Ever since reading that the NHL is guaranteed its “Winter Classic Money” I have been bothered by an idea. The NHL gets their money, but NBC can not be happy about paying $200 million for a game a decade down the road. Furthermore, I question the willingness of the NHL to simply scrap what has developed into its premier promotional tool. Since becoming an annual occurrence in 2008, the Winter Classic has overtaken the ALL-Star game as the NHL’s go to event. The NHL loves it, the NHLPA loves it, big corporate sponsors love it, NBC loves it, and the fans love it. Heck, almost everybody loves it. Hockey originated outdoors and few sights warm the hearts of hockey purists more than snow lightly falling while hordes of fans cheer their favourite players.
With that being said, and with my tinfoil hat firmly in place, I wonder whether or not we will see a concerted push by the NHL to delay the season and officially kick things off with the Winter Classic. Imagine the optics. After a lockout with decidedly more vitriolic criticism then the last one; we kick off the season with the Maple Leafs and Red Wings facing off in front of 100 000 cheering fans. It would help repair the NHL’s tarnished image and get people like me back and interested in the season. Despite all of my anti-NHL rants in the past few months, I would 100% tune in to watch that game.
But it would also serve another purpose. Simply put, the NHL struggles year in and year out during the fall months. They have baseball, football, basketball, and college football to contend with. Meaning that in most American markets, they sit at best 4th, maybe 5th, on the sports watching depth chart. By holding out during September, October, November, and December the NHL not only avoids confronting these other sports, but they can use the time to build up hype for the inevitable (I hope) return of hockey. This is just a tin foil hat inspired idea of mine, but it is an intriguing possibility to keep in mind.