Wednesday, 17 April 2013

How To Ruin A Good Thing

If there was one thing you had to name that is the highlight of every NHL season, most people would probably choose the Winter Classic game. Everyone flocks to the stadium of choice being used to house the Winter Classic, and there is no denying that the game is a winner for television as well. If the NHL did one thing right, introducing this game as an annual event between two teams that have a load of history makes the grade. Even allowing a second game in Canada - the Heritage Classic - works extremely well.

Like anything that makes a lot of money, there's always the option to increase the supply to meet the demand. The problem with this thought is that over-saturation of a product can decrease demand quickly and, in some cases, kill demand altogether. The NHL is enjoying the financial windfall of these Winter Classic games because of the demand for them, but having six outdoor games in one season would be the definition of overkill.

The Winter Classic game is scheduled for January 1 at Michigan's Big House on New Year's Day, and will feature the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs against the hometown Detroit Red Wings. The vast history these two teams bring into this game make for an incredible aura, and there should be a buzz in Motown for the weeks leading up to the big game.

That buzz is what makes the game so great. People are excited, the players are excited, the media covering the event are in a frenzy. There are more statistics and historical produced about the two teams than one could ever imagine. In short, this game makes even casual fans into die-hard hockey fans for one day.

But reports yesterday see five additional games being proposed by the league conditional on contracts being signed. Why are these games even necessary? Can they not be planned for the following years? Do we really need to tarnish the shine on Detroit's big game by having another one just three weeks later?

According to the reports, the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings will play a game at Dodger Stadium on January 25. While I get that Dodger Stadium is usually empty and that these two teams aren't that far apart on the map, is the Battle of California really necessitating the need for an outdoor game in a tropical climate?

Perhaps the NHL wants to experiment with running a game of this magnitude in a warm weather climate. That's their prerogative if they choose to do so. I'm not sure, though, what they're hoping to accomplish or discover considering they have already held games at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas. I can't imagine there would be anything new to discover in Los Angeles.

If it seems like that game is already tarnishing the Winter Classic, how about having two more games within the month of January? This time, the NHL jumps to the east coast as the New York Rangers host the New York Islanders on January 26 - one day after the Los Angeles game - at Yankee Stadium, and then follow that home game with another Yankee Stadium game against the New Jersey Devils on January 29.

Forget the Winter Classic game - that's three outdoor games in a span of four days! And for what reason other than grabbing a pile of money by pretending these games are something special?

Let's not forget that the NHL and the players are already gearing up for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Just nine days after the Rangers-Devils game, the world's best players will be in Sochi competing for a gold medal. That's enough of a "special event" in itself that it requires two weeks of intense hockey action before the players return to their respective NHL teams after February 23.

But just one week after the Olympics end, the Penguins will visit the Blackhawks at Soldier Field for the fifth outdoor game of the season on March 1, and finally the NHL will have the Heritage Classic in Canada as the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks meet at BC Place on March 2.


Look, I like an outdoor game as much as the next guy, but six in one year - an Olympic year, no less - is a little extravagant. The mystique of this game will be gone by the time the Rangers and Islanders suit up, and people will be downright bored of them when Ottawa and Vancouver play. You can't keep going to the well for water when the well is nearly dry.

Maybe the NHL is trying to squeeze the last few cities that deserve a Winter Classic game in before doing away with the New Year's Day tradition. Maybe the NHL just doesn't know when to stop squeezing the stone when looking for blood. In any case, six games and an Olympic tournament in one year is downright ridiculous.

Less is more, NHL. Look into it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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