The NHL is in a period of transition as a league. Financial stability is slowly emerging in the league, with teams such as the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils now under rather stable ownership. Meanwhile, Original Six franchises are hot, especially the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, who are leading the league’s extension into mainstream American sports culture, alongside the NFL, NBA and MLB.
Last season, labor unrest gave the league a black eye which even the exhilarating shortened season couldn’t help fully recover. But this season has the potential to bring excellent publicity to the sport which desperately needs it. The NHL Stadium Series, expanded by popular demand, will feature large markets including the Blackhawks. And once again, Olympic hockey will be on center stage come February.
The tempo of games is changing for the better with regards to mass appeal. Although player safety is still an evolving issue, with fighting remaining while hybrid icing has emerged into rule, stars have more room to shine than ever. The sample is small, but last night’s game pace was indicative of everything the league has wanted to enact. Stars such as Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Ovechkin all ended up tallying goals, and the ratings reflected the appeal the game had on an audience likely featuring more first-time viewers than ever.
The game was the highest ever opening night for NBC Sports Network, with a .70 rating overnight. Chicago, meanwhile, was the No. 1 market in the country, boasting a spectacular 7.15 rating, a new regular season record, which if the NHL keeps promoting itself correctly, will soon fall.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.