It's important to note, for the apathetic American masses, that the NHL is enjoying an absolutely stellar Stanley Cup Finals, the perfect endcap to a predictably entertaining playoff and surprisingly successful comeback season.
Only a year ago, the world of hockey fans (of which we are proud, card-carrying members) were enduring a June absent of a Finals, tainted by a season that wasn't and a future that was wholly uncertain. You see, it's enough to hear the same rhetoric from sports fans who despise hockey when there actually is hockey, but the type of entropy that the league suffered from before agreeing to a new labor extension was all the fuel these lepers needed to further bash the sport. Hockey fans are a proud bunch. They don't like the name of their game soiled.
This championship matchup, between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers, is the perfect depiction of all of the great things about the NHL (including some features specific to the "new NHL" which were developed in response to the strike). Neither team made the playoffs before the strike and surpassed expectations all season long. Both teams made smart acquisitions in the new cap-enforced era instead of throwing money at the big free agents. Edmonton picked up a perennial Norris candidate and strong leader in Chris Pronger; Carolina acquired Doug Weight and Mark Recchi, who've both guided the team through these playoffs with their experience. Both teams play smart, responsible hockey with five players pitching in at both ends. The endearing thing about the NHL has always been the sacrifice players will go through to win the Stanley Cup in comparison to other sports where players apathetically waltz through the season and count their money. Both teams have been no different in this regard. They also have incredible fans--Oilers fans are reveling in their first major success since the end of their dynasty and Hurricanes fans are among the loudest and most passionate in the league, disproving the theory that hockey cannot survive in warm-weather environments.
Beyond that, the games have been great. Other than Carolina's Game 2 5-0 route, each game has been decided by a single goal. The first game of the series featured the excitement of Edmonton gaining and losing a 3-0 lead, the first successful penalty shot in Stanley Cup Finals history (by the aforementioned Pronger), an injury to Edmonton's starting goalie and the game's deciding goal due to a puck-playing gaffe by his replacement. Edmonton matched that late-game drama in Game 5, where Fernando Pissani took advantage of a lazy Hurricanes power play to score a short-handed goal in overtime (another first, by the way) by way of a sniping wrist shot on a breakaway that found its exact location--above Cam Ward's left shoulder, glove side, and into the top-shelf corner of the net.
The season as a whole has been great--not every change in rules benefitted the league, but the league wanted higher scoring and they got it. It was imperative that they lose the tie and install a shootout, as much as hockey purists would deny, to improve the type of drama that draws in casual fans. Although OLN was disappointing with their coverage, NBC put on a great show. Most people don't have or know of OLN and are at a loss when it comes to finding games on TV, but when you find one you'll be compelled by it. Like the NBA, the NHL is benefitting from a young class of exciting players--guys like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Zach Parise and Eric Staal all have "superstar" potential, and all four will have very successful careers boosted by the new rule changes to emphasize scoring. Most importantly, attendance was up.
We implore you to give the NHL an honest chance. Catch a game on TV, or better yet, spend the money and see one live. Most games are cheap enough (unless you're in New Jersey like us and have to pay through the teeth to see our Devils play). Like anything worth loving, it takes some work to appreciate the wonderful game of hockey. But the players have no problem truly giving their bodies for the fans. The least we can do is give them a chance.