With bad news befitting its “just before Friday drive time” press release drop, the National Hockey League cancelled what arguably has become the jewel of its season, the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. This season’s edition was to feature the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, but collateral damage also included a Hockeytown Festival of old-timers games and minor league hockey at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.
Putting aside the obvious Ohio schadenfreude over a Red Wings game in Ann Arbor getting cancelled, this is a huge loss for the National Hockey League and the momentum it built up over the past few years. (Note that I refer to the same momentum that provided the seven straight years of record revenues that the owners and players are wrangling over as I type. Sigh.) The October, November and December games are important, granted, but the NHL season kicks into high gear with the Winter Classic. The Winter Classic is the most visible single game of the season: It’s the only hockey game on in an increasingly sparse day of college football (Thanks, BCS…) and appears to have lured in the casual sports fan through its combination of marquee teams and unique outdoor venues like baseball and football stadiums. And now it’s gone.
With the Winter Classic axed, Columbus hockey fans rightfully should worry that the long-anticipated 2013 NHL All-Star Game is next up on the chopping block. For while the game is scheduled to be played over the weekend of January 27, there is a legitimate question over exactly how much hockey has to be played for meaningful player nominations and fan voting to happen…which suggests that the long-overdue collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players needs to be wrapped up sooner than later. Think about it: Can you have an All-Star Game based upon two months of regular season game play? One month? Two weeks? At what point does it become a lost cause?
I won’t lie, these are neurotic times indeed in Central Ohio’s hockey community…which makes today’s season ticket holder email from the Blue Jackets all the more welcome and timely. For as the NHL’s crown jewel event was getting cancelled, the Blue Jackets faithful were getting treated with this:
And, when you think about it, could such a message have been better timed than on a day when the NHL’s 2012-13 season continued its slow implosion?