Sunday, 3 January 2021

Bring Your Hip Waders

You may have heard some rumblings about potential outdoor games that the NHL is scheduling for this season now that the January 1 Winter Classic date has passed. According to rumours, the NHL is examining the possibility of holding outdoor games at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort in Lake Tahoe this season which is located on the border of Nevada and California, approximately two hours west-northwest on US Interstate 50 from Sacramento. The moment that I hear "California" and "outdoor game", I begin to question why this has to happen, but it's the NHL so I wouldn't be surprised if they were trying to plan a game to played on the sun.

Make no mistake that the Edgewood Tahoe Resort is a picturesque place to hold a game, and it would follow the NHL's wanting to feature games on Lake Louise before that idea ended due to signage rules on government land. Instead, the NHL focused on a second location as Lake Tahoe made the cut, and Edgewood Tahoe Resort seemingly got the nod in part due to their celebrity golf tournaments.

As you can see by the image to the right of Edgewood Tahoe Resort in the winter, there's not a lot of ice on the lake in the picture. It should also be noted that the smaller ponds in the image also feature zero ice for skating. Since Lake Tahoe's February temperatures average a high of +7C and a low of -3C, something tells me that the NHL won't be able to play their games on the lake as they may have wanted. That likely means the NHL will haul the mobile ice-making plant down to Lake Tahoe sometime this month in order to start building their rink.

As per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, it seems the NHL will use this outdoor event to test some new technology since they can't have fans in attendance. He writes,
"Fans will not be in attendance, with the number of people limited to about 400 — basically the teams' travelling parties and whoever is needed to work. It will give television different opportunities to broadcast the games, such as drone cameras."
Look, I get that there's a lot of technology that can and perhaps should be brought into hockey broadcasts for various reasons, but the big appeal for the NHL to undertake an experiment of this magnitude is the crowd size. It costs the NHL a small fortune to set up rinks in odd locations such as football fields and baseball diamonds, but that's offset by the size of the crowds that they bring into these events. Holding an outdoor game like this just to test new technology seems a little crazy when one examines the costs involved, so I'm genuinely curious what the NHL hopes to gain from this experience.

I'm pretty cynical about anything the NHL does that costs them money at this point due to the consistent push to make more money at all costs, and this cost has me questioning the very nature of why the NHL is conducting this experiment. Will it be cool to see the players playing on a rink with a mountain range in the background? Sure, no question about that. But it doesn't seem to be cost-efficient for a business that's crying poor when it comes to making good on contracts they've signed.

For the record, the Avalanche would meet the Vegas Golden Knights in one of the two games while the Bruins and Flyers would play in the second game. I mean, if we could somehow work Chicago into one of these games, it would feel like a normal outdoor game, but I digress since it will be the second time that Boston and Philadelphia meet in an outdoor game. If you recall, the 2010 NHL Winter Classic featured the Bruins and Flyers at Fenway Park in Boston with Marco Sturm scoring in overtime to give the Bruins the 2-1 victory.

As much as I want to be excited for this, my brain won't let me excuse the NHL's ulterior business motives behind every one of their decisions. When it comes to spending money on an outdoor game, the NHL doesn't like to lose money on these ventures, so I'm very curious as to the benefits the NHL will see when it comes to holding these two random, regular season games. Without fans in any sort of stands, I don't see the dollars-and-cents side of this decision, so there has to be another reason for this experiment.

Maybe my cynicism has taken over, but there has to be a business reason for the NHL to absorb these kinds of costs. Otherwise, they could have forced the AHL into doing something like this where the technology could be tested for a much lower cost. I guess we'll see what the reasons are come mid-February if and when this idea comes to fruition.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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