It's Thursday morning, June 13th. The previous night, Chicago beat Boston in a triple overtime thriller to take a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. What's featured on the first twenty minute of Sportscenter, however? Speculation on the upcoming Game 3 between the Spurs and Heat. In the shadow of the NBA, it seems the NHL doesn't stand a chance.
As it comes to drawing interest in the Stanley Cup Finals, there are very few match-ups the NHL could have hoped for more than this one. The Bruins and Blackhawks, two of the original six teams, have a rich history and rabid fan base. Boston and Chicago are both big, relevant markets, and each squad had come into this series red-hot. Game 1 not only lasted six epic, end-to-end periods, but featured a total of 7 goals. The only thing this series has going against it as that the mainstream sports fan would simply rather hear twenty minutes of conjecture on the Heat versus the Spurs than see extended highlights and analysis of a Stanley Cup game from the night before.
The argument as to whether or not the NHL should adjust it's schedule to get out of the shadow of the NBA can go two ways. Many diehards would claim that hockey will always be a niche sport, and that to alter one's schedule in an effort catch the attention of casual sports fans would be too big a concession (and would make no difference in the end).
The other argument simply acknowledges the natural order of mainstream sports in the US, admits that the NHL can't compete with the NBA but believes that if given the right exposure, more casual fans would find themselves taking interest in the game. This Bruins Blackhawks series would the right exposure. Two games have seen two ventures into overtime, fast-paced hockey, and goals and hits aplenty. With the series tied at one game a piece, the excitement is only going to build from this point on.
While the NHL already alternates nights with the NBA (The NBA Finals has been scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays while the Stanley Cup Finals is being played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays) the average fan might be inclined to tune in if ESPN was giving the series more than five minutes of coverage. If the NHL were to begin it's season a week or two later, the end of June would belong to the Stanley Cup Finals. Would it be worth the concession?