Okay, I hate to break it to you, but there’s really only one subject worth covering this week.
No, contrary to popular belief, it’s not the NFL draft. No offense to Mel Kiper or any other the other talking heads, but anyone trying to grade a team’s draft days after it happens is full of shit. No one has any clue if Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford is going to be the next Matt Ryan or Ryan Leaf. Maybe a year from now we can start to form an educated opinion, but today … not so much.
It’s not basketball because, lets be honest, everyone knows the finals have already been predetermined. Wake me up when the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers finally square off. Everything else is just a waste of time. Even with a healthy Kevin Garnett it’s doubtful that the Boston Celtics have enough left in the tank to give LeBron James and friends a legit run for their money. And out West? Even after their beatdown of New Orleans earlier this week, does anyone actually think the Denver Nuggets can slow down Kobe Bryant in the playoffs?
And there’s no need to even bring up baseball. Sure, the Boston Red Sox monkey stomped the New York Yankees, but they do that every April. Nothing really matters in the big leagues until after the all-star break (unless you’re talking about the Washington “Natinals,” who have already been mathematically eliminated from the postseason).
No, the one and only game in town these days in hockey, and yes, I fully understand that a chunk of the diehard sports fans out there refuse to accept that the NHL is back and better than ever. Let’s start with ESPN. When their television deal with the NHL expired and they no longer had the broadcasting rights to hockey, ESPN big wigs actually sent a memo out to their radio personalities basically dictating that under no circumstances were folks allowed to acknowledge professional hockey on air. If they couldn’t have hockey, then why not try and bury the league all together?
But a funny thing happened – a rockstar by the name of Alex Ovechkin ushered in a new era and showed the rest of the league that it’s okay to score again. Nothing against the New Jersey Devils, who won a couple Stanley Cups with their suffocating defense, but 1-0 games are for soccer (another sport Americans don’t follow). When Ovie scores and then thrusts his body into the plexiglass, it’s as if he’s inviting the fans to join in on the fun. The kid can do it all. He hits. He shoots. He scores. He passes. In fact, Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemiex as the only players to record 200 goals and 200 assists in their first four NHL seasons. Needless to say, he’s a once in a generation talent who is using his toothless smile and rock star persona to draw casual fans back to the hockey rink.
Even ESPN, mandate and all, is finding time on SportsCenter to show Ovechkin and the NHL some love. Of course, Ovie’s Caps facing off against hockey poster child Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins doesn’t hurt. Having the two biggest names in the sport square off gives that “Bird versus Magic” kind of vibe. The difference is these two don’t like each other. While Larry Legend and Magic had great mutual respect for each other, Ovechkin and Crosby just plain don’t like each other. Crosby thinks Ovechkin showboats. Ovechkin thinks Crosby cries too much. At the end of the day, it’s great theater and provides the NHL’s first must-see TV (for casual fans, at least) since Mark Messier and the New York Rangers won the Cup back in the early 90’s.
I highly suggest you have a beer and a pizza in front of you when the first puck drops this Saturday (or as my mother calls it “when they puck off”). Can the Capitals continue to ride their Russian contingency through another round of the playoffs? Will Evgeni Malkin be able to remind folks he’s on the same level as Ovechkin and Crosby? Does Don Cherry wear pants when watching Crosby highlights? Tune in this weekend for the answer to all of these questions and more.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.