Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If the reports are true

Well, if the reports are true (and I've heard it from multiple sources), the Devils not only get to play in an outdoor hockey game next season, but they get to be the "home" team in one as well. It'll be against the Rangers on January 26 (a Sunday, 7 days before NJ hosts the Super Bowl). But here's the catch. It's in New York City. The Bronx. At Yankee Stadium. Yes, the Rangers will be the "visiting" team for a game within their own city limits (while they still have those limits all to themselves) when they play the Devils. The Devils will be a "home" team for a game that's really hosted by their biggest rival. I don't really like this.

Let me touch on the full set of news for a second. There will be six (count 'em...6) outdoor games in the NHL next season. I don't really understand why that is. New Year's Day will be the first, in the "Winter Classic" game in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on New Year's Day, between the Red Wings (their 2nd outdoor game) and the Maple Leafs. I like that matchup. Canada has hosted the "Heritage Classic" game twice (both involving the Montreal team), and they'll get one more (though I haven't heard the name "Heritage Classic" used, but none of this is official anyway) when Vancouver hosts Ottawa. I can live with that one too. I don't think that makes the novelty of an outdoor game watered down in anyway, especially if there isn't one every season (2003-04, 2010-11, and now 2013-14).

But wait, there's more. January 25 will see a game at Los Angeles's Dodger Stadium between the 2 teams local to that area - Kings against the Ducks. I just have to say "Good luck, NHL" with that one. Los Angeles doesn't strike me as an outdoor hockey hotbed. Maybe the fans think they deserve it, I smell a disaster keeping that rink in playable shape. If it matters, it will be a 1pm PT start, so it doesn't conflict with Hockey Night In Canada, which starts at 4pm PT, and a night game in LA would be too late for the viewers on the east coast.

Then there's the game the next day at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Devils. But wait, there's more. The Rangers and Yankee Stadium get two games. 3 nights later, on a Wednesday night (NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry series), the Rangers will play the Islanders. I've heard that the Islanders will be the "home" team for that one too. There's a lot of this that smells fishy. But more on that in a second.

The day before the outdoor game in Canada, the Blackhawks will become the second two-time host (after the Rangers, who host both of theirs earlier in the season) when they host the Penguins (a 3rd outdoor game for them) in a game played at Soldier Field (that will make the Blackhawks the first team to host an outdoor game in two different stadiums - they hosted at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day 2009).

So where do I begin? The NHL is completely watering down the novelty of the outdoor hockey game in a total money grab. It's evident that it's become a money grab (and even a money hog because there's lots of teams NOT involved) because they're going to the non-outdoor hockey market of LA, 2 games in New York, 6 games total (it really should never be more than 2), and so many repeat offenders (when it's all over, Pittsburgh and the Rangers will have played in 3 while Chicago will have hosted twice and Detroit will have played in 2 games). I don't even know which of these is the biggest offense. What about Minnesota and Denver and Winnepeg (the only Canadian team not to play outdoors yet)? I'm not saying that every market is suitable for an outdoor game. Washington should get a game. There is no reason why the Devils and Islanders can't actually host games in their own territory and not in "Rangers country". Columbus? St. Louis? All certainly should have a shot at playing, if not hosting the once-a-year event.

Now, I heard that the Rangers are getting two games so that both the Devils and Islanders can be included and that neither one is excluded. The Rangers already played in an outdoor game. They're just a team that thinks they're entitled to this since they play in the biggest market in the league. Getting to "host" two games so their in-market rivals won't feel left out sounds very hypocritical since it now means that they will get more than either of their rivals (when they've already had some to begin with). And if it's true that the Rangers will be the "visiting" team in both games played in within the city limits in which they are currently the only team to call home, then that's one helluva money grab by James Dolan, who runs MSG and the Rangers. More proof that this is all about the money and not about the hockey nor the novelty. Just like Chicago getting another game and getting repeat offender Pittsburgh to play them.

I think after probably 2 outdoor games next season, people will stop watching because it's no longer a novelty. Hopefully it goes back to the once-a-year thing on New Year's Day in 2015 (NBC's contract has it running every New Year's until 2021) and that the novelty is back and peoplewatch it, because if the NHL ruins a good thing by over exposure in 2014, well, that will become their problem because we won't be watching.

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