My view from the pressbox before Game 1 between the Devils and Panthers. // Photo by Christina De Nicola
SUNRISE, Fla. — Six of the eight NHL postseason games completed by the end of the Devils-Panthers opener in Sunrise were one-goal affairs.
Needless to say the competitive action is welcomed by the league, which is garnering unprecedented media attention with each game aired on national television for the first time in history.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance for the Devils’ 3-2 victory in Game 1 and spoke highly of what has taken place so far.
“I think we all agree that the playoffs are off to a wonderful start,” Bettman said. “It’s very exciting to see. Fan connectivity to the playoffs has been great. Numbers are up across the board whether it’s attendance, sellouts or TV ratings. NBC is doing a great job with all the platforms they’re doing.”
One of the top stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs is the return of Florida, which ended its NHL record 12-year drought.
Paired with the Nashville Predators’ fourth seed in the Western Conference, so-called small (or “young,” as Bettman puts it) markets are making a splash.
“It’s a fascinating question that we can all debate for hours, but it comes I suppose from traditional media stereotyping the newer franchises,” Bettman said. “Obviously a newer franchise that is 10-15-20 years old isn’t going to have the tradition and history of an original six team, but teams are making their own traditions.”
Bettman pointed to elements such as game presentation and fan interaction as keys to both franchises. Fans in attendance fill the arenas in either red or gold apparel.
In terms of competition from the other teams in the area — the Miami Marlins with their new park and the Miami Heat with the Big Three — Bettman doesn’t see it as an issue.
As many in South Florida proclaim, winning cures all, as evidenced by the resurgence of popularity with the Panthers.
“The Marlins have always been here and people are going to want to see what the new stadium looks like,” Bettman said. “I understand it’s very nice. Pictures look nice. The Heat have been here. I think when you go a period of time with competitive frustration it wears at a fan base, organization. But it shows the resilience of hockey in South Florida that we’ve gotten back to this point. You can feel the buzz and see the support and the connectivity of the fans increasing.”
The current NHL collective bargaining agreement ends Sept. 15.
Bettman said that there haven’t been talks yet, but he hopes it will be “quick, quiet and painless.” He doesn’t foresee any immediate pressure and added that the league officials would be ready when the union is ready.
Whether the NHL learned from what happened this past year with the NFL and NBA, Bettman said that each sport is different.
“Nobody likes to see collective bargaining where it gets difficult to make a deal,” Bettman said. “I think most people were asking if [the NFL and NBA] learned anything from what we did seven years ago.”
When asked whether Marlins Park could ever host the outdoor Winter Classic, Bettman didn’t appear to be a fan.
“Then it wouldn’t be an outdoor game.”
When told there was a roof, he said “And then it would be hot.”
As Bettman zeroed in on, the weather in South Florida would prove to be a challenge in hosting such an event.
“Some people suggest that the [BankAtlantic Center] is very cold when we get in here,” Bettman explained. “The reason is it’s hard to keep the ice at the levels we need it to be. Doing an outdoor game in a warm climate based on current climactic conditions and technology is very difficult to be thinking about.
“It would be a novelty, but you’ve got to remember the winter classic is two points that matter in the standings for some teams,” Bettman said. “We don’t want to trivialize it.”