I'm the poster who started the thread about the hypothetical 2004-05 season and while looking at player statistics from the years leading up to the lockout, it got me thinking about that time period in a different manner. This may just be regurgitating old threads/posts but I never really though about how little success the major American markets in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs between the 94 and 2004 lockouts. The West won 6 cups in that span and the East 4, but major markets with stars like Detroit and Colorado were consistently competing while teams like Boston and the NY Rangers were never really a factor. Did the lack of a Boston or NYR reaching the Cup finals hurt the growth/popularity of the NHL at all or was it better that markets like Florida, Carolina and Tampa Bay represented the East instead? Also, did the four straight sweeps have any negative impact on the league?
Stanley Cup Finalists, winners are bolded
Detroit vs. New Jersey
1996 Colorado vs. Florida
1997 Detroit vs. Philadelphia
1998 Detroit vs. Washington
1999 Dallas vs. Buffalo
Dallas vs. New Jersey
2001 Colorado vs. New Jersey
2002 Detroit vs. Carolina
Anaheim vs. New Jersey
Calgary vs. Tamp Bay
In addition, the first two post lockout Cup finals were kind of duds in regards to major markets and ratings.
Edmonton vs. Carolina
2007 Anaheim vs. Ottawa
But starting with the 2008 finals, the league has benefited from major American markets making the finals basically every year and 6-7 game series, save for LA and NJ in 2012. I'm not saying that the non traditional markets do not deserve their success or hurt the league, but could the popularity and financial aspects of the league be even greater had there been a mix of more competition in the Finals and more major American markets involved? Is the NHL fine having southern teams making the Finals even if they attract low ratings in hopes that a Cup run will help make the sport popular in that city down the line?
Also, with Gretzky retired and Lemieux unable to play a full season after coming out of retirement, did that severely impact the league since they kind of lost 2 generational players and no one could be pointed to as the unquestionable best player in the league? Is this also where Eric Lindros comes into play and his inability to stay healthy, preventing him from truly being "The Next One", especially in a major market like Philadelphia?
I dont think there is any doubt about the NHL being a dud in the US during the decade before the first lockout, post- NYR in 1994. Heck, the game in itself was slow and boring with all the grabbing. I remember Gretzky's last game and it was a relative travesty with Gretzky passing the torch to Jagr.