Where does Tampa Bay end up in the media pecking order of the NHL's Final Four?

BOSTON, MA - MAY 14: The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate after defeating the Boston Bruins 5 to 2 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 14, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Let's play a little game of speculation.

We all know how the NHL and the traditional media regards the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not only is it a "South-least" Division team, but it's also one of those supposedly "unworthy" Sun Belt teams. While the arrival of Steven Yzerman has stemmed some of the ridicule and hate, it's still there.

Would it surprise you to find out that the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks are thought of in a similar way?

Vancouver's the red-headed step-child of the six Canadian-based teams. (No offense to redheads - I'm the only brunette in a family of gingers and blondes, myself.) They're the lone bastion of NHL hockey on the Canadian West Coast. So, due to its location and time zone, primarily, it's often as overlooked and ignored as the Tampa Bay Lightning. And on top of that, they're the only Canadian-based NHL team without their names on the Stanley Cup, so they definitely rank as second tier in the eyes of most of the traditional hockey media - despite having had an awesome regular season record this year.

And as for the San Jose Sharks...well, we all know how they're a running joke in playoffs. I mean, when a very good  team falls out in the first round, who does everyone think of? San Jose, that's who. Not only that, they're one of those fellow ‘90s expansion teams that no one seems to like. And they could be lumped into that Sun Belt category - that is, a place where it doesn't snow or freeze enough to skate outside. So they get little respect as well.

Out of the teams in the NHL's Final Four, the only one that's got a storied history and is an Original Six team that's located in a "proper" hockey area, are the Boston Bruins. Of the teams left, they're naturally the darlings of the NHL. They're everything the NHL and its tradition media loves, and are located in the ratings-rich northeastern United States, which is also a part of the Eastern Time Zone.

So here's the speculation part: If the Lightning were to beat the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, who gets to play the favorite?

If San Jose wins the West and plays Tampa Bay, can the media take them seriously with all of their previous playoff failures? If Vancouver wins the West and plays Tampa Bay, will the media even care about the Finals? And if Tampa Bay wins the East, does that make them the automatic media favorite, despite having had three dismal seasons and a new GM and coaching staff?

Boston, if they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, will automatically be the favorite. That almost goes without saying. The Detroit Red Wings versus the Boston Bruins would've likely been their ideal, in fact - two Original Six teams going at it to win the most storied trophy in all of sports. It's like a ratings dream come true.

In a pinch, they'll settle for Boston and San Jose because of the Joe Thornton drama angle. Tampa Bay versus San Jose gives the NHL and its media some Dan Boyle revenge sort of story. And Vancouver versus Tampa Bay only has Mattias Ohlund going for It, and - no disrespect to Mr. Ohlund - he's not exactly a very well-known name. But there's not a lot that they can do with Vancouver versus Boston, I don't think, other than be all over Boston like a bad date.

The best that the NHL can hope for is San Jose versus Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals. And, at worst, Vancouver versus Tampa Bay. Any way you slice it, though, it's a coast-to-coast matchup that's going to highlight a lot of travel.

So, outside of Boston, who would the NHL favor in terms of marketing? It's an interesting question, if you think about it. And one that could really show where the league's interests truly lie.

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