At least for hardcore hockey fans, the Stanley Cup finals matchup on Wednesday will be a fun one. The New York Rangers, an Eastern Conference underdog this postseason looking for its first championship in 20 years, will be up against the Los Angeles Kings, a team that won the title two years ago after a long wait that had to win three Game 7s just to get here.

This matchup should attract at least a chunk of casual fans, but whether or not a New York-LA finals means a win for the National Hockey League remains to be seen.

In any of the other three major American professional sports leagues ”“ NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball ”“ a New York-LA championship matchup almost automatically means television ratings gold for the respective league (except the NFL doesn’t have a team from Los Angeles, but most Super Bowls are big for ratings anyway).

In the NHL, however, that’s not necessarily the case. The Rangers will draw a crowd, but in the hockey world, they have a lot going for them: An “Original Six” team, a team that plays in a hockey-friendly climate, a popular franchise that hasn’t won a title in 20 years, and a team that plays in New York ”“ aka the largest media market in the country.

It’s up to the Kings to pick up their end of the ratings slack. They are a fun team to watch if you are a hardcore hockey fan. They are a hard-working, physical team, but also a star-studded one ”“ in a similar mold to the Boston Bruins. They won the Stanley Cup just two years ago, so they aren’t nobodies. And for East Coast insomniacs and West Coast viewers in general, they have gotten plenty of exposure, having played the maximum 21 games to get to the finals.

But they also play in Los Angeles, which rarely gets cold enough to have an outdoor ice rink. It’s no wonder why the Kings’ Western Conference finals Game 7 win over the Chicago Blackhawks drew just a 4.8 rating in LA, just a tad less than the 22.7 rating it drew in hockey-crazy Chicago.

While the NHL won’t draw better ratings for its New York-LA matchup than it would have for a New York-Chicago matchup, there is room for more growth in future fans and future viewership with the matchup that became real late Sunday night.

There are already millions of hockey fans in greater Chicago, and most of the people who will be fans already are. In Los Angeles, in conjunction with the Kings already winning two years ago, the NHL has the chance to really make a dent in attracting fans in Hollywood.

The Kings will be the favorites in the finals, especially after going through a gauntlet ”“ beating Cup contenders San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago along the way ”“ to reach the final pairing. The Rangers, on the other hand, beat an overachieving Philadelphia before beating an underachieving Pittsburgh in seven games, then dispatched an emotionally exhausted ”“ an possibly overachieving ”“ Montreal, which didn’t have its No. 1 goalie for five of the six games. Having the favorite should hopefully give Los Angelinos a reason to watch.

Even if the NHL doesn’t hit the ratings jackpot with this finals matchup, it should still be an entertaining series. Two hard-working teams with two of the world’s best goaltenders, an underdog on an emotional high (Rangers captain Martin St. Louis lost his mother unexpectedly during the Pittsburgh series), and a favorite that has already proved its mettle.

The series begins Wednesday, and even though we are now into June and don’t want to think about ice except for putting it in a drink, it should be one to remember.


Today’s editorial was written by Sports Writer Wil Kramlich on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, ext. 322, or via email at [email protected]