I’ll never forget the drama.
It was October 7th, 2010. I had a column due that afternoon, so I sat on the couch, put the lappy on my lap, and turned on the TV thinking I’d catch some previews for the NHL season kickoff the next night.
But wait – …wait, what’s this? Are they replaying an old game on TV?
Nono. The NHL really kicked things off in style that year, pitting the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Minnesota Wild in Finland on a Thursday at 9 a.m. PST.
Woooo! The NHL season! HERE. WE. GO.
I assume I missed all the invites to the many tailgate parties fans were undoubtedly throwing?
Honest to god, I remember thinking to myself “If you and a group of smart hockey minds were locked in a conference room and had 24 hours to come up with the worst way to kick off an NHL season, could you do much worse from a national interest standpoint than those two teams in the middle of a mid-week workday, in Scandinavia?” Good luck with that.
I mean, opening day in other sports is a huge deal – football is obviously huge because they play so few games and the amount of American interest is multiplied by 63 trillion. But Opening Day in baseball is a big deal too. It’s a special, romantic day. The ballparks are open! It’s spring! It’s so important I felt the need to capitalize Opening Day. It’s an event.
I don’t know what the NBA does, but my hunch is they don’t lead with the Sacramento vs. Charlotte in Norway at noon EST on a Thursday. Again, call that a hunch.
The NHL stepped their game up last year (Philly/Boston, 7PM EST start on a Thursday), which was nice, but I still hate that when that token “season opener” finished, the follow-up games were overseas and fully lacked energy and general production value. Do they not have lights in those buildings? It’s like watching games in Madison Square Garden.
Now that my meandering rant is out of the way, the point of this post: THE NHL ISN’T KICKING OFF IN EUROPE NEXT SEASON, hurray!
Oh sure, it’s for all the wrong reasons – with the CBA uncertainty, the NHL and NHLPA couldn’t come to terms on how to deal with potential cancellation costs if talks go sour (cringe).
Chris Johnston of The Globe and Mail was at the GM meetings in Florida yesterday, and wrote exactly that:
To date, there have been no formal bargaining talks between the league and NHL Players’ Association.
However, the sides were in contact about the status of the premiere games for next season. The league was willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage, according to two sources.
Good, great, perfect, no yelling on the bus. I could care less why the games don’t happen over there, just that they don’t.
Before I elaborate further, let me stop being a jerk for a second: this ”no games in Europe” stance comes purely from a selfish standpoint, and I’m aware of that. I feel for the many NHL fans in Europe who don’t get their usual games (which have been happening since 2007), and I do think those fans do deserve to see live NHL hockey. But again, selfishly, my preference would be to have things start with a bang on this side of the pond.
Beyond that, the player in me can’t imagine kicking off an 82-game winter-season grind with a 12 hour-plus flight, a couple games in random, neutral buildings, a 12 hour-plus flight home, then getting into the rest of the schedule. That’s like saying “Oh, you’re running a marathon – let’s just do a quick Wingate test before you start.”
Not to mention the fact that after those trips, we constantly hear about how the teams that went overseas fared afterwards. I’d call that annoying, if the stats weren’t so glaring – these teams clearly start behind the 8-ball. From an edition of “Pizzo’s Points” earlier this season:
Since 2007, sixteen teams have had to fly overseas to start the regular season.
In their first game back on North American soil, they are a combined 4-12.
For some people jet lag takes a while to get over, so let’s expand the search. When we look at the first three games back from overseas, those teams are a combined 18-30 for a stellar 37% winning percentage.
Some teams had even tougher starts to the season…
2007 Kings- Lost the first 5 games back
2009 Panthers- Lost 7 of their first 8
2010 Coyotes- Lost 5 of their first 6
Half of the teams didn’t make the playoffs. Two of those teams (’09 Blues & ’10 Hurricanes) missed the postseason by just 5 points or less.
So sure. It seems like it is, at the very least, a minor disadvantage.
In sum, I’m pumped about this. I probably shouldn’t be, given that it’s only happening because of CBA uncertainty (which you’ll be reading very little about on this site, because fans don’t deserve a daily frying pan across the skull), but whatever, beggars can’t be choosers.
I’d like to see the NHL season kick off in a big way. I’d like to see every team in the NHL play, I’d like to see rivalry games…maybe we do an all-day affair on a Saturday where we can make a big deal out of it?
Whatever they choose, it has to be better than 2010-2011, which set the bar at knee-height. When the season starts next year – and it will start next year – I’m hoping the League finds a way to make Opening Day worthy of capital letters.