Now that the NHL season is over, most fans can start to look forward to next year (except for Boston Bruins fans, as they will undoubtably want to savour the Stanley Cup victory).
This is the time of year when all teams have a chance next season. There’s a draft coming up, so bad teams can get top-end prospects. There’s the free agency period, where middle-of-the-pack teams can go after top free agents. As well with free agency, top teams can round out their teams the same way.
There’s also the tweaking teams can do via trades with one another.
So fans have something to look forward to leading into next season, and everyone is a contender (well, maybe except for the Sens).
But for the NHL, they should be looking past this summer, and into next season. Never before has there been such an opening to grow the game. If both the NFL and NBA have lockouts next year, then the NHL will be the only professional sport once the World Series ends.
That’s a huge opportunity for the league to go after people who may not normally follow hockey. It’s also a chance to make new hockey fans and increase revenue at the same time.
But it’s not going to be easy. But there is one specific thing the league can do to help accomplish this.
Promote the bejebbers out of fantasy hockey.
There are going to be a lot of fantasy junkies next year looking for a fix, especially when it comes to the NFL. They say 29 million North Americans play fantasy football each year.
That means there will be a lot of people looking for a new fantasy sport next year, and hockey lends itself better to fantasy than any other sport because you could go into detail and include categories such as penalty minutes, plus/minus and blocked shots. Or you could keep it simple and have a straight-forward points pool.
And if you keep it to its simplest form and have only points, then you don’t need to be a die-hard fan and follow the sport religiously. You can just keep track of the leaderboard and that’s it.
My wife, for example, knows who the big stars are in all the sports, but she would never join a football pool, because she doesn’t know if Peyton Manning throwing for 3,000 yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and being sacked 12 times is better than Drew Brees throwing for 3,400 yards, 39 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and being sacked 19 times. And she definitely doesn’t know why that could be worse than Adrian Peterson running for 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns, but fumbling the ball away 11 times. And that’s not including wide receivers, kickers and defensive teams. And for most of those statistics, the numbers are multiplied by an X factor (such as: every 50 yards a quarterback throws in worth an extra point, but every 20 yards a runningback runs is worth an extra point).
In short, fantasy football is too complicated for the casual fan.
Basketball is like this as well. Too many complicated categories. Try seeing if the casual fan would want to try to figure out how a field goal percentage of your fantasy team could be impacted by a 6-for-24 shooting night from Kobe Bryant even though he may have finished with 23 points thanks to free throws.
(Baseball is also very complicated, with WHIP, OBP, GIDP, and the like. But baseball is the only sport in the summer, so they don’t need to worry about competing against other sports. Also, because of the length of a 162-game baseball season, a lot of people don’t bother to play because of the daily lineup changes, which is a hassle in the summer).
But my wife will do a hockey league where she knows that 98 points by Corey Perry is better than 85 points by Alexander Ovechkin. It’s simple. The more points your players get, the better the chances you’ll win the pool. No trades. No moving players in and out of a lineup. You pick your players in a draft, you get them for the year, and the team with the most points wins.
In fact, the first hockey pool she ever did was a playoff pool the year after we started dating in 2003. She took both Sedins in consecutive rounds, mispronounced their name each time, and when corrected, she looked at her last two picks and asked “Oh, are they related?”
My wife then became obsessed with the pool. She would check the pool each morning when she got work. And then again on her break. And then at lunch. And then again before she left work. She was always checking out players (their stats, not the players themselves… I think).
Now, keep in mind that there were no hockey games on the go during the day, so there were no changes each time she checked. But she was bitten by the hockey pool bug.
She wanted to watch all the games, even the late ones on the west coast. She paid attention to when the announcers were explaining about deep down puck possession, and eventually learned what it actually meant.
One night, I was pretty tired after a long day at work, and we just finished watching the first game of a doubleheader when I told her I was ready for bed. She pretty much called me a wuss for not wanting to stay up and watch the second game.
She would call me at work and we would have the following conversation:
Her: What do you want to do tonight?
Me: I don’t know. Want to see a movie?
Her: Nah. Let’s stay in and watch the hockey games.
Is there any doubt about why I married this girl?
*As a side note, my wife didn’t win that year, but did go on to win the next three pools she was in, a remarkable feat.
Of course, hockey pools can get more complicated, but it can also be the easiest pool you’ll ever play.
Plus, and I don’t know why the NHL doesn’t take advantage of this, it’s the only professional sport where you can have a successful postseason fantasy sport as well.
It’s the perfect sport for guys who are into fantasy. And the NHL needs to take advantage of it before their window of opportunity closes.