Last week the sports world revolved around 2 things…the World Cup of Soccer and where NBA superstar LeBron James was going to take his talents.
While the coverage of James’ decision was immense, and probably way overblown, it led me to wonder in what way an NHL story could ever reach such attention in the media. I pretty much came up empty, because the James situation was such a perfect storm of circumstances.
The James story is pretty well known:
- A “once in a generation” player getting drafted by his hometown team, leading them to a Finals appearance,falling short of the title
- Spurning that team and seemingly turning his back on his home town to go and create a “dream team” of sorts, putting that decision into a television special, essentially kicking Cleveland in the gut (or lower in the anatomy)
- Make 4 straight NBA finals appearances, winning two NBA Championships.
- Opting out of that contract and returning home to the franchise that was devastated by the loss and a fan base that had burned the man who was once their hero in effigy, or at least his jerseys
This is seemingly a once in a lifetime story. The ending has yet to be written, but the city of Cleveland has its best shot at winning a championship for the first time in 50 years.
First of all, the NHL will probably never be mainstream enough to get that type of coverage on ESPN to make it such a big story. Second of all, basketball lends itself more to having one player influence the overall aspect of the game, and one player can change the direction of a franchise on his own. No other mainstream sport really can have that effect.
But after nearly a week of thinking on and off about it, here is the closest scenario I could think of for the NHL to get a similar coverage in Canada.
Picture the Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup since winning the draft lottery and selecting Toronto-born Connor McDavid in next summer’s draft. McDavid leads the Leafs to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2021-22 season, but falls short. The now unrestricted free agent McDavid then joins up with a pair of Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia boys Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, who are now 34 and 26 years old respectively. They all sign in Pittsburgh and combine to lead the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups with McDavid winning a couple of Conn Smythe Trophies along the way.
Then, McDavid returns to Toronto to re-join the Leafs and parlays that Pittsburgh championship experience to lead Toronto to a Stanley Cup for the first time in over 60 years.
The above is an entire work of fiction, but it shows just how the stars would have to be aligned in order for the NHL to have a story as scintillating as what the NBA has right now, assuming James can finish what he started and bring a title to the starving fans of Cleveland. And even if it were to happen as outlined, the exposure in Canada would be much greater than it would ever be in the U.S., that’s just the way it is.