In my opinion, the Winter Classic is one of the top ten sporting events of each year. Hockey… outside… snow surrounding the rink, how not to like it? While the pregame festivities lasted about 37 minutes longer than necessary, I enjoyed most of the hoopla. Bringing back legendary players, reliving the rivalry and growing up playing hockey on a frozen pond all helped create a special atmosphere.
(By the way, the Winter Classic proves that sports should be played outdoors whenever possible, especially when it’s cold. Football, playoff baseball, and the Winter Classic enjoy louder, more passionate crowds than basketball, indoor hockey and summer baseball. Why? Because most of the time it’s really cold outside. You can try it yourself if you want. Go outside and put a chair in your backyard. Now just sit there for three hours. You’re pissed and cold in 45 minutes. Now do the same thing, but instead of sitting there, bounce around and yell like an idiot. You’ll lose track of time. The only problem here is if your team is losing. Losing subtracts another 20 degrees to air temperature. Almost like a wind chill, only it’s a loss of cold. I digress.)
The Winter Class is the super bowl of the NHL. For at least one day a year (part of a day, actually), the NHL takes center stage. (If you were watching college football, then I’m sorry. I’m not sorry for claiming that the NHL takes center stage. Sorry, you were watching college football.) The Flyers-Bruins game was captivating from start to finish. The game was physical, the scoring chances abounded (yes, more goals wouldn’t have hurt) and we had suspense. Top that off with steam from players’ breath and flurries of snow; and you yourself have 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 put it down to New Year’s Day falling on a Friday. Most people usually sit down on day 1 as they have work the next day. 2010 was different. Regardless, the NHL has its premier exhibition, and for the first time in nearly a decade, it prevails. We can just sit back and watch the NHL take off, right? Mistaken. The NHL still needs help to regain its place among the top four 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 opponents are going head to head. Nobody cares to see how Pittsburgh does against Nashville or Columbus. Fans want to see Sid the Kid fight the capitals as often as possible. He exhibits the Devils and the Flyers more than six times a 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 teams play more frequently, animosity will grow and fans will enjoy more intriguing matchups over the course of a season. The league isn’t exactly printing money, either, so the travel savings would provide an added benefit.
Downsize and move some current equipment to Canada. This just in; Canada likes 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 don’t claim to be a genius. If you were to survey 1,000 sports fans, how many of them 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 most of the hockey South. I’ll let Florida have a team, St. Louis keep the Blues, let the Hurricanes stay in Carolina and maybe give Texas a team. That’s five, possibly six teams to move north of the border. I am also in favor of downsizing. Although, I can’t imagine the NHL admitting they screwed up to that extent.
Change the season completely. Currently, the NHL Stanley Cup competes with the NBA playoffs and Major League Baseball. Until hockey returns to its early ’90s status, this is a losing battle. Every sports fan like me knows that there is a huge sporting hole in the calendar; February to mid-March. The NHL needs to shorten its season to 60-70 games and start play in late August, putting the playoffs and finals in February and early March. Taking advantage of this gigantic hiatus would allow the NHL to gather 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 and late April, respectively.) Thats not all. Scheduling the playoffs at that time would also allow the NHL to host the Stanley Cup Finals OUTDOORS! Obviously this would depend on the teams involved, but what a show that would be. The NHL could save February for all of us and return to national prominence at the same time.
Gary Bettman, I am currently employed but would be willing to implement these changes on your behalf. I can start right away. You don’t need to thank me either. For the first time in my entire life, I won’t have to do hibernation sports.