Hockey is one of the most exciting sports in the world. Other countries such as Canada, Russia, Sweden among others recognize it. In the United States, it seems like the little brother that tags along compared to football, basketball and baseball. Yet for some reason it's among the most popular sports in other parts of the world. It has all the elements of a successful sport in America. You have speed, constant hitting and in the NHL there's even fighting for those who enjoy that. A common complaint is the lack of scoring but honestly is there less scoring then there is in other sports? Would it be "more exciting" if each goal was worth six or seven points?
There's so much more that goes in to the lack of success that hockey has had in America than the "low scoring." There are no major networks that regularly pick up NHL games. Also, not enough attention is given to the college level. Therefore the draft doesn't generate much buzz because most casual fans don't know the players being picked. Another issue is the fact that the game's biggest stars are foreign players and the lack of Americans.
The NHL needs to do a better job in marketing the game to fans. Not everybody gets Versus, especially college students. They are your biggest target market and you are missing them big time. Having a game once a week on NBC isn't going to cut it. They need to bring the games back to ESPN and ABC if they want more fans. While money doesn't grow on trees, the NHL should at least be willing to make some financial risks to better the sport. If more people are being exposed to the game then more people will buy tickets to see the games live and you will be making a surplus. The NHL can't expect for Versus to carry them. They are a low class network and do a terrible job at promoting the NHL.
The NHL needs to do a better job at exposing Americans to the college players. It is rare that you will find a college hockey game on television in the same way you would a college football or basketball game. The only players that are ever given attention are the top one or two players in the draft. Usually those players are internationally born too. Where is the exposure for the top American collegiate athletes? The casual fan can name off the top ten prospects in the NFL and NBA drafts. Even the MLB draft gets more exposure then the NHL draft. Everybody knew who Stephen Strasburg was heading into the draft. The average hockey fan off the street would be hard pressed to name a single American hockey prospect. A step in the right direction would be replacing the USA Olympic team with the top college prospects across America. Sure, those players get to play in the World Juniors but this would be a much better plateau to get their names on the map.
The NHL's biggest stars are Alexander Ovechkin (Russiain), Sidney Crosby (Canadian) and Evgeni Malkin (Russian). There have been a small percentage of elite players of the American variety. Some of the best American-born players of all-time are Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano but none of these players were ever the faces of the game. The faces of the game have for the most part been Canadians. If the faces of the game aren't players that Americans can relate to, then how can you ever expect the youth of America to rise up and take hockey to the next level? More emphasis needs to be put on the youth hockey programs and building up future American-born NHL stars. It would start a trend and a cycle that would last for decades. By pumping more money into building rinks and making equipment less expensive, this is a realistic possibility.
America is a country that loves gritty sports where players show heart, passion and skill. Hockey possesses all of these characteristics in its players. For various reasons, it hasn't clicked in America yet. Hockey is the most American sport that the American people won't sit down and watch. By addressing some of the problems such as lack of exposure for hockey on the major television networks, exposure for collegiate athletes and increasing American star power this can be fixed. It will not be easy to do and it may take years or even decades to make a change but bringing hockey to prominence in America is essential. It is just as exciting as football, especially during the playoffs. There is absolutely nothing like watching an NHL playoff game live.