The end of 2011 is upon us. As is customary, this is the time for resolutions, goal setting, and most of all, fresh ideas as we ready to ring in the New Year.
We have all read many of the other NHL year end articles. Most of which focus (and rightfully so) on issues such as the untimely passings of Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, and Rick Rypien. Then that was all trumped by the Sep 7th plane crash which claimed the lives of the entire Lokomotiv hockey team, which included former NHLers Brad McCrimmon, Ruslan Salei, and Pavol Demitra. Presently, the hockey world is still dealing with a curious rash of concussions. As of the writing of this article, Sidney Crosby is still out due to concussion related symptoms.
I share the sorrow associated with these tragedies. All due respect, but I do not feel the need to try and write a more moving account of what has already been written and documented so well by so many others.
Instead, I will focus on the future of the league, and a particular paradigm shift which I believe could take the NHL to the next level, provide more momentum, and draw in more casual hockey fans.
This is a reprint of an article I originally wrote for INSIDE SPORTS, and HOCKEYTALK.Biz on December 30th, 2009 (It was an Olympic Year). It is a fresh perspective (still) on how the NHL can maximize the benefits of the Winter Classic, and further make it the jewel of the regular season, as opposed to having it be in competition with the NHL All Star game which happens only a month or so later. Keep in mind, this was also prior to the 24/7 Winter Classic series, which first aired on HBO in December, 2010.
DECEMBER 30, 2009 — The unexpected growing popularity of the Winter Classic may ultimately put the National Hockey League in a precarious position.
Plain and simple, the Classic is killing the All Star Game.
As this is an Olympic year, and thus no All Star Game will be played, the NHL will more than likely be unaware of this until next season when the rapidly waning popularity of the All-Star game will be brought front and center as the Winter Classic cements its place as the true avant-garde event of the NHL.
Not only does the WC enjoy national television coverage, it is also a meaningful game in which players will go full speed. Thus, it is much more attractive to fans than the All-Star game.
The event is so unique it draws attention nationwide weeks and even months before it happens.
If the league can think outside the box (no jokes, please), there is a great opportunity to grow the popularity of the Sport without making a huge financial investment.
Now that I have Gary Bettman’s attention, here is my proposal:
Move the All Star Game to the end of the season. Play the game in Las Vegas as part of a fan friendly 4 or 5-day extravaganza, which culminates with the game and the NHL Awards show.
The NHL is already exploring the Vegas venue, signing an agreement last season to hold the awards show in Las Vegas thru 2011. Any fan who has attended All-Star week can tell you it is really more about the terrific innovative interactive hockey displays, parties, photo ops, exhibits, meeting players, NHL history and souvenirs than the actual game. The game itself has traditionally been played at half-speed as players try to avoid injury. The real highlight is the skills competition.
Perhaps players will compete a little harder if the game is held at season’s end, with no risk of midseason injury.
In terms of increasing the sport’s popularity, consider this: The WC kicks off the New Year, so why not also have it kick off the fan All-Star voting as well?
This way the players will be judged on what they have done in the present season as opposed to what was done in the season preceding. The WC could also officially kick off the second half of the season. This season, the schedule was made to accommodate the two-week Olympic break, so teams will have played 40 games by January 1st.
The first half schedule could be made this same way each year, which would give teams a lighter schedule in the second half of the season which would in turn allow for veteran teams and players to get a little more rest down the stretch in order to be fresh for playoff time. Those last 16 (playoff) wins are the hardest.
As far as building and keeping momentum, the Stanley Cup would be awarded in early June. One week later, fans would have the opportunity to see the All-Stars and meet the Cup Champs (who would be invited by the league to appear).
How’s that for an enjoyable Vegas bash culminating with an early afternoon All-Star Game, and the NHL Awards show later follow that evening – anyone ready to buy a Hotel and Ticket package?
This is one of those opportunities which the NHL far too often seems to let fall by the way side.
Given the success of the NHL Awards show this past June, and the already solid history of the NHL’s annual “Frozen Fury” preseason game at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas featuring the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, this seems the next logical step. Las Vegas is hungry for more tourism these days, the fans would love it, and it would be a great boost for the sport.
With many media outlets tightening their belts these days, there would no longer be the need to cover the All-Star Game and the awards show as two separate events. This move would also promote more media attention and coverage with less cost.
I spoke with the owners of the Palms Casino when I covered the Awards show this past June. They were ecstatic about the event and thrilled with the outcome.
All the pieces seem to be in place. This move would put major attention on the NHL every January and June. In addition, there is the added element of cities vying for the next Winter Classic each season, thus naturally promoting the sport.
The pros ?
Would provide a truly unique and fun experience for the fans. Much more cost effective for the media. No more risk of midseason All Star Game injury for the players, and a natural by-product of more exposure for the league.
**The Winter Classic would draw in casual fans and help keep them for the second half of the season. Starting All-Star voting on the day of the Winter Classic would create more hype, and All Stars would be selected based on performance in the present season.
The cons ?
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