It’s the question capturing the imagination of every ice hockey fan in the south: Is the upcoming Nashville-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final good for the NHL?
The Pens aren’t new to the party. They’ve won four cups in the past quarter century led by legends named Lemeuix, Jagr, Crosby, and Malkin. Meanwhile, as Zach Bingham eloquently stated on yesterday’s show, Nashville is losing its Stanley Cup virginity. They’re the No. 8 seed looking to provide Music City with the first professional championship of its brief sports history.
While it’s blue blood against new blood, this isn’t a David vs. Goliath tale. As great as Crosby and Malkin are, they aren’t a Tom Brady-Randy Moss combo leading an 18-0 Patriots squad against the awe-shucks Eli “Rain” Manning led New York Giants. Pittsburgh hasn’t yet reached a dynastic level of dominance despite being the defending champions, and besides, Nashville already dealt with this decade’s dynasty in Chicago, a stunning sweep in the opening round.
It is true that the Preds offer something new to the Stanley Cup table. The cities’ country flare combined with its college football atmosphere makes Bridgestone Arena as potent a home ice as there is in the NHL. Playing Guess Who with which superstar will beautifully deliver the National Anthem leaves every Tennessean on the edge of their seats.
There’s just one problem: Nationally, nobody is going to give a damn.
Nashvillians, remove yourself from the situation for a moment. Take off those yellow-tinted glasses. Pause on that Fangerang rendition, which was brutal, and hold off before you start dubbing Nashville a hockey town.
While the Preds may have injected Tennessee with hockey euphoria (which I argue is a temporary phenomenon that will fade once football begins and the Preds fail to repeat this run), there’s too much working against the franchise to draw in millions of casual viewers not in the state of Tennessee. Hell, the Los Angeles Kings won the whole damn thing in 2012 as a No. 8 seed and still couldn’t put a dent in ratings.
What it comes down to is that hockey, even on the game’s biggest stage, doesn’t capture the imagination of the average sports consumer. There isn’t the same level of manufactured drama that other leagues run with so masterfully. The NFL had Brady and Belichick looking to grab an immortal fifth ring against an Atlanta team that had the hip-hop culture behind it in Super Bowl 51. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers (led by the polarizing LeBron James) and Golden State Warriors (led by Steph, KD, Draymond & Klay) are meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight season. The Cubs needed to end a 108-year title drought for people to give a rip about the World Series.
The NHL simply doesn’t have a captivating storyline or player for the entire country to get behind. Sure, it’s cool for Nashville, but Becky in Montana doesn’t turn on the Stanley Cup Final because of the cities involved. She also isn’t invested in who sings the National Anthem because she’s probably on Twitter protesting it.
So Nashville fans, just enjoy this while you have it. There may not be a Preds run like this for a long time, and even if there isn’t, the team’s success has certainly made hockey matter in Tennessee, even if for a moment.