It's no secret that professional sports leagues have agendas. They claim to be unbiased, but let's be real, they want whatever will make them the most money in the end, whatever that may be. It's said that the worst thing that can happen to any league, is that the fans find out the games are not legitimate, that the outcome has been predetermined, as that ruins the credibility of the league of course. That was David Stern's main concern with the game fixing by former referee Tim Donaghy last year, although the NBA has long been synonymous with getting the marquee teams through the playoffs (see the LA Lakers-Sacramento Kings 2000 Western Confernce Finals series) to maximize tv ratings. My worry is that's what going to happen when the Sens take on the Penguins starting on Wednesday. The NHL just has too much riding on this to leave it to chance.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but in reality, they're way more then that. They are the league's marquee team, both in tv ratings and popularity, they're the NHL's version of rock stars, and that's what worries me. In contrast, the Ottawa Senators are small potatoes. We're a small market team, with loyal fans, but we don't generate much interest outside of the capital. We're not the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs, who each have a license to print money with their millions of fans spread all over North America, but rather a team who survives on paid attendance from a city who simply loves hockey. The result is a tv ratings disaster. So all of this begs the question, will the NHL make sure the Penguins advance?
It sure would help their growing the game in the United States agenda wouldn't it? It has long been known that the NHL doesn't care about ratings in Canada, since they will always be strong, Canadian teams involved deep in the playoffs or not, and that where the real money is, is to get more Americans to watch. They're off to a great start, as the Olympic Gold Medal Game was a ratings bonanza south of the border, with 27.6 million Americans tuning in, up 45% from Salt Late City, which is amazing news. Now the NHL hopes to capitalize on this popularity with a great playoff run and they need their marquee teams involved. It's also no coincidence that Gary Bettman's main goal for next season is to get a major network deal for the NHL. What better bargaining chip then huge ratings? Something the Senators will not deliver.
The Penguins of course also have the golden boy, Sidney Crosby. Love him or hate him ( I loathe him) but people do turn into watch and in massive numbers. The NHL can hardly have him eliminated in round 1 if they hope to get a tv deal, can they? It's not just Crosby that's a problem though. Take a look at the NHL's best selling jerseys and you'll find 3 Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL's top 4. Yes that's right, 3 out of the league's top 4 selling jerseys are Penguins, with only Alexander Ovechkin cracking thier top 3 attempted monopoly. If you're the NHL, don't you NEED a 7 game Washington-Pittsburgh Eastern Conference Finals?
Now I'm not saying the fix is defininetly in, but I wouldn't be surprised if a sketchy penalty or two per game, at just the right moment were called against us. Just wait and see, it will happen, I can almost guarantee it. It is what's best for the NHL. Some of you are probably thinking I'm just making an excuse for us if we don't win, well I'm not. Despite all this, I still think we can suprise the hockey world and take the series. Everyone has doubted us all year, what's another 4 rounds.
It's just too good of a conspiracy theory to dismiss and one that makes practical SENSe. The NHL simply can't afford the Pens to go out to a small market Canadian team like Ottawa. So Sens fans, get ready for some of the worst officiated games you have ever seen, all courtesy of the NHL for their own gain, all the while claiming it's for the good of the game.