Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is The 2008 Stanley Cup Final A Dream Final?

It has been written several times (for example by Pierre LeBrun) that the 2008 Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings meeting the Pittsburgh Penguins is a dream series for the NHL. How true is that statement and how much is propaganda put out by the NHL's marketing arm?

From a marketing standpoint, this is definitely not a dream series. Detroit is the eleventh biggest media market in the US and Pittsburgh is the 22nd. A dream series would involve the biggest markets. It would be New York vs. Los Angeles (or at the very least contain one of those two teams).

The argument then must be that this is a hockey dream series. In my mind, a hockey dream series is the defending Stanley Cup champion powerhouse against a strong young upstart who will win cups of their own. The best example of this is the New York Islanders against the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980's. They played in the finals twice with the Islanders winning the 1983 version of this series and the Oilers gaining revenge in the 1984 one. In a parity filled NHL we are unlikely to see teams as good as those and unlikely for them to stay together long enough to be dynasties. Anyway, that dream scenario is not the case this year. Afterall, neither of Detroit nor Pittsburgh are the defending Stanley Cup champions.

What we have in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals is a very talented President's Trophy winning Detroit team playing against the Pittsburgh team that is marketed as Sidney Crosby: the best player in hockey's team. It is not clear that Crosby truly is the best player in hockey. He wasn't this season (although an injury is part of the reason for it). Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals will likely win the Hart Trophy. This is a trophy which Crosby won last year but was not nominated for this season. I argue that the best player in the NHL this year has been Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit. He will be playing in the Stanley Cup finals but is receiving very little press coverage before they begin. In fact, it is not entirely clear to me that Crosby will be seen as the best player on his team in a couple years. Evgeni Malkin is a very good player and could surpass him for that position. Sidney Crosby is definitely a very good player, but he likely will not be a participant in the arguments about the best player of all time. He is lacking in goal scoring ability. So far, his career best is 39 goals (which is certainly a good number) but it is not a spectacular result. It is entirely possible Crosby will play his entire career without ever having a fifty goal season. It is hard to argue that the best player of al time is a centre who never scored fifty goals in a year.

Without question, there are good players in this year's finals. That fits the NHL's desire to market individual players instead of the team. From a point of view of seeing two great teams play in the finals this year, my dream series would have been Detroit against the defending champions Anaheim Ducks (since they are both West teams this would be impossible). Pittsburgh may have some outstanding frontline talent but they lack depth. Only six players on their roster got more than 30 points this year. Hockey is a team game. It should be marketed by the NHL as such. It is not a game where one player can win by himself most nights (as long as this player is not a goalie). Even the best player in the NHL is on the bench more than half the game. He cannot dominate any game from the bench.

From the standpoint of marketing hockey by marketing individual players, this might be the best Stanley Cup final series the NHL could imagine this year. It maximizes the number of big name players in the series. That is not my definition of a dream series. A dream series is two great teams playing against one another. Detroit is a pretty good team and Pittsburgh is almost on their level, but neither are truly elite teams. From the quality of hockey we will likely see, I imagine this year's finals will be about as good as last year's one. Afterall, the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators were also two pretty good teams.

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