Guymon Daily Herald
Vegas or Florida will be a first-time NHL champion
Jon Hamm is excited for this Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights.
“Stoked, man,” the actor and noted hockey fan said. “I live in L.A., so that’s a halfhour flight away for me.”
The NHL is pumped, too. Even though the ratings will likely sag without big markets involved, the Sun Belt series will feature two teams that have never before won the Cup. It is also a chance for the league to show off its success growing in the U.S. beyond traditional hockey hotbeds.
“It’s so refreshing and it’s so amazing,” retired player Anson Carter said. “When you constantly hear people saying hockey can’t work in the South or the Sun Belt markets, they’re wrong.”
Carter hears his friends back home in Canada complaining about the NHL not wanting teams north of the border to win championships, and he dismisses it. Canada’s Cup drought dating to 1993 isn’t the fault of many of the Canada-born executives, coaches and players now working for Vegas or Florida.
“It’s not like there’s all American folks working for American teams — that’s not what it is,” said Carter, now an analyst for Turner Sports. “It just so happens that you have these teams in these markets that are having success. It’s cyclical, I’m sure, but I think it’s great for our game.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman has gotten flak over the years for markets like Quebec City (to Colorado) and Hartford (North Carolina) losing their teams. He sees it more as growing the NHL’s footprint — something that got the league back on national television in the early 1990s when he took over and expanded hockey into the American South and West.
As Hamm — a St. Louis native and lifelong Blues fan — pointed out, none of the four cities in the conference finals had a team when he began watching the sport in the 1970s. This trend has not come out of nowhere: With Hamm’s Blues being one of the exceptions, 11 of the last 18 teams in the Stanley Cup Final are in a market that did not have a team before 1991.
St. Louis beat Boston in the 2019 final, and Bruce Cassidy is back as coach of Vegas after being on the losing end four years ago with the Bruins.
“I’ve been there once, and it didn’t work out,” Cassidy said after his Golden Knights beat the Stars in Game 6 of the West final on Monday night.