"Overtime" is the NHL's New Favorite Word

The NHL recently announced a new 10-year, $2 billion deal with its broadcasting partners NBC/Versus. As "luck" would have it, the NHL has witnessed perhaps its most exciting playoff season in 2011 which had sports pundits who never talk hockey routinely mentioning last night's action.

Of the first 63 games played in the 2010-11 playoff season, nearly 1/3 of them - 20 games to be exact - went into overtime. On top of that, the NHL had a run where one of its playoff games went into overtime on nine consecutive nights.

As if that weren't enough, in the first round alone, four of the eight match-ups went the full seven games. Remarkably, two of those four (Blackhawks-Canucks and Bruins-Canadiens) seven game series were settled in overtime.

Yet after building that momentum, the further the NHL's playoffs went, overtime games disappeared. Since that remarkable run, there was just one overtime game - the controversial Western Conference Finals win by Vancouver over San Jose which propelled the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals.

But that's all just coincidence...so...

Why Did It Come Down to the Bruins v. Canucks in the Finals?

I'm not usually one for predictions. I'm a researcher, not a gambler (and the best sports gamblers rarely bet on their opinions). My research is historical based, yet knowing the past can help you realize what is occurring in the present. The recent past of the NHL told me two things:

First, that Gary Bettman's NBA past (he was once the #3 man in the NBA behind Commissioner David Stern) has created this new, "Americanized" NHL that seems to turn its back on its Canadian origins. As the NHL continues to hitch its wagon to NBC (which was once partnered with the NBA in its heyday) to the tune of that new $2 billion, 10-year TV contract, the league has to continue to build up its fan base. The best way to create fans is to introduce championship teams to cities that either never had one, or hasn't had one in a looong time.

That led to my second point: In the last 10 Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL has had 13 different teams make an appearance (Devils, Stars, Avalanche, Red Wings, Hurricanes, Ducks, Lightning, Flames, Oilers, Senators, Penguins, Blackhawks, and Flyers). This year I felt would be no different. I fully expected to see two "new" teams in the Stanley Cup Finals. My "prediction" as made on Coast to Coast AM on April 30 was that the Vancouver Canucks would face-off against the Washington Capitals, but that I would not be surprised to see either the San Jose Sharks (who have never made a Finals appearance) or the Boston Bruins (who have been absent for 20 years) reach the Finals.

I'll give myself an 8.5 out of 10 for that prediction since the Canucks faced-off against the Bruins for the Cup. With both coasts covered as well as two hockey-mad towns, this matchup turned out to be great for the NHL and its broadcast partners NBC & Versus. (Speaking of which, did I mention Versus censored me last year?)  As "luck" would have it, this series went the full seven games. Game Seven, played in Vancouver, was the highest rated NHL game in the past 36 years. In Boston alone, if you'd believe it, Game Seven attracted a larger audience than the previous two Boston Celtics NBA Finals deciding games against the Los Angeles Lakers, one of which was also a Game Seven.