Believe it or not, there is more to the NHL than just one player.
I wasn’t actually planning on doing a Wednesday’s Worst this week. It was a slow sports day, Pedro is officially a Phil, and I was just generally in a pretty darn good mood.
Till I read Scott Burnside’s column about the upcoming Winter Classic.
I typically respect Burnside’s work and he usually knows what he’s talking about. You wouldn’t get that impression however if you read that column. An excerpt, if you will:
“If the point of the Winter Classic is to showcase the game’s greatest talents on a grand and unusual stage, to appeal to an audience that might not otherwise tune in to NHL games, it behooves the NHL to do it right. It behooves the NHL not to compromise on a product with a proven ability to achieve those lofty goals.
That at least three of these outdoor games will pass without the Caps and Ovechkin on display is ludicrous.
If, as sources tell ESPN.com, the decision was made based largely on the fact that Philadelphia is a bigger television market than Washington, someone ought to send those decision-makers video of some of Ovechkin’s many highlight-reel goals.”
I’m not just going to pick on Burnside here; this is a fundamental problem with the way the NHL is marketed by Gary Bettman and the Worldwide Leader.
Hockey isn’t basketball. The superstars aren’t on the ice for the entire game, and they don’t launch 20-30 shots on goal individually each night (Kobe, AI, I’m looking at you guys.) A franchise player like Cindy Crybaby or Alex Ovechkin may only spend 20-25 minutes on the ice in any given game and get anywhere from five to ten shots.
There isn’t as much of a focus on the individual in the NHL as they might be in the NBA or even the NFL, but don’t try telling that to the higher-ups at ESPN or even the “almighty” Commissioner himself.
Hockey is more akin to soccer in that a star may make an incredible play once in a while and they may get a bit more attention from the defense, but if you are going to win you need to have a good TEAM. While Gary Bettman is trying to shove Cindy Crosby down every hockey fan’s throat the true fans know that there is a lot more to the Pens’ success than #87. Where would Crosby be without Malkin, Gonchar, or Marc-Andre Fleury?
The Red Wings may not have a marketable face (sorry Pavel and Henrik) but they sure do win a lot and are a fun team to watch. ESPN may have fallen head over heels for the fancy goal, or the big save (after all these “highlight reel moments” are all you see on SportsCenter anymore) but there is a lot more to the game of hockey than these few moments of pomp and circumstance.
No, you won’t see Ovie score a goal from his back in this year’s Winter Classic, but you will see an intense game between two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference in what could be a budding rivalry between two franchises with a deep-rooted history and tons of young talent. More people may know about Mike Richards and Milan Lucic if the NHL didn’t spend so much time on JUST Crosby and Ovechkin. Flyers-Bruins could be a great rivalry in the NHL for the next decade, so having them star in the Winter Classic is actually a pretty darn good idea. Believe it or not: you don’t have to have #8 or #87 on the ice to have an entertaining hockey game. With those two guys you may witness an awesome play or tow during a game, but when two good TEAMS do battle you get 60 minutes of awesomeness. Which is better?
Another element that has to be considered in taking the Flyers over the Caps for the Winter Classic is the fan base. I think saying Philly is a bigger TV market (which it actually is) the NHL was delicately trying to say that they Flyers have a much bigger, more passionate following than the Caps. You can call me a homer, but anybody who has followed the game pre-2005 (aka “before Ovechkin”) and went to a game in D.C. can attest to the sparse crowds and lacking interest in the team despite a Cup run. Add in the bad blood between the Flyers and Bruins and you have yourself what is sure to be a heated game and a fired up crowd. You wouldn’t get that with the Washington Ovechkins in Fenway.
Burnside’s one-sided column reveals a big problem with the way the game of hockey is seen by some: it’s all about the big names and that’s about it. While that may fly in some sports, hockey doesn’t quite fit that made for mainstream mold. That’s something people like Scott Burnside or Gary Bettman don’t understand, but here’s hoping one day they see the light at the end of the zamboni tunnel.