2018-19 NHL Preview: 5 Stories

previewIt was only a few years ago that sports were the invincible machine that only continued to get bigger and never had to worry about the trends.

That has changed recently though as every league is now seeing the culture change hit their industry and are being forced to adjust.

There have been changes that many saw coming and some that nobody expected while they all have a different impact.

The biggest and most obvious is the structure of the biggest leagues in North America in how they make their money.

For years, sports were tied in with the rise of television as one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the world.

When leagues like the NFL and MLB bought into broadcasting games they began an age of TV dominance with networks all vying for the right to show games.

It was the biggest thing to happen in professional sports possibly ever as it brought the game to more people and gave rise to an entire multi-billion-dollar industry.

Sports channels arose and every new program brought in a sports expert to give updates on the latest scores.

Only five years every league was getting massive amounts of money for rights to broadcast games and all had created their own networks to focus solely on their league.

It was a great time for the major leagues who were able to make more money than ever before and keep conversations going about their league.

Then came the age of the internet that truly began taking over around 2010 when more people than ever looked online for content.

The rise of social networks meant more people were on their devices and wanted everything to be easier to access on any device.

Along with this came the rise of Netflix and other subscription TV services that have put a dent in the grip that major networks have had.

These subscription services allowed people to watch whatever they wanted whenever they wanted on any device.

It hurt network television in a major way but sports were the one thing that couldn’t be touched by the new rise of online content.

They did their best to follow along, creating social media accounts and following the trends of putting more content online.

All had their online profile boosted but all continued to look to TV as their main source of money.

In the last two years, every major league has begun to see a fall in their viewership as less and fewer people have cable packages leaving leagues with nobody to watch.

Every league has been sent into a scramble in an attempt to make that adjustment and keep the fans who are moving away from TV while trying to get new fans.

The NHL is a league that has had a slight advantage in this fight as they were never the biggest league in the USA and as a result are nowhere near as dependent on TV.

Although they still need that TV money to grow they have often found it difficult to convince some of the bigger networks to give them time.hockey-sidebar

They have been looking at alternative forms for years in an attempt to make it easier for fans to find them and their games.

Two years ago they took a massive step in attempting to get on the right side of history signing a deal with MLB Advanced Media.

MLBAM has been one of the most advanced organizations in digital media for a number of years in leading Major League Baseball to being one of the more advanced leagues.

The NHL continues that partnership as they are moving more and more to the digital side of things and it could mean big things for the league.

They have often been the forgotten league when talking about the biggest in North America but with a bigger presence than almost anyone online they are growing.

The new season will be another step in that direction as they continue to get their piece of the pie in a world that seems to be shrinking.

Although the NHL has a long way to go to enter the hearts and minds of many in the USA there is more talk than ever about this league.

Their new season is almost here and for another year they will look to grow with more conversations and more attention than ever before.

The biggest part of that will be the growth of the competition where more teams have a better shot while some old powers are rising again.

A new season means new possibilities for every team in the NHL and that is what all teams and players are focusing on with the beginning of a new year.

tavares

Every year there is usually one free agent who becomes the most sought-after player in the offseason. The talk leading up to the free agency period surrounds them and the possibilities they have for the upcoming season. The debate is a constant one as everyone wonders what is the most important for a player. Sometimes a veteran is the big name and a veteran who has struggled to compete with the team he has been on for the last few years. That usually leads to a decision based on the chance to compete for a Cup even if it means not taking the biggest deal. Sometimes it is a fairly young player coming off of a rookie contract or second contract looking to cash in on their success. For them time isn’t as important and so they look for the team who can afford to pay them what they think they deserve. Rarely does emotion play into all of this as players have been through just about everything and are focused on winning or getting paid not on what would be the coolest thing. That seemed to change this year though as the biggest target in free agency decided on his hometown team. John Tavares was by far the biggest prize in the free agency market after spending his entire career with the New York Islanders. He seemed like a combination of the two biggest motivating factors as he wanted to get a big contract but not just for any team. It turned out that a team he was all too familiar with had the perfect combination at the perfect time. The Toronto Maple Leafs are among the biggest teams in the league but often fall short of landing free agents. Sometimes it has been the issue of the lack of competitiveness and other times the simple fact that the Leafs are the biggest team in the biggest city in Canada. The media scrutiny in Toronto is unlike any place aside from maybe Montreal with hockey counting as the biggest sports story every day. This year a combination of being able to pay Tavares a big contract as well as a young group that seems to be on their way to being a real threat gave the Leafs a chance. What seems to have pushed them over the edge though was the fact that Tavares was born in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, and grew up cheering for the Leafs. It will always be a dream for children to play for the team they cheered for as a kid and that was likely the final factor for Tavares. He joins a team looking like they are just beginning a rise and with young talent like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, Tavares could be that key piece to put them into the Stanley Cup conversation.

cba

Labour peace in the current environment with any sport seems to always be a tentative thing as it could always fall apart at any moment. On one end are the owners who are finally, at least for the most part, seeing their investments pay off in a big way. These owners are beginning to see a return on their investment and are starting to make a lot of money off of the teams they own. The other side sees players who are always looking for a bigger piece of that pie, after all, they are the ones putting in the work on the field or ice. They are beginning to see what their futures are going to be like after the sport and it can be scary so many are hoping to get enough to be able to take care of themselves and their families. Athletic careers don’t last too long and so they are trying to find a bit more security. It doesn’t all come with bigger salaries though as they are looking for better healthcare for when they are retired. There have also been issues surrounding the Olympics and other financial language in the current deal for the NHL. Although nothing is going to happen this year there is a big deadline looming for both sides of the CBA. On September 1, 2019, the NHL will have the opportunity to terminate the current CBA and begin renegotiations. After a period of continued growth, it isn’t very likely that the league pulls this card. The bigger date will be September 15, 2019, when the NHLPA has the same opportunity to terminate the CBA. Although this season will not be disrupted and there is still a little under a year for these decisions to be made there is no doubt that it becomes a major topic of discussion throughout the season. The NHL is doing good things right now and continuing to grow as a league in a crowded market. Another labour unrest could ruin any momentum that they have built over the past few years. As the season progresses you can bet that both sides will be bolstering their sides for the impending argument about what either side will do. The NHLPA is much more likely to terminate the deal as they continue to see revenues rise without seeing much on their own side. They will likely continue to take shots at the league regarding the biggest issues as they prepare for the debate about whether or not players are willing to lose a season or part of a season. The league will continue to show that they can grow and that it will be better for all if they could continue the momentum. Either way, this potential labour dispute will become a bigger topic as the year moves on in what could be the last full season until a strike or lockout.

expansion

It was probably the biggest success story of the 2017-18 season as the newly created Vegas Golden Knights turned out to be one of the most exciting teams of the year. They put on shows that nobody could have imagined, aside from the owners, and made a run to the Stanley Cup after only a year in the league. The Knights were by far the most successful expansion team in modern sports and with their success the NHL is only more committed to bringing in one more team to balance the league. The goal was always to expand to another city but the risk of heading to another non-traditional market seemed to have some in the league waiting to see what could happen. With a number of teams continuing to struggle the league is in a strange position when talking about expansion. They want more teams but when other teams can barely keep the lights on it can seem like a leap forward that they don’t need to take. Still the league is going for it and the leader in the race is another non-traditional market. Seattle emerged as a serious contender to get a franchise last year when a new ownership group expressed interest and the KeyArena began the process of, getting potential renovations. There is a lot to figure out before this new group gets the approval from the league to begin created a new team. The City Council in Seattle has approved the proposed renovations to the KeyArena in an extremely important vote. Without those renovations the NHL and NBA would have never consider teams in the city but with those renovations they are in the running. The ownership group presented their thoughts on a team in Seattle after that approval taking the next step. With the NHL now suggesting a team in Seattle the next step would come with the Board of Governors voting to approve an expansion team. That decision seems likely to come this year if everything works out and it will surely be a big part of the discussion this year. The Vegas Golden Knights have set a pretty high standard already changing the sport and how it is presented in the arena. The great year and that live game experience has made the Knights a solid team after only a year. Seattle will have a lot of the same challenges as Vegas should they get a team and will be in tough to repeat the success on and off of the ice. The one good thing is that the NHL as a league is likely more open to expansion to a non-traditional place after the success of Vegas, leaving the Seattle bid in a pretty good spot.

international

In a constant quest to find more fans in more places, every league in North America is looking to make moves overseas. The NFL continues to host games in London, the MLB has plans for more games in Mexico and other places like Japan while the NBA continues to focus on the Asian market. The NHL has always been there looking to gain more international fans as they were one of the first to host games outside of North America. The NHL has always been the smaller league and as a result, they are a league constantly looking to find something to help them grow bigger. With North America so packed full of sports content they began looking at places that already loved hockey but never really had a major league. Europe became a focus for the league as they moved multiple games to places like Sweden and Finland hoping to capitalize on big hockey fan bases. Those games were a good start before a lot of leagues began doing the same thing but they began to fall off as the league concentrated on the US market. The last few years have seen a new commitment to these international games and lately, they have been expanding to new areas. This year the league has put together the NHL Global Series giving fans a chance to see the best of the best in both regular season and preseason games. It started in the new target for the NHL, China where the league has been investing a lot of time and money. The NHL hosted two preseason games in China this year just like they had a year ago and that plan doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. The league is ready to take over China, leading to speculation about the next winter Olympics being held in Beijing. They haven’t forgotten more traditional markets though as this year the NHL will travel back to Europe for a number of games. Some will be in the preseason and some will even be against local teams like when New Jersey takes on SC Bern in Switzerland and Edmonton takes on Kölner Haie in Germany. Then both will meet for a regular season game in Germany while Florida and Winnipeg meet in November in Finland. The NHL is recommitted to these international games but there will still be talk about how worthwhile these games are in taking away home games and moving them to places outside of North America. Will they truly have the desired effect or will the NHL be sending teams to far distances for no real reason? That is the question that is sure to come up as these games approach in the regular season.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

It was easily the biggest surprise of the season as the Vegas Golden Knights went from an expansion team with a good group and no chance of the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Finals. Expansion teams are never the best as they fail to create that chemistry with a team that has quite literally never been together. There is no environment aside from the one that coaches and the organization try to create. They often don’t find the best players although a few stars are always seen in these teams and they often find themselves sitting at the bottom of the league. For the Knights, the 2017-18 season was going to be an important one though as they needed to capture an audience that had plenty of other options. They were hoping to gather a fan base before the NFL moves to the city and other leagues begin considering it a viable option. Being the first professional team in the city was a chance to gain a following early but to do that they were going to have to put on a show both on and off of the ice. The show certainly came as the Knights created one of the best environments in the league with Vegas strip shows in between periods and plenty to do around the arena. The team on the ice followed suit as a group of good, although not great, players surprised the entire league by rising to the top of the division. Every step of the way there was a prevailing thought of their run ending at some point in time. They couldn’t possibly keep it up as teams were going to catch up and figure them out in what would have still been an impressive run for their first year. That drop off never came though as they continued to be one of the best teams in the league throughout their first year. It was an impressive run to the playoffs but once again the doubt for them competing against veteran teams in the playoffs began. Then the Knights ran through everyone on their way to the finals and the possibility of a team winning the Cup in their first year became all the more real. They couldn’t get it done against Washington, but the greatest expansion season ever had already been completed. Now they enter a new season with high expectations as this team is coming off of a Stanley Cup Final appearance. There is not much room to go up for a team in their second year and everyone wants to know what they can do. Could they be a Stanley Cup contender this year or are they going to see a sophomore slump? It is going to be interesting to follow as they won’t surprise anyone this year and will try to continue their first-year success.

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