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NHL Winter Classic, Let’s Save Hockey
In my opinion, the Winter Classic is one of the top ten sporting events of each year. Hockey… outside… snow around the rink, what’s not to like? While the pregame festivities were about 37 minutes longer than they needed to be, I enjoyed most of the hoopla. Bringing back legendary players, reliving the rivalry and growing up playing hockey on a frozen pond added to the special atmosphere.
(Incidentally, the Winter Classic proves that sports should be played outdoors whenever possible, especially in cold weather. Football, playoff baseball, and the Winter Classic enjoy louder, more passionate crowds than basketball, field hockey, and summer baseball. Why? Because most of the time it’s absolutely freezing outside. You can try this yourself if you want. Go outside and set up a chair in your yard. Now just sit there for three hours. You’re angry and angry within 45 minutes. Now do same, but instead of sitting there, jump around and yell like an idiot. You’ll lose track of time. The only problem is if your team loses. Losing takes another 20 degrees off the air temperature. Almost like wind chill, except it’s a losing cold. I digress se.)
The winter class is the NHL Super Bowl. For at least one day a year (part of a day actually), the NHL takes center stage. (If you watched college football instead, then I’m sorry. I’m not sorry for claiming that the NHL is in the spotlight. I’m sorry you watched college football.) The Flyers-Bruins game was engrossing from start to finish. The game was physical, scoring chances (yes, more goals wouldn’t hurt), and we had uncertainty. Top it off with steam from the player’s breath and snow flurries; and you have yourself a hockey paradise. I was dizzy.
Since its inception three years ago, the Winter Classic has been a success. Yes, the ratings are down this year, but I attribute that to New Year’s Day falling on a Friday. Most people usually sit on the 1st since they have work the next day. 2010 was different. Regardless, the NHL has its own exhibition, and for the first time in nearly a decade, it’s prevailing. We can just sit back and watch the NHL take off, right? Wrong. The NHL still needs help to regain its place among the four major sports in the United States. Let me light the way.
Eliminate inter-conference play. NHL hockey (like any sport) is at its best when the intensity is high and rivals face off. Nobody cares to see how Pittsburgh does against Nashville or Columbus. Fans want to see Sid Kidd take on the Capitals as often as possible. Exhibit Devils and Flyers more than six times each year. The league took steps to increase intra-conference games a few years ago, now it’s time to go all the way. It will take time for rivalries to fully develop. However, as the teams play more often, the animosity will grow and fans will be treated to more intriguing matchups throughout the season. The league doesn’t exactly print money either, so saving on travel would provide an added benefit.
Downsize and move some current teams to Canada. This only in; Canada loves hockey. Six franchises is not enough for a country that could support the entire NHL. I’m not the first to offer this solution, so I won’t pretend to be a genius. If you polled 1,000 sports fans, how many could name hockey teams in Atlanta, Columbus or Nashville? Additionally, why in the world does Florida have two hockey teams? Snowmobile manufacturers don’t set up shop in Arizona, nor do developers build golf courses in Minnesota. The NHL needs to embrace the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and rid much of the South of hockey. I’ll let Florida have one team, St. Louis keep the Blues, the Hurricanes stay in Carolina and soooo give Texas a team. That’s five, probably six teams that will move north of the border. I am also in favor of reducing the number of employees. Although, I can’t imagine the NHL admitting they screwed up to that degree.
Change the season completely. Currently, the NHL Stanley Cup competes with the NBA Playoffs and Major League Baseball. Until hockey regains its early 90s status, this is a losing battle. Any sports nut like myself knows that there is a huge sports hole on the calendar; February to mid-March. The NHL should shorten the season to 60-70 games and start playing in late August, with the playoffs and finals in February and early March. Taking advantage of this huge lull would allow the NHL to garner more fans and, with the exception of NASCAR once a week, monopolize the interest of the sports world. (Both college and professional basketball don’t heat up until mid-March or late April, respectively.) That’s not all. Scheduling the playoffs at that time would also allow the NHL to play the Stanley Cup Final OUTDOORS! Obviously, this would depend on the teams involved, but what a spectacle it would be. The NHL could save February for all of us and get back into the national spotlight at the same time.
Gary Bettman, I am currently employed but would be open to implementing these changes on your behalf. I can start right away. No need to thank me either. For the first time in my life, I won’t have to sleep in sports hibernation.
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