Cold truth: NHL skating on thin ice

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The Couch Slouch thinks the reason the NHL plays outdoor games is to let people know hockey is played in their city. | Getty Images

It is time for Couch Slouch’s annual state-of-the-NHL address — delivered, well, not quite annually but every couple of years, depending on mood — in which we assess the health of the only major North American professional sports league that struggles almost as much as Major League Soccer.

Don’t kill the messenger on skates, folks, but I’ve got to tell you the NHL isn’t in the best of places right now. Heck, it’s only a 13-mile drive from my front door to an NHL arena, but I’m more likely to walk 1,300 miles to get a Five Guys burger.

At the moment, the NHL has more warts than a warthog.

Let’s begin with the unthinkable:

It appears likely that no Canadian team will make the playoffs. This is unthinkable. There are seven Canadian teams, most of them steeped in tradition. It’s their game, their heritage. And NONE OF THEM is headed to the postseason?

This would be the equivalent of no U.S. contestants making the final cut of ‘‘The Biggest Loser.’’ Or no Kardashians showing up on the season premiere of ‘‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians.’’

So with only U.S. teams making the playoffs, one might surmise that U.S. interest in the NHL is teeming. Uh, not exactly.

For starters, the NHL’s primary U.S. television carrier is NBC Sports Network, known more colloquially as NBCSN or ‘‘Huh, What’s That?’’

NBCSN largely features two elements: paid programming and unpaid programming.

Here is a sample of a recent two-hour midday programming block on NBCSN: ‘‘Saltwater Experience,’’ ‘‘Bass 2 Billfish,’’ ‘‘Sweetwater’’ and ‘‘Destination: Baja Sur.’’

Here is a sample of a recent two-hour midnight programming block on NBCSN: ‘‘Track Tech,’’ ‘‘Detroit Muscle,’’ ‘‘XTreme Off Road’’ and ‘‘Engine Power.’’

So they’ve got you covered if you’ve got a rod and reel or rack-and-pinion steering.

Over at ESPN — the former home of the NHL — the league is such an afterthought that the ESPN.com website doesn’t even give it a spot on its homepage. The NHL is relegated to the ‘‘Other’’ tab, a link that also takes you to things such as the CFL, rugby, cricket, extreme sports and poker.

Speaking of which, the other day at Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles, I conducted an informal poll. I asked 10 poker players (nine men, one woman) how many nicknames they knew of the following eight NHL franchises — Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa and Tampa Bay.

One person got all eight of them correct. Another got five of them right. Nobody else knew more than three, and three of the 10 surveyed didn’t know a single nickname of the eight teams mentioned.

(FYI: I had a cheat sheet to remind me of the correct answers.)

Admittedly, this isn’t scientific — and I don’t enjoy the weight, gravitas and depth of data mining that Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight Geek Squad have at their disposal — but this indicates even to a simple-minded imbecile that the NHL’s lack of broad appeal crosses all party and demographic lines.

The NFL plays games in Europe and Mexico to try to expand the game globally. The NHL plays games outdoors to let people know that hockey is played in their city.

Meanwhile, the NHL has three other problems it refuses to address:

  • Two points for a victory, no points for a loss, one point for an overtime or shootout loss. Frankly, it would make more sense to base a points system on the Pythagorean theorem.
  • The Eastern Conference has 16 teams, the Western Conference 14. This is uneven. Best I can tell, if you shift a team from the East to the West, it would be even.
  • Three 20-minute periods creates two intermissions. I’ve been saying it for years, to no avail: That’s one intermission too many.

On the other hand, there is good news on one front: The revamped 3-on-3 NHL All-Star Game format was a hit, particularly contrasted to the completely unspeakable, completely unwatchable flag-football NFL Pro Bowl.

Incidentally, 1.6 million viewers tuned in to the NHL All-Star Game. About 8 million took in the Pro Bowl.

Ask The Slouch

Q. How would your college transcript compare with that of a one-and-done player? (Curtis Bare, Charlottesville, Virginia)

A. Well, as a 5½-year-and-barely-done graduate of Maryland, I guess the biggest difference that comes to mind is that my transcript would include courses I actually attended.

Q. If Duke’s Grayson Allen trips yet another opponent, will he have to pay royalties to the Beatles for their song ‘‘Day Tripper’’? (Ron Colter, Alexandria, Virginia)

A. Actually, he would qualify automatically for Donald Trump’s security detail.

Q. Astronomers recently claim to have found another planet way out there. Is this where the NCAA’s fairness and integrity committee holds its clandestine enforcement meetings? (Jim Hayes, Haymarket, Virginia)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com. If your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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