NHL gets center stage, plus the latest Gospel of Hockey podcast

Jun 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) watches as a shot by defenseman Brent Seabrook (not pictured) beats Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) for the game-winning goal during the overtime period in game four of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Pain has given way to pleasure for NHL fans, as the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final will take center stage with the NBA Finals wrapping up Thursday night – thanks to the lockout.

Since the four-month work stoppage pushed the start of the NHL postseason back about two weeks, hockey will be played deeper into the summer than basketball. A similar scenario played out in 1995, the only other time a lockout cut the NHL’s regular season nearly in half.

Yes, the baseball season has hit its stride as well, but national ratings have favored hockey playoffs over the former “national pastime.” Local ratings have been even more telling, with the NHL outpacing MLB in huge media markets like New York and Los Angeles during the Stanley Cup Final, even with the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Kings and Ducks all home for the summer.

Among the younger demographic, hockey has even more of an edge. NBC, the broadcaster of Chicago’s 6-5 overtime victory Wednesday that knotted the series, topped the “big four” networks in the 18-40 age group for the night. Overall, Game 4 between the Blackhawks and Bruins was the most-watched hockey game in American history, drawing about 6.5 million sports fans to their TVs.

Jun 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk(55) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period in game four of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

The hockey love on social media late Wednesday was just as promising. Much of the buzz centered around the back-and-forth nature of the game, whose 11 combined goals were the most netted in a Final contest since 2010. Here’s hoping the scoring continues, because nothing captivates a casual fan like offense.

Some hockey diehards may disagree, but the sport needs more goals. Personally, I think the quickest (and best) remedy for the declining offense of the past several years is bigger nets. As esteemed Toronto Globe & Mail hockey writer James Mirtle has expressed, the number of shots in a typical NHL game has remained relatively stable for about 30 years, but goaltenders have gotten so much better over that period.

It’s time to level the playing field, like baseball did in the 1960s and ’70s when it lowered the mound and introduced the designated hitter in the American League to boost offense. The good goalies will still be good, and the bad goalies will still be bad. A larger net will further reward athletic netminders, while providing a few more moments per night for fans to get on their feet, both in arenas and living rooms.

What’s the downside? Oh, right, there is none. Nothing wrong with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin making a run at 150 points each year, or Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos threatening the 70-goal barrier. Plus, the lower-level forwards and defensemen would get tangibly rewarded a little bit more.

Let’s take advantage of more people watching hockey. Time to push it to the next level. Bigger nets will equal bigger fun, and isn’t fun what this is supposed to be about? Long live the red light.

*****

I got an opportunity to cover the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Finals over the past week for Michigan Hockey Magazine and the MLive Media Group. The Griffins of my adopted home of Grand Rapids, Mich., captured the AHL title for the first time with a six-game victory over the Syracuse Crunch.

While immersed in the action, I met Bob Howard, who was also among the press corps for the series. Bob has hosted the Power Play Post Show for nearly a decade, becoming one of the authoritative voices on the AHL, the NHL’s primary development league. He agreed to join Larry Snyder and me for this week’s Gospel of Hockey, which focused on the AHL before shifting to the latest NHL news, including the ongoing Stanley Cup Final:

Listen to internet radio with Matt Gajtka on BlogTalkRadio

Topics: AHL, Gospel Of Hockey, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

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