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Determining The Worst Case Scenario For The NHL Conference Finals

I proudly stayed up for the end of the 4 OT Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Carolina Hurricanes vs Florida Panthers last night. I didn't actually start watching until halfway through the second OT, but still, I stayed up until it was over. Honestly, I was cheering for more overtimes. Someday I want to see a playoff hockey game go so long that they have to stop playing and resume playing the next day. I'm not sure if that would ever happen, but it would be funny to watch the NHL have to deal with that situation.

Side Note: The Ohio High School State Hockey Tournament in 2014 went into 7 OT's. I only know this because I'm from Ohio and used to play against one of the teams who was in the championship. After 7 OT's, the refs declared the game had become too dangerous, and ended the game in a tie. They awarded both teams the State Championship. Everybody got rings. It was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen. The NHL definitely should never do that.

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But that's not the point of this blog. The game last night was great. Overtime hockey is awesome. It can end at any moment, there's not commercials, etc. etc. However, I couldn't help but wonder if the Carolina Hurricanes vs the Florida Panthers is the absolute worst possible Conference Finals matchup that NHL could ask for. Not because of the talent on each team. I actually love watching the Panthers play in particular. Every game of there's that I watch I'm thoroughly entertained. But there's been a lot of talk about how the 4 teams remaining in the NHL Playoffs is a nightmare scenario for the NHL in terms of markets, views, and how likely casual hockey fans across the country are to actually give a shit about the game (i.e. money). 

It's definitely not great. It probably does qualify as a "nightmare scenario", but is it the worst possible Conference Finals? Maybe the Eastern Conference is, but not the final four as a whole. I'm going to run through every team in the NHL to determine what would actually be the worst possible final four teams to make up the NHL Conference Finals (based on a criteria that I will make up on the fly).

I'll start by eliminating teams that should not be in contention for worst Conference Finals. Right off the bat, I'm eliminating all Canadian teams. Considering Canada hasn't won a Stanley Cup in roughly 130 years, I think any Canadian team at least brings a little juice. Even Ottawa. 

ELIMINATED: TorontoOttawaMontrealWinnipegEdmontonCalgaryVancouver (now that I've typed it out I kind of want to keep Winnipeg in the running, but I'm sticking to my guns on the Canadian distinction)

Next, the remainder of the Original 6 is out. 

Detroit, Chicago, New York Rangers, Boston

Now we'll start getting rid of "major markets & hockey cities". I don't really know what to call this group. That sounds extremely arbitrary. I don't know exactly how I define a "major market" or a "hockey city", butI feel like I know one when I see it. Like how that one politician defined 'hard-core pornography'.

New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia (we'll call those all New York City area markets)

Los Angeles isn't a hockey city by any means, but it's the 2nd most populated city in the US, so they have to be eliminated

Pittsburgh has to be a big enough draw. Maybe I only think that due to recency bias (since Crosby & Malkin), but the Penguins have always been a team that people seem to love or hate, so they definitely bring enough eyeballs.

I'm not sure if Washington would be a huge draw if not for Ovechkin, but I at least know a handful of Capitals fans. Which is more than I can say for a lot of teams, so they have to be eliminated.

Although some consider Colorado to be in the south, and the south is historically a bad hockey town, Colorado has a large enough fan base and a history of very good teams, so they're out of contention.

I suppose I should eliminate Minnesota, as it is the "State of Hockey". I'm not sure if the rest of the country gives a shit about that, but I respect Minnesota hockey fans, so I'm not going to keep them in the running for "worst possible Conference Finals"

Ok, time to stop and see who we have left:

Tampa Bay, Florida, Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Arizona, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Jose, Anaheim

Again, this whole blog is based on some weird/vague criteria that I'm making up in my head as I go, so I'm starting to have a hard time here. I'm just going to go with my gut, and start eliminating teams one by one.

St. Louis Blues have been a team since 1967. They probably should have been eliminated earlier. They're a staple of the NHL. I wouldn't feel right about keeping them in this.

The Buffalo Sabers have fucking sucked for so long, but I do think they have a loyal fan base, and the story line of Buffalo finally not sucking is enough to get a few eyeballs at least.

Note: All the teams remaining are still currently in the playoffs... yikes.

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But Dallas is huge market, and they always seem to be good. They're at least enjoyable to watch. So I'm taking them out.

This might be a stretch, but I'm going to get rid of Anaheim, solely because of the Mighty Ducks movies. I know how stupid that sounds, but let's not forget how stupid people are. There are absolutely more Anaheim Ducks fans across the country because they watched the Mighty Ducks movies when they were kids, and that's more than the rest of these teams can say.

Ok, another break. Now let's split the remaining teams up into conferences so we can actually start looking at possible Conference Finals matchups

Western Conference: Nashville, Arizona, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Jose

Eastern Conference: Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Columbus

I was prepared to declare the winner of worst possible Conference Finals based on attendance figures. Here are the top 10 and bottom ten teams in attendance per game.

But that's kind of bullshit because the reason Carolina's attendance is so high this year is because they were the second best team in the league. When San Jose was awesome back in the day, I'm sure they had good attendance too. 

Let's stop beating around the bush though. Time to decide the Western Conference.

I need to address the fact that the Arizona Coyotes are about to fold as a franchise, and they have to share their center ice logo with Arizona State. The arena holds 4,600 people.. They win. They're the worst. The Arizona Coyotes are definitively the worst draw in the NHL, and I don't think it's particularly close. In hindsight, a 2000+ word blog was certainly not needed to come to that decision.

But who would be the worst possible team for them to face in the Western Conference Finals?

It's between Nashville, Las Vegas, Seattle, and San Jose.

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If were talking about worst possible draw for this season, I think I'm going to eliminate Seattle. Seattle is a good sports town, and the Kraken are still new enough that I think enough people would have been interested to see them try and win the Stanley Cup in their second season.

I'm eliminating Las Vegas too. Kind of for the same reason, but also because Las Vegas is a unique team. I feel like they have a handful of celebrity fans (or maybe it's just John Taffer, but hey… they got John Taffer). They also have a super cool pre-game light show, which I guess is something. The whole franchise is kind of a novelty thing, but they've been good ever since they joined the league, and I think more people are interested in them than San Jose or Nashville.

This is actually an easy decision for me. Call it personal preference, but I'd rather tune into the San Jose Sharks any day of the week. I probably shouldn't have even let the Sharks get this far. I love their dimly lit arena for some reason. They've had some really fun teams in the past back when Pavelski and Thornton were still tearing it up. I can't in good conscious put the San Jose Sharks as a worst possible team.

I truly couldn't care less about the Nashville Predators. I don't care how crazy their fans get. I'm not even sure if they know what hockey is. I think they just drunkenly stumble into the stadium that they built right on Broadway Street. And the rest of the country doesn't give a shit about that. At least I don't. They've been pretty good for stretches of time over the course of my life, and I have never cared. I don't think I've ever cheered for them in a playoff series. I believe they have the absolute worst jersey, logo, and nickname in the NHL. The fucking Predators? They're just begging for Chris Hanson jokes.

WORST POSSIBLE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
ARIZONA COYOTES vs NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now for the Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, and Columbus are still in the running. As shitty as it is to be a hockey team in Florida, I think Tampa Bay has done enough to be eliminated from this list. The league did promptly go on strike after they won in 2004, but I suppose that wasn't there fault. They won back to back Stanley Cups in 2020 & 2021. Their brand of hockey is good enough that I won't have them in my worst possible Eastern Conference Final.

I do have to admit that I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, but I'm trying not to be biased. I lived in Columbus for 4 years. When they were good, the city loved them. But when they're bad, nobody gives a shit. But that's probably true for all three of these teams. Let's take a look at the "strengths" of each franchise

Florida Panthers: They have the Miami market, and they throw rubber rats on the ice which is kind of cool

Carolina Hurricanes: They've won a Stanley Cup, and they pissed off Don Cherry that one time because he didn't like the way they celebrated their wins

Columbus Blue Jackets: Umm… I guess they're the northern most team. The Arena District in Columbus is cool (but I only know that because I lived there so that's not really a plus).

Fuck it. I have to do it. I really wanted to say that the current series between Florida vs Carolina was the very worst possible Eastern Conference finals, but I can't in good conscious put either the city of Columbus, or the city of Raleigh over Miami. I don't care how far south Miami is. It's still a major fucking city. They have the Le Batard Show pulling for them. That's not nothing. I might be wrong here, but my gut is telling me if you put the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals, it will do better ratings than a series between Carolina and Columbus. I'm sorry Columbus.

WORST POSSIBLE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
CAROLINA HURRICANES vs COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

That was probably way too many fucking words to come to that conclusion, but I enjoyed the exercise. You can't tell me this isn't a disgusting final four.

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Hand up, I had forgotten the the Coyotes changed back to their old logo. It doesn't change anything, but I love that Coyote so much that it did hurt a little to include it in a "worst of the NHL" graphic. Maybe I should have done this with the entire playoffs. Concocting the worst possible field of 16 teams is. I do have the groundwork laid out already. I might have to whip that up next.

P.S. I've been informed by my brothers that I have done a terrible job, that I should have definitely not included Nashville because "Smashville is an absolute scene", and I should have gone with San Jose. Also, I 100% should have put Florida in there, because Miami does not give a shit about sports and I am giving the city/Dan Le Batard show WAYYY too much credit. Fuck it. It's too late now. I worked far too hard on my PowerPoint graphic to make any changes now.