Mason Marchment had his first career hat trick Friday night, leading the Florida Panthers to a 6-2 rout of the Minnesota Wild in a game that could be a Stanley Cup Final preview.
Wait, that can’t be right, can it?
Well, here we are, trade deadline approaching in the NHL, and the Panthers have the best record in the Eastern Conference, while the Wild are No. 2 in the West. There are lots of other good teams, to be sure, and any individual matchup has a slim chance of happening, but it’s really hard to picture a Florida-Minnesota series, isn’t it?
Maybe it’s because the Panthers have won nine playoff games and zero playoff series since they got swept by Colorado in the 1996 Final. And then you’ve got the Wild, losers of six consecutive playoff series and with only three times past the first round in franchise history.
It’s not that they’re not good teams or that they can’t meet for the Cup, but it’s also indicative of the dilemma created by sports leagues preaching the value of competitive balance. You’re going to have a hard time getting casual fans hooked by teams they’re not really familiar with. Hockey fans know about Jonathan Huberdeau and Kirill Kaprizov, but they’re not household names.
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It’s great for Florida and Minnesota to have contending teams, and fun for fans of the sport to see different players and teams making waves, but it becomes a bit of a blur to the people who make the difference between a playoff series having good and bad ratings.
The NBA has this going on, too, where the Bulls and Cavaliers are, like, good now, and LeBron James will most likely once again be in Cancun by the first week of May.
The best thing you can do? Don’t worry about whether any of this is good for the leagues. They’re going to play the games regardless. Just enjoy the ones you want to watch, like a Panthers-Wild game that’s surprisingly meaningful in mid-February.