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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 every year. Hockey… outdoors… snow surrounding the rink, what’s not to love? While the pre-game festivities were about 37 minutes longer than they should have been, I enjoyed most of the hype. The return of legendary players, the rekindling of rivalries and all growing up playing hockey on a frozen pond all contributed to a special atmosphere.
(By the way, the Winter Classic proves that sports should be played outdoors whenever possible, especially in cold weather. Football, playoff baseball, and the Winter Classic enjoy stronger and more passionate crowds than basketball, hockey in indoors and summer baseball. Why? Because most of the time it’s absolutely freezing outside. You can try it yourself if you want. Go outside and put a chair in your backyard. Now just sit for three hours. You’re angry and cold within 45 minutes. Now do the same thing, but instead of sitting there, jump and scream like an idiot. You’ll lose track of time. The only problem here is if your team is losing. Losing drops another 20 degrees from the air temperature. Almost like a wind chill, only it’s a lost chill. I leave.)
The winter class is the NHL’s super bowl. For at least one day a year (part of a day, actually), the NHL is in the spotlight. (If you were watching college football instead, then I’m sorry. I’m not sorry to assert that the NHL is in the limelight. Sorry you were watching college football.) The Flyers-Bruins game was fascinating from start to finish. The game was physical, scoring chances were plentiful (yes, more goals wouldn’t hurt), and we had a suspension. Fill it with steam from players’ breath and blizzards; and you have yourself hockey heaven. I was dizzy.
Since its inception three years ago, the Winter Classic has been a success. Yes, the ratings were down this year, but I attribute that to the New Year’s holiday falling on a Friday. Most people usually sit on the 1st as they have work the next day. 2010 was different. Regardless, the NHL has its own bedding show, and for the first time in nearly a decade, it’s widespread. We can sit back and watch the NHL rise, 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. No one cares to see how Pittsburgh fares against Nashville or Columbus. Fans want to see Sid the Kid battle the Capitals as often as possible. Put the Devils and Flyers on display more than six times each year. The league took steps to increase intra-conference play 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 rivalry will grow and fans will be treated to more intriguing matchups throughout the season. The league isn’t exactly printing money either, so the travel savings would provide an added benefit.
Downsize and relocate some current teams to Canada. This only in; Canada loves hockey. Six franchises aren’t enough for a country to 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 the hockey teams in Atlanta, Columbus or Nashville? Also, why in the world does Florida have two hockey teams? Snowmobile outfitters 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 emancipate much of the South from hockey. I’ll allow Florida one team, St. There are five, maybe six teams to move north of the border. I’m also pro-downsizing. Although, I can’t imagine the NHL admitting they screwed up to that degree.
Change the season entirely. Currently, the NHL’s Stanley Cup competes with the NBA and Major League Baseball playoffs. Until hockey regains its early 90s status, this is a losing battle. Every sports nut like me knows there’s a big sports hole in the calendar; February to mid-March. The NHL must shorten its season to 60-70 games and begin play in late August, setting the playoffs and finals in February and early March. Taking advantage of this giant 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 pro basketball don’t heat up until mid-March and late April, respectively.) That’s not all. Scheduling the playoffs at that time would also allow the NHL to show the Stanley Cup Finals OUTDOORS! Of course, that would depend on the teams involved, but what a spectacle it would be. The NHL can save February for all of us and return to national prominence 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. You don’t even need to thank me. For the first time in my entire life, I won’t have to hibernate.
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