With all due respect to our kind friends in the media world of the National Hockey League - you know, the folks who largely have desks in and around New York and Toronto - I'm going to suggest that a boatload of hype comes out of the East.
Let's look at the evidence:
- The New York Rangers
- The New York Islanders
- The New Jersey Devils
- The Toronto Maple Leafs
Why is this? I'm going to suggest three reasons. First, it's a simple case of numbers. There are more hockey writers in those markets than in others. They have to produce content that has to be read to keep their jobs. And, in order to reach readers in markets that are somewhat saturated by writers, bloggers, etc., they have to engage in a bit of hyperbole. (Hyperbole = root of "hype", remember?) When you write to get noticed, bad players aren't bad, they're horrible. Decent players are stars. Great players are personally ushered into the Hall of Fame. It's the nature of the beast, and those of us in smaller markets are used to it.
Second, it's familiarity. As an example, the NHL-centric XM Home Ice channel is based out of Toronto . Its on-air talent largely comes from Toronto and Montreal (and the majority of NHL Network and Versus/NBC talent comes from greater Toronto and metro New York, so the same general train of thought applies to those guys). Guess what their frames of reference are? That's right: The Leafs and the Habs. I can't entirely blame them - they talk about what they know, which is better than talking out of their rear ends - but they DO have a bias. And talking about what they know...means that we get a lot of coverage of Leafs and Canadiens. Go figure. (Props to them for bringing in outside "experts" to cover the areas where they recognize that they have gaps...like the vast majority of the Western Conference.)
Third, it's ratings. New York teams bring New York viewers, and there are a lot of them. Same goes for Toronto and Montreal. Even the Devils, with their lingering ties to New York while now in Newark, get a lot of New Yawker love. Let's face it, ratings drive a lot of media behavior.
And it's not just the attention paid to the teams, it's the pumping up of the players. Remember Tomas Kaberle? The Toronto-based media hyped that guy up beyond belief when it was suggested that he was on the Leafs' trading block. His trade to the Bruins at the deadline was supposed to put the Bruins over the top and singlehandedly deliver the Cup to Beantown. Yet it was Dennis Seidenberg, the same Dennis Seidenberg that signed a 1-year contract with the Panthers right as training camp for the 09-10 season opened only to get traded in a trade deadline package deal with Matt Bartowski for the Bruins' Bryon Bitz, Craig Weller and a draft pick (surely you remember those guys...), who was teamed with Zdeno Chara. Kaberle couldn't crack the top pair. And now he's going to go get overpaid in Carolina, soaking up his residual Toronto hype. Did you see Bostonians crying over losing him? Didn't think so.
Which brings us to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They've spent a lot of time and effort mining the Eastern Conference talent pool this offseason. Jeff Carter comes from Philadelphia. James Wisniewski comes from the Canadians (by way of the Islanders). Radek Martinek comes from the Islanders. Now, Vinny Prospal has come on board from the Rangers to plug the hole left by the injury to Kristian Huselius. Gulp.
I'm not going to say that these guys are worthless products of the East Coast Hockey Hype Machine. Carter is a (once) All-Star, generally a decent sign that he's not a crappy player. Danielle Browne has me convinced that Wiz could very well be on the cusp of becoming The Real Deal despite what hockey experts on the West Coast think. But Martinek? Prospal? Are these four guys good signings in part because of their East Coast coverage? Should we presume that there's an inflation factor applied to their actual talent? I don't know the answer. (But I keep recalling that the West has largely done better in interconference games than the East in recent seasons, Stanley Cup Finals excepted.)
I'm guessing that the Blue Jackets got themselves some decent players. On balance (Columbus lost Jake Voracek, Mike Commodore, Jan Hejda, Anton Stralman and - at least temporarily - Huselius), it appears that they're improved over last season...a season that, barring two mind-numbing (term used intentionally) implosions, could well have seen a playoff run in Columbus. Thus, I'm optimistic, but cautiously so. I'm ready to be impressed by this influx of new talent, but they have to overcome my innate skepticism of their Eastern Conference playing roots.
[UPDATE: I apparently stuck a nerve and, in the process, apparently received help in proving my point.]