There's something beautiful about Jon Taffer being a hockey fan. It's probably the notion that the creator of "Bar Rescue," now seen on the Paramount Network, is somewhere in the stands during a penalty kill bellowing "shut it down now!" like he would at a pub serving contaminated meat behind an insect-infested drink well.
He was a season-ticket holder for the Chicago Blackhawks back in the Chris Chelios days. "I've been through what the Stanley Cup playoffs can be. Once you're in, you're never not in again," Taffer told me last week.
He was in them again for the last few months as an original season-ticket holder for the Vegas Golden Knights. To that end, he fits squarely into the menagerie for celebrities who populated their games during the postseason: Vegas residents, performers from the Strip and, of course, the guy who comes to your town's 50-year-old tavern, takes the proprietor's name off it and then rechristens it "The Ale and Social House" or some such.
"They always like the name, because I always get my hug," he said.
Truth be told, Taffer never expected Las Vegas to become a hockey town. That a pro team could be successful there wasn't in doubt, he said. But the way the community took to the sport -- from the gear sales to the signs to the teachers showing up to class in Knights T-shirts during the playoffs -- wasn't something he expected.
But then that wasn't the first time he misjudged the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I hated the name when I first heard it. But the 'Knights' worked really well. And the logo is killer," he said.
What did he want to name the team?
"That depends if I was thinking seriously or comical," said Taffer. "The comical one was the Las Vegas Escorts."
(And thus we were all deprived of ads saying "The Las Vegas Escorts: For a good time.")
Along with convincing bar owners to create "butt funnels" in their establishments (areas where patrons have to squeeze through, forcing interpersonal interaction), Taffer has some cred as a sports marketer. He worked on the NFL's advisory board and said he invented the concept for NFL Sunday Ticket.
"If I look back at my experience with the NFL, I'd say the NHL needs to be more aggressive with its branding," he said. "It needs to be more aggressive with opening up its demos. Like I said, once you're in, you're never out."
The demo he believes the NHL needs to chase the hardest? Millennials.
"Sports like golf and some others I won't mention, they're not attracting millennials like they could or should. But when you look at hockey, I think we have a chance with millennials that I think some other sports might not," said Taffer.
He's not wrong. NHL executive VP and chief marketing officer Heidi Browning said as much to The Wall Street Journal last year.
"We need to broaden beyond hard-core fans and expand to casual fans," she said. "Millennials and Gen Z are a huge focus for us. We've got a sport that's wired to the attitudes and behaviors of these generations, because they're so action-focused. We're absolutely looking to target more women. Our demographics are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female," she said.
It's an uphill climb. Consider that only 11 percent of millennial fans surveyed in June 2017 by Sports Business Daily are "committed" NHL fans, compared to 14 percent of Gen Xers. (Only 38 percent of all millennials surveyed said they were "committed" sports fans.)
But Taffer said that for the NHL to really break out as a brand, they have to be the target.
"When we look forward, that's the positioning. We position this game to that segment and get them excited about it. That's where our growth is," he said.
Clearly, arenas need more butt funnels.
Jersey Foul of the Week
This Foul has been in the archive for a bit, but its time is now. "Cup Guy" on an Atlanta Thrashers jersey. We're as confused as you are.
- Brian Swenson (@TheBrianSwenson) April 30, 2018
Listen to ESPN On Ice
There will be a post-Capitals Stanley Cup win "ESPN On Ice" out later on Monday, but in the meantime please do check out me and Emily Kaplan with Washington Post hockey scribe Isabelle Khurshudyan, who was outstanding, as well as interviews with NHL draft prospects Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk. Stream it here or listen on iTunes here.
Overall playoff grade
In speaking with some peers after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, there was a consistent lament about how the brisk postseason wasn't really that ... good.
Which is, admittedly, a weird thing to say when Alex Ovechkin hoists the first Stanley Cup for the Washington Capitals after defeating an expansion team from Las Vegas that rolled through the Western Conference with the ease of Sauron slicing through armies in "The Lord of the Rings." Like, imagine getting in the T.A.R.D.I.S. and traveling back to October 2017 and spelling out the Final matchup to someone before adding the caveat "yeah, but generally the playoffs will be a disappointment." They'd think you're nuts. For that. Not for, like, the "I'm a time traveler, let me tell you about the NHL" bit.
But let's be honest: The ride there was as underwhelming as could be imagined, at least on paper. There were only two series before the Stanley Cup Final that featured an upset: the San Jose Sharks over the Anaheim Ducks, which was basically a pick'em; and the Winnipeg Jets over the Nashville Predators, which was a mild surprise. The Eastern Conference was chalky all the way.
Say, do you like Game 7s? Well, you only saw three of them: Boston vs. Toronto, Tampa Bay vs. Washington and Winnipeg and Nashville. That's actually on par with the 2017 postseason. The difference, however, is that we had only four series leading up to the Final last year that ended in less than six games. This year, we had six.
Yet as the saying goes: You don't play the game on paper. The action on the ice was often incredible. The Jets-Predators series was a mini-classic. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen.
Overall 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs grade: B-plus. What it lacked in drama it made up for in unlikely playoff journeys, exemplary play and a final round that had more narratives than a Netflix true-crime series.
I think Ilya Kovalchuk will want a decent term on his contract, which obviously isn't what San Jose would prefer, but, man, gimme some of that Kovalchuk/DeBoer reunion for a one-year run at the Cup in the Sharks' window. [TSN]
Trying to get inside the mind of Lou Lamoriello. [Newsday]
Custance on Barry Trotz's future, and his options. [The Athletic]
One of the hidden MVPs of the Capitals' Cup run: goalie guru Mitch Korn. [NHL.com]
Catching up with U.S. women's gold-medal goalie Maddie Rooney. [USA Hockey]
"Why I'm somewhat optimistic another NHL team will want to trade for Milan Lucic," which we assume is the incredible follow-up to "Why I'm somewhat optimistic the Powerball folks will just hand me the money" and "Why I'm somewhat optimistic Margot Robbie will come around to see me as her soul mate." [Edmonton Journal]
Finally, if you've not seen it, this Sports Illustrated Photoshop of Alex Ovechkin is pretty much the worst thing ever:
Ovi, you earned it �� pic.twitter.com/KMqVp4Yccz
- Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 8, 2018
And that's even before you realize it's an homage to Michael Jordan winning the NBA title, in which they actually took Jordan's hand, flipped it and lightened it.
but the hand, flipped, looks familiar ... like a textbook trophy-holding hand. �� pic.twitter.com/Q0h4wLhsKD
- Michael Daly (@MichaelKDaly) June 8, 2018
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN