no NHL franchise, no NBA franchise, and, soon, no NFL franchise. Add to that no NASCAR track, no WNBA franchise, no Major League Soccer franchise, no Arena Football League franchise, all the way down to no Major League Lacrosse franchise. I foresee an expanding inventory of once-a-year major-league columns as "The Box" shifts into blanket coverage of San Diego back-yard sports, dog shows, and camping equipment.

Offered as an annual public service, and to remind readers that major-league hockey does exist, allow me to bring you up to the moment on the current doings of those slap-happy NHL puckers. To begin, I should tell you that the playoffs have concluded. The Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers have been selected to compete for the Stanley Cup.

I...see...that...not...one...of you cares.

That's hockey for you.

I...see...that...no...one...knows anything about the National Hockey League. No worries. I'll skip the boring early years and move to the 1930--'31 season, a season everyone loves. At that time, the league was a ten-team colossus. Then, by 1942, the league shrank to six teams. Then, the league stayed at six teams until 1967.

That's hockey for you. By the way, those six teams are known as (gentlemen, please remove your hats) The Original Six (Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers).

Then, as happened to Major League Baseball, NBA, Indy Racing League, and the NFL, competition entered the vault and demanded money. In other words, the Western Hockey League came to be, which caused, in 1967, the NHL to expand by six teams. Three more teams were added in 1970.

See, the NHL's idea was to keep all the hockey money for themselves, just like oil companies, media conglomerates, financial institutions, and the rest.

Two years later, as a way of welcoming the birth of the World Hockey Association (WHA), the NHL added the Atlanta Flames and the New York Rangers and, in 1974, the Kansas City Flames and Washington Capitals. This real estate grab encouraged the WHA to zombie-walk into the startup-hockey-league bog and die, which it did in 1979. Four WHA teams moved over to the NHL (Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Québec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets).

Aren't you loving this? I could go on and on and on and on.

Since the historic events of 1979, beginning in the early 1990s, the NHL has created 11 new franchises, bringing the total number of teams up to 30, and if you can name more than 5, you should reexamine your life and repent. Nowadays, the league is burrowed into the sunshine states with franchises in Anaheim, San Jose, Nashville, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, and Dallas.

Promiscuous expansion does not appear to have made the game more popular. The first two Stanley Cup games will be broadcast on OLN, which is, many of you will learn for the first time, a cable television network and not a feminine hygiene product. NBC will pick up broadcasting duties starting with game three, on Saturday.

I don't know why NBC is so reticent. This year's Stanley Cup features the Carolina Hurricanes, a scrappy team ensconced in the second smallest television market in the United States. The 'Canes had to beat Buffalo, home-based in the smallest television market in the U.S., in order to play the Edmonton Oilers, a team located in the smallest television market in the NHL.

After culling out the participants' blood relatives, we may well be able to hand count the Stanley Cup television audience. The last Stanley Cup series (Tampa Bay vs. Calgary) got a minuscule 2.6 rating on ABC, but that was a smash hit compared to ABC's regular season NHL ratings of 1.1, which, in turn, towered over ESPN2's regular-season NHL ratings of 0.24. To give you an idea what that means, ESPN2's women's golf programming has a rating of 0.40, almost twice as high as their hockey numbers.

ESPN decided not to broadcast the NHL this year. Apparently, they couldn't find room in between showings of the World Dominoes Tour, Test Your Angler IQ, Shoot More, Shoot More Often, and Monster Buck Moments.

One more thing. According to Ted Saskin, the National Hockey League Players' Association executive director, this season's revenues are expected to come in at $2.1 billion, $300 million more than anticipated. This begs the question, "If nobody is watching, and you still make money, is that enough to make you a top-tier professional sports league?"

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