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The annual high-speed track to summer irrelevance by the NHL

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The end of the NHL season and its race to shut down for the summer shows off its annual marketing failure in the pro sports world.

Idle time for the sport of hockey... You wouldn't be wrong to drag out the end-of-season process to keep fan occupied.
Idle time for the sport of hockey... You wouldn't be wrong to drag out the end-of-season process to keep fan occupied.
Tim Smith/Getty Images

The NHL struggles with marketing from the executive branch down.  There!  I've said it!

I'm not here to tear apart Commissioner Gary Bettman as-so-much make a pointed accusation toward the league in general (and perhaps the NHLPA) regarding ... well, regarding June and the stacked-then-silence season of the National Hockey League off-season.

June is, of course, the start of summer and it brings with it annually a blitz both on-ice and off. The Stanley Cup Finals play out and a champion is crowned. There's the league award show playing out a few days later, with the NHL draft immediately following... Not to mention how next season's schedule has already been made public. The end of the NHL draft opened a week of courting pending free-agents before July 1's "free-agent frenzy" of player contract signings made possible by starting open-market talks early.

That scheduling might look like complete sense to the casual variety of fans out there: The NHL epitomizes winter! We're in summer now and you don't need things playing out in the press when natural conditions are furthest from those which embody the heights of a hockey season, right? Just get this sport-associated stuff out of the way as soon as possible and then go relax until September, we'll rework the league's presence in the fall.

That's not how pro sports work. Even if you're only attached to actual games and franchise participation in the sport, each team and the sport itself is larger than just the season of play. The transition between one NHL season and the next is more of a profound divide than it should be; the league doesn't stop being.

Is this whole rush-pacing geared to the teams that have been idled the longest? As it stands with the 30-team league, 14 clubs stopped play in April because they failed to make the playoffs. Some had to retool their clubs (coaching, management) and plan for the draft to fill the void. Everything playing out in a rapid fire process seems like a formal end to idle suffering... The only problem is that death isn't what's going on here, or at least marketing philosophy shouldn't aim for it. The NHL awards is a celebration, the draft is birthing hope anew, and the process of free agency is just that -€” a process and a drawn out courtship of skill and sound decisions to aid every team idled, be they champions or bottom-dwellers.

It's that courtship process that really markets the NHL, or should market the NHL through the media. It's like the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes that finally hit a crescendo as the other NHL clubs got to be direct with #91 and seeking his acquisition through free agency. All the talk was hastened before the market ever opened. Maybe that, the talk hastened, is to help make July 1 more of an event date but an event date isn't what the league needs... Certainly not 100 days before the start of next season. Getting it all done at once, or as much done as possible specifically over a two day span (July 1 and 2) has the NHL's sports relevance get erased in the socially.

Think of it this way: Fans aren't wooed by reports of players that teams were or are actively seeking because it plays out in a rush. There is no process of in-person visits to markets through July, courtships and a drawn out milieu that keeps the story going and lets fans (league-wide, not just in-market) entertained. Instead, it plays out in "now-now-now!" haste to further compliment the misperceived finality.

Believe it or not, it's not negative for the league or sport to stay relevant socially through July and August.

To be fair, team executives and agencies, player agents and media people are go-go-go for so long, the summer doldrums seem like well deserved vacation time. You'll hear about training regimens and see casualness from players on social media a little more now because they're not in a total closed-off stance at the moment.

It just works against them that the NHL today, July 9, is basically a sound of complete silence. You might hear about development camps, you may hear about Las Vegas planning or its franchise creation (and other potential NHL markets vying for the role of NHL franchise #32)... But by the time the league gears up again in training camps in September, Major League Baseball will be at its height, the NFL will have started its own season, college football will be going strong, and the league relevance won't come into fruition to the broader world of sports fans again until November... All helped along by the league itself rushing to shift itself to silence.