Yes, it’s true. There are things that “everyone” agrees on with the NHL, that I’m not a fan of. The first, is the Winter Classic. Yes, it’s cool to see them play a game outdoors, and I’m sure being at the game is a fun experience, and playing in it is a blast. But it’s not good hockey. Watching the Red Wings and Maple Leafs play in sub-freezing temps with snow falling is fun, but it’s no way to play a hockey game that counts in the standings. The ice conditions were awful, the play is boring, (dump, clear, dump, clear, wait for a bad bounce/mistake) there’s very little creativity, and usually very little scoring, because the ice just isn’t consistent enough to allow for pretty passing plays.
Isn’t it ironic that after spending so much time trying to create a more creative game, with more scoring, and rewarding highly skilled players, the NHL goes out and invests so much time and effort into games that do the exact opposite?
Specifically, what I don’t like about the outdoor games fall into two categories. One, it’s a gimmick, much like the shootout is, yet it counts in the standings. Playoff berths and seeds are impacted by things that are outside the normal rules of the game. In the shootout, you get extra points for winning a skills competition. While the outdoor games are not as egregious of an example as that, you have a handful of games this year being played under different rules. Those kinds of ice conditions in an arena wouldn’t be tolerated for long, and you don’t have sudden stoppages mid-way through the third period and overtime to change ends!
The second is, as I mentioned earlier, the quality of play. Watch the highlights of an outdoor game sometime. You’ll see lots of crowd shots, player closeups, beautiful panoramic views of the stadium and then a couple of ugly goals. You won’t see the kind of speed and skill that the NHL wants to highlight, you won’t see the hitting you’d normally see, and you won’t see the level of competition that we get used to in the NHL.
Now, it may be that it’s no big deal and I’m making a big deal of nothing. So far the games have all been played in cold weather, and no one’s broken an ankle on an ice rut or anything like that. But, I fear it is just a matter of time.
The other thing today that, again, as hockey fans we’re all supposed to love, is having NHL players in the Olympics. Actually, today proved to me why I don’t like the idea. Islander fans were, rightly in my mind, upset that Kyle Okposo, currently second among American NHL players, was left off of the Olympic team. After reading the ESPN article about how the team was selected, it’s clear that he was never actually under consideration, as the group opted for players they deemed more built for the larger ice surface. Of course the inclusion of several players that really aren’t better fits for that ice surface (Dustin Brown), or who’ve been injured for most of the season (Ryan Callahan), but who were “locks” even before the season started leads me to believe that the selection committee had it’s favorites, and guys like Okposo, Bobby Ryan and Keith Yandle simply aren’t among those players and thus they found excuses to not include them.
Now the point I’m trying to make is not that Okposo should be on the team. The selection committee is free to choose who they think is going to help win the tournament. But I do object to the reality that now, after watching players who I root against all year long, I’m somehow supposed to root for them because…. ‘Murca. Or I’m supposed to root against John Tavares, Frans Neilsen and others because, again, ‘Murca.
No, I don’t buy it. I have no real rooting interest in All-Star games, other than wanting to see my favorite players do well. The Olympics can put a flag around the idea, but at the end of the day, it’s an All-Star tournament.
So at the risk of being labeled a false hockey fan, I’ll let the rest of you enjoy these things, and watch something else. (Except for the Stadium series game which involves the Islanders, where I at least have a rooting interest!)