When thinking about hockey, most people assume that the best teams reside in cold climates. A Boston Bruins vs. Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup Final, as some predicted, wouldn’t be a surprise and wouldn’t help create future NHLers. The television ratings might be better, but that doesn’t always mean much in the grand scheme of things.
In 2023, hockey fans get treated as a rarity in hockey. All four teams competing for the right to play for the Stanley Cup are in the Southern United States or warm weather climates. They are also all expansion franchises that haven’t won in a while.
The Eastern Conference Final between the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes presents an opportunity to grow the game in markets that don’t normally get much exposure nationally.
Given a chance to compete on a national stage, both of these teams are inspiring young hockey players all around the world to work hard, train hard and likely become the next generation in a sport that will be looking for the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid in the next 10 years.
Think about it. When most of the current generation was beginning their journey to the NHL, Canada was winning their last Cup, as the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1992. Since then, a salary cap has been implemented, giving every team a chance to win.
From 2010 to 2019, the Stanley Cup mostly lived on the West Coast or in the Midwest. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks combined to win five Cups in that span. Throw in the St. Louis Blues in 2019, and those areas won six of nine championships.
Recently, Florida and the South have had success on and off the ice. The Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final six of the last eight years, dating back to 2015. They also became only the second team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021.
Their brothers to the South not only hosted this year’s NHL All-Star Game and an NHL Draft in recent years, but they also won the President’s Trophy as the best regular season team in 2021-22. This season, they entered the playoffs on the final day of the regular season before dispatching the record-setting Boston Bruins in a seven game series. They then beat the Toronto Maple Leafs with relative ease to advance to their first conference final since 1996.
Carolina, meanwhile, has been successful recently. They hosted a Stadium Series game this season at Carter-Finley Stadium, home of the NC State Wolfpack, and have been in the playoffs each of the last five years. They advanced to the conference finals in 2019 before falling to Boston.
With the recent success of both franchises on full display over the next two weeks, hockey fans everywhere win. The ability to grow the game in nontraditional markets will lead to a new generation of players leaving their mark on the sport as a whole. What could be better than that?
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